Documentary filmmaker and longtime Michael Moore collaborator Meghan O’Hara is currently working on a feature-length documentary about George W. Bush’s military service in the Texas Air National Guard, The Observer has learned.
Ms. O’Hara, who field-produced Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11, is in the early stages of getting the project off the ground. According to a source with knowledge of the situation, Ms. O’Hara’s New York–based production company, HonestEngineTV, does not yet have a venue for the documentary and is still seeking funding.
The veteran producer (who has a long list of screen credits, including directing a 1998 HBO-Cinemax documentary, Roe vs. Roe: Baptism by Fire and producing Mr. Moore’s Sicko) has already shot enough preliminary footage to complete work on a trailer for the film. HonestEngineTV, we’re told, is currently shopping it to potential partners, including HBO and the Weinstein Company.
The former president was originally admitted into the Texas Air National Guard more than 40 years ago, in 1968, with the American military already deeply engaged in the war in Vietnam. In 1973, Mr. Bush officially departed the Guard, without having seen any combat, to attend Harvard Business School. What, exactly, transpired in between has since become the subject of much heated debate.
Questions about Mr. Bush’s service in the Guard—did his family use its political connections to help him avoid combat in Vietnam? Did he eventually skirt the requirements of his service?—first began to surface during his successful 1994 run for the governorship in Texas.
Several years later, in the fall of 2004, with Mr. Bush locked in a heated presidential reelection campaign against U.S. Senator John Kerry, the topic exploded into a four-alarm national controversy, thanks to a flawed story on the subject by CBS News’ 60 Minutes II. The story, produced by Mary Mapes and reported by Dan Rather, featured the first on-camera interview with Ben Barnes, the former Texas lieutenant governor, explaining his role in helping Mr. Bush leapfrog a long waiting list to land a coveted spot in the Texas Air National Guard. The story also featured a number of documents ostensibly detailing Mr. Bush’s failure to live up to the requirements of his military duty.
Afterward, reporters and bloggers challenged the veracity of the documents, and CBS News was unable to fully verify the origin or legitimacy of the documents in question, resulting in the so-called Memo-gate scandal and the eventual dismissal of several top CBS News producers, including Ms. Mapes.
Since then, questions about Mr. Bush’s military service have largely dropped out of the national conversation. That said, intense interest in the topic continues to smolder in certain corners of American military and journalistic life.
In 2005, Ms. Mapes wrote a book about Mr. Bush’s military service and the controversy surrounding her reporting on it, called Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power.
In July of 2008, The Observer reported that Hollywood producer Mikkel Bondesen (Burn Notice) and screenwriter James Vanderbilt (Zodiac, Spider Man 4) had optioned the book and were working on a screen adaptation of it for a feature film.
To this day, CBS News’ handling of the story remains a kind of shorthand for conservative critics alleging a liberal bias in the American media. Bernard Goldberg, the author of Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News, has taken a renewed interest in the Bush–CBS–military-duty story, discussing the particulars of the controversy on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor as recently as August.
At the same time, Dan Rather, who left CBS in 2005, continues to do his part to keep interest in the story alive. In the fall of 2007, he launched a $70 million civil lawsuit against his former employers, alleging in part that the network had caved to Republican interests in Washington during the aftermath of the controversial story. Since then, Mr. Rather has spent millions of dollars of his own money to try to clear up a number of mysteries surrounding President Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service and the media’s coverage of it. (Recently, an appeals court in New York tossed out the lawsuit—a decision Mr. Rather is currently appealing.)
If successfully funded, Ms. O’Hara’s project would be the first major, in-depth documentary to dig into the murky subject. Reached on Monday morning, Ms. O’Hara declined to comment.
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