Bush Conspiracy Theories

When I was teaching at a community college I always warned my students against relying on the Internet for source material. It seems silly to have to say it but just because something is on the web doesn’t mean it is true or reliable. This is something you have to teach students but surely not respectable and published authors? Well, it seems as if Kevin Phillips, author of American Dynasty, has failed to follow this basic wisdom.

Now, I have never been a fan of Mr. Phillips as he seems to be the media’s favorite type of “conservative” – a an ex-conservative. (BTW, why is it that the media, who despised President Nixon, loves to quote ex-Nixon men like Phillips, Safire, and even Pat Buchanan when it suits their purposes?) As a result I haven’t read the book, but luckily Peter Schweizer has, and in a piece for National Review Online he unpacks many of the conspiracy theories Phillips gives credence to in his supposedly devastating book on the Bush family.

What is startling is just how flimsy the evidence is for many of the wilder claims Phillips makes. Here are two examples:

– Phillips believes a good case can be made that Prescott Bush, George W. Bush’s grandfather, was recruited into the world of intelligence by a British spy. The source he quotes is John Loftus and Mark Aaron’s book The Secret War Against the Jews, which argues that every American president since FDR has “betrayed Israel and the Jewish people.” The book offers only anonymous sources for this remarkable claim. Nevertheless, Phillips quotes it ten times on such sensitive matters as his allegation of Bush-family links to Nazi Germany even though the authors offered only anonymous sources and an unpublished paper by an unknown author for their claims. (I asked repeatedly for a copy of the unpublished paper from them over the course of two years and received no answer.) In another instance, Phillips claims that the Bushes have obstructed Justice Department investigations into CIA activities. His source? A book by Russel Bowen called The Immaculate Deception: The Bush Crime Family Exposed. Bowen claims to have run drugs for “the secret government” in America, which apparently makes him qualified to write on this subject.
– In another chapter Phillips revives the tired old story that the Reagan-Bush campaign planned an “October Surprise” to prevent the release of American hostages in Iran before the 1980 presidential election. Although long since abandoned by Democrats who, after an official inquiry headed by Rep. Lee Hamilton, admitted there was no evidence for it, Phillips says the theory should be taken seriously — based on new evidence. His sources? A series of overheated stories on the left-wing website, consortiumnews.org, written by Robert Parry, an obsessive pursuer of this theory whose work has been repudiated by The New Republic, Newsweek, American Journalism Review, and even The Village Voice.

The point isn’t that Phillips criticizes the Bush family, but that he spins these wild theories based on little more than Internet wackos and conspiracy theory fantasy. Which is a shame because Phillips’ The Cousins’ Wars was by all accounts a serious work of history. This is often a problem with the more journalistic accounts of recent history. They are often shallow with little foundation or suspect sources. Which is why I skip them for the most part. Unfortunately, these books often sell well and poison the mind of those who read them thinking they are getting accurate history. Phillips ideological agenda has been clear for some time but now his scholarship is slipping. President Bush does seem to have a way of unbalancing people.

Schweizer, author of Reagan’s War: The Epic Story of His Forty Year Struggle and Final Triumph Over Communism, has a book on the Bush family coming out in April. Perhaps the diligent reader can read them both and compare notes.

UPDATE: New York Times review of the Schweizer book here.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).