Times/HBO: a Flower for “Poppy” Bush

Did you know it’s Celebrate Poppy month? A couple of weeks ago was the 88th birthday of former president George H.W. “Poppy” Bush (the “good” George Bush—sorta kinda.) And the media has been partying with a host of distinctly non-journalistic tributes.

HBO ran what Salon described as a “flattering documentary”—which, since documentaries are supposed to be about the truth, meant no documentary at all.

“41,” a new documentary about George H.W. Bush…is a political film that isn’t very political. It’s the story of the former president’s life, told only in his words, without much context and with no critical commentary.

Whoo-hoo! Good for HBO, continuing to push the bounds of the possible. Besides the cable giant, the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd, weighed in with more cotton candy.

I FLEW down to Houston last year to have lunch with George Herbert Walker Bush.

“Did you come because you think I’m going to die?” he asked me with a wry smile.

Not at all, I replied, adding that I wanted to join him on his planned sky-diving excursion when he turned 90. (It sends the world a message, as he puts it, that “old guys can still do exciting things.”)

It made me sad to see him in a wheelchair, his lower legs weakened by Parkinsonitis. He had once been so kinetic that the Chinese press described him as “ants on a hot pan,” and his golf game was so manic that W. dubbed it “golf-polo.”

But 41 can still drive his cherished cigarette boat, Fidelity IV, in Kennebunkport, and he was very much himself over pizza at his favorite Houston dive: racy jokes, no airs, ever gracious.

He spoke fondly of his new pal, Bill Clinton, and highly of President Obama.


That’s why we love the New York Times. It can find something cheery in the ways in which powerful men catering to rich people can get along irrespective of nominal party differences.

The problem, which neither HBO nor The Times will mention, is that Poppy Bush is only a “gracious” man in his public manners, not in his (largely deniable) actions—the most odious of which have never been reported to the American people by either the establishment media or the so-called “alternative” (liberal) media.

I spent years researching the elder Bush for my book, Family of Secrets.  What I learned fascinated and astounded me. It began to explain my gnawing sense that presidential elections generally have almost nothing to do with the rest of us.

The story of a handful of wealthy people perpetuating their own advantages through a broad range of legal, illegal, and even deadly acts—that’s the real story of George HW Bush, of his sons, his father, and the small army of lawyers, consultants, and soldiers who help them brutally game the system.

First, though, a bit more of the Times’s peculiar rendition of journalism, courtesy of Dowd, who usually writes with jocularity and irony but here plays her role nauseatingly straight:

[A]s he turns 88 this week with a birthday clambake in Kennebunkport and a screening of an admiring HBO documentary, “41,” we are in the midst of what his biographer [former Newsweek editor] Jon Meacham, calls “Poppy chic.”

A new CNN/ORC International poll found that Bush the senior is far more respected than Bush the junior, who is the least popular among the living ex-presidents.

Because you can read them for yourself (with footnotes galore), I won’t bother you here with the mind-boggling particulars that you won’t get from the vaunted fearless media, such as the back story that explains why Poppy can’t remember where he was when he heard that JFK had been shot (hint: 1976 was not the first time he was in the CIA). Or the nature of the elder Bush’s activities at the time Richard Nixon, a one-time Bush family retainer who as President struck an independent path, was taken down in the Watergate scandal. Or the three different stories Poppy told about how his fellow crew members perished while he survived after bailing out of the World War II plane he was piloting. Then there’s the nice little situation Poppy and his Texas friends struck up decades ago with the Saudi royal family that benefited both circles and explains American policy in the region ever since.

You’d think this would make damned good storytelling for an outfit like The Times or HBO. But you’d be wrong. Because the establishment in this country only tells one type of story: fairy tales.

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GRAPHIC:  http://i61.photobucket.com/albums/h52/Tiktaalik/PoppyTheBells.jpg

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  • soularddave

    No, Russ, you don’t mince words or dwell on irrelevant detail. This article seems like a reminder to go back and re-read in F.of S. to remind myself of some of the interesting parts I forgot (there’s so much detail!).

    I keep wondering what might have been edited out of the book for lack of space, or because you thought it might be boring. I assure you, it WAS NOT BORING! You connected the dots, as well as inserting many, many more.

  • Kusokurae

    “a handful of wealthy people perpetuating their own advantages through a broad range of legal, illegal, and even deadly acts”

    Today’s government (and perhaps most governments throughout history) in a nutshell.

  • Tonie

    On the lighter side, let’s not forget the grandfather who refused to attend his grand-daughter’s wedding. Classy.

  • neorealist

    Maureen sounds like an “asset”.

    • Russ Baker

       At minimum, when it comes to real journalism, doesnt know her “asset” from a hole in the ground. guess that’s how you get a column.  lol.

  • M Gurney

    “…that presidential elections generally have almost nothing to do with the rest of us…the story of a handful of wealthy people perpetuating their own advantages through a broad range of legal, illegal, and even deadly acts…
    Now that is powerful Russ…and cuts right to the heart of the matter…
    Here is another story that proves how right you are:

  • Dan Garden

     Some people might also recall that there is a report of engagement from the Pacific that describes attacking a small Japanese transport anchored in a lagoon and, when the crew abandoned the sinking ship, machine-gunning the shipwrecked sailors. The report is ambiguous as to which of two aircraft pilots fired, but 41 was one. They seem to have known that they’d committed murder… Well, I’ve heard that…

    It may seem curious, but the idea that there is a guilty secret in the youth of 41 may offer an explanation for his “fidelity”, eh? In such ways do our superiors assure obedience. Funny name for a boat…

    Some may see a mystery-  the birthday offering of his own body to the fates, to Atropos, but that’s understandable if one sees 41 as a man – as an ordinary man in guilty dialogue with his victims, his betrayed crew.

    He’s pathetic, not grand, not the genuine article at all, but a failed con-man.

  • Bruce

    Is the nickname is about the flower that reportedly provides a nice revenue stream to “The Company”?

  • Jimbobcb

    When will Family of Secrets be an audible book?

  • forrestgumpisfast

    99.99% of Americans don’t know all of these facts, perhaps because the implications are too hot to handle…

    – CIA Director “Poppy” George H.W. Bush lost the 1980 Republican nomination to Reagan, yet was named Reagan’s running mate

    – 69 days after taking office, President Reagan miraculously survived being shot after he finished reaching out to an assembly of union leaders

    – Vice President Bush’s family was set to dine with the assassin’s family the next day

    – The assassin’s family gave lots of money to Poppy’s primary campaign, had lived near the Bushes, and even worked on W’s failed 1978 congressional campaign

    – The Houston Post broke this story the day after the shooting (a paper owned by the then Democratic Lt. Gov. of Texas). The obliquely reported story died within days

    – Ever since…no documentaries, no investigative reports, no books, no mentions in Bush biographies

    Since it appears that Poppy may have been involved in the unseating of JFK and Nixon, can someone please investigate…

    …an American coup attempt on 3/30/81?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/KPYEKAXU4POSL2GWTVHYXJF45M FratDawg23

    It would be extremely interesting – and probably  alarming -  to download all of the info in Poppy Bush’s head. He is one of the few snakes to have successfully slithered among the business, military and political powermongers for decades.

  • mythic43

    Family of Secrets reveals quite completely why Bush #1 is no better than his sons. They all come out of the same corn popper. Meanwhile, isn’t Dowd supposed to be the great liberal truth seeker for that epitome of false truth the NYT?

  • http://profiles.google.com/cmputrwizard Suze Wins

    powerful men catering to the same rich people . . . .

    powerful men catering to rich people can get along irrespective of nominal party differences.

    And I would dearly love to see ANYONE ANYWHERE follow this logical chain now.

    – Vice President Bush’s family was set to dine with (Reagan) assassin’s family the next day

    – The assassin’s family gave lots of money to Poppy’s primary campaign,
    had lived near the Bushes, and even worked on W’s failed 1978
    congressional campaign

    Not to mention documenting where 41 REALLY was (and was that him in the pic slouching by the Texas Schoolbook Depository?) at all times on November 22, 1963.


    P.S. Looking forward to your next book!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003248296865 Vivek Jain

    Oliver Stone is  reportedly filming a 10-part “Secret History of America'” that will air later this fall.  I wonder how much information from “Family of Secrets” will be included.

  • jimmmmmy

    Top notch article for those of us who dislike myths . I recommend your Opus [Family Of Secrets] whenever the subject of Kennedy or the Bush family come in conversation . With Howard Zinn’s American history, it’s a definitive, reality based history of US power politics and behind the scenes machinations by the elites .

  • Doug

    I’m glad you commented on the “documentary” which I caught on CNN which successfully portrays the elder Bush as a “patrician gentleman” who sincerely wanted to serve his country. It ignoes his more shadowy activities that took place out of public scrutiny detailed in your book and unfortuntely I think most of the viewers will fall for the myths.

  • SourDove

    It was 1980 when a classmate told me that Poppy would use his CIA connections to become President after Reagan, then replace the three eldest Supreme Court Justices. “That way he can leave his mark for the next generation, when one of his sons might be eligible.” The great thing about this, in her view, was that a CIA president could get the party started quickly and hand Congress the bill, because “Congress would never debate a war if there were already boots on the ground.”

    It was 1998 when the New York Times published the targets and methods of the attacks that occurred on 9/11/2001. It was 1999 when I realized that if the the same people were behind both plots, the date of the attacks could be predicted by strategy: as long as the attacks eclipsed the release of the final popular vote, we’d be at war before we noticed W had lost.

    That explained the need to rig the court: overruling the popular vote had been a goal since before Poppy popped up in the White House.

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