As PBS contemplated the role John McCain's military heroism might play in the 2008 campaign just before 9 pm Eastern time, liberal PBS pundit Mark Shields noted that a military record hasn't been an electoral advantage since the end of the Cold War, but he swatted at President Bush, joking he'd fought "the Battle of Amarillo in the Texas Air National Guard," but he also characterized that time as how Bush "avoided military service."
Shields played the role of modern historian: "So we had four elections in a row where the candidate who avoided military service won over the candidate who had gone to the field of combat. Clinton defeated Bush. Clinton defeated Dole..."
Then came the Bush-bashing; "In 2000, George W. Bush, who fought the Battle of Amarillo in the Texas Air National Guard, beat Al Gore, who’d actually gone to Vietnam, and beat John Kerry, wearer of the Silver Star in Vietnam."
Shields apparently didn’t think it was "military service" to serve in the National Guard. He could say Bush avoided combat in Vietnam, but he didn’t avoid military service. Shields also misleads the PBS viewer into assuming that Al Gore was a combat veteran, instead of a journalist with Stars and Stripes who stayed away from the front lines.
In 1999, Gore biographer Bill Turque (then with Newsweek, now a reporter for the Washington Post) highlighted the role of connections at the highest level -- Army Chief of Staff William Westmoreland -- played in Gore’s service in the military: "According to Gore's friend, the Harvard senior didn't know until several months later that his contact was Gen. William Westmoreland, Army chief of staff. He says he met twice that spring with the former commander of U.S. forces in South Vietnam to discuss Gore's options. Westmoreland guaranteed no cushy deals, according to Gore's friend, but left him with one sweeping assurance: ‘I believe he will be watched,’ the general said. ‘He will be cared for.’"
In 2004, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth challenged John Kerry’s Silver Star account, suggesting he had faced only a single, fleeing, wounded Viet Cong teenager, and that his actions on February 28, 1969 were not the stuff deserving of medals.