Doing More Damage Than Good
Doing More Damage Than Good
Conservative commenter John Cole (not liberal commenter Juan Cole!) has written a controversial article called "Doing More Damage than Good" in which he argues that conservatives are doing everyone a great disservice by viciously attacking any news organization that reports anything negative or controversial about the military. Here's an excerpt:
Everyone repeat after me:Please read Cole's article - it is enlightening.
Reporting on abuses that have been committed by our troops, in our name, is not anti-military. While I am not arrogant enough to attempt to divine the motives of every journalist who reports on such abuses, Hugh [Hewitt] appears to be up to the challenge. I find his attack on the reporting of the outrageous abuses detailed at length in the NY Times to be both disturbing and disingenuous.
Apparently in the myopic worldview of Mr. Hewitt, reading and reporting the just-released documents the Army itself created is both 'anti-military' and 're-hashing' an old story. Let's not focus on the fact that few, if any, have been punished for these transgressions. Let's not focus on credible reports that these incidents continue to occur. Instead, if Hewitt is to have his way, we should all focus on the 'anti-military' stance of the media.
We have a problem in our society and it stems from the fact that there are those who would enthusiastically crush any criticism of the military.
The military - one of the largest organizations in the world, probably the most powerful organization in the world, the recipient of an incomprehensible amount of our tax revenue and for many, the primary "face" on our foreign policy - is beyond reproach. This is enforced socially by a very active and very vocal, very powerful large group of conservatives who spring into action anytime something unsavory is said about the US military. They are, essentially, Thought Police who by protecting the military for scrutiny and criticism create an environment in which the military is unaccountable to the American taxpayer and is less able to identify and solve its problems.
I'm not here to lay a trip on the military. Even as a pacifist, I have a great deal of respect for the US military and particularly for the men and women who have made the military their career. I know that the vast majority of people in the service are honorable and good and act professionally and selflessly in ways that most of those of us on the outside can never truly appreciate.
That being said, no organization is infallible. Every organization has their share of bad people as well. The military differs from a bank in this respect, however, in that servicemen and women represent the people of the United States and by virtue of the realities of war, at times wield a great deal of (oftentimes deadly) power over others.
Without dwelling on details, I, along with hundreds of millions of other people around the world from all political persuasions have been deeply disturbed by various US military scandals that have been reported over the past year - detainee abuse being just one of them.
Yet Hugh Hewitt and thousands like him would prefer to see those stories go unreported. The rightwing blogosphere engages in intense career-ending campaigns against those who would dare suggest that the military may have problems (see Eason Jordan). Kevin Sites received death threats after having happened to film the battlefield execution of a wounded prisoner in a mosque in Fallujah (an act, by the way, I didn't have a problem with, given the circumstances).
The US military is accountable to the American people. If and when there are problems in the military, they should be identified, explored and corrected.
The actions and rhetoric of Hugh Hewitt and many very vocal conservatives, in the blogosphere in particular, appear to be either asserting that soldiers are incapable of acting unprofessionally or that the military should be exempt from scrutiny and criticism.
What is your reaction to the Cole article? What level of accountability to do you think that the military should have to the American people?
Rightwing commentators often use the phrase "aid and comfort to the enemy" with respect to the press coverage of our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since this is part of the Constitutional definition of "treason", is this acceptable rhetoric
John Cole uses the example of what he considers critical excess to make a valid point -- media should provide oversight and report abuses by our military -- but that doesn't in any way diminish the equal validity of the position he so strongly opposes on the part of his erstwhile conservative colleagues.
You cannot convince me that, by and large, the press doesn't harbor a deep cynicism about the military, and the rightful exercise of American military power. I believe this to be an aging holdover from Vietnam and the Watergate era. (The cynicism, not the people who hold these views.) If you don't see that or recognize that, there's nothing I can say or point to that will change your mind. What I would point to as cynicism or hypercriticism, you might call healthy skepticism.
It's kind of like how African Americans can be subjected to very subtle forms of prejudice or mistrust to which most of us are totally oblivious. Those of us in the military know it all too well.
When Abu Ghraib happened, it was like the O.J. Simpson case. Story after story, day after day, news about news about news about news, any excuse at all to run the photos, always the photos, over and over again the photos. Editors chose to make those decisions, one because of sales, but more importantly, it might "finally turn" the American people against this war and against their military. You will hardly find a Soldier serving today who doesn't know this in their core. And no amount of self serving, excuse making, "we're just looking for the truth" justifications will change that.
Contrast this treatment of these horrific pictures that would surely turn Muslim anger to a heated fervor against us, versus films and photos of the utter carnage of 9/11, that disappeared totally from public view within weeks (if not days) of 9/11, because editors felt that these stories might "inflame Americans," or cause them to rise in a heated fervor against Muslims. (This is especially odd in that Americans rarely and not at all recently have any tendency towards public violence, while such responses are a staple of Middle Eastern societies.)
Note the hypocrisy of these two contrasting editorial decisions. Note that every major American media outlet made the same set of decisions in both cases.
Coincidentally, both sets of editorial decisions happened in the run up to a Presidential Campaign, and oddly enough, both decisions were viewed to benefit the challenger against the incumbent. And yet, this doesn't strike anyone on the left as somewhat self-serving or duplicitous?
Abu Ghraib hurt the U.S. Military and our mission terribly. And to this day, many on the left still believe deeply in their heart of hearts that these abuses were, if not directed, knowingly tolerated by the President, the Secretary of Defense, and every General Officer in between these gentlemen and the depraved scum who carried out these abuses.
Yet you won't find a Soldier who isn't very glad there are Soldiers involved going to jail for hard labor with long sentences, and that there are superior officers having their careers terminated. So report and prosecute away.
Anyone who could seriously make the argument that the "good news" of our military and diplomatic efforts are receiving an over-abundance of reporting is deluded, or blind, or more precisely, hallucinating. (You see these things, but they're not really there.) To then point to Blogs as the source for all that good news just underscores that the good news is on the Blogs because it sure as heck doesn't make the Times. (Or CBS.)
Career ending attacks? Eason Jordan didn't just report that "the military had problems." He accused the U.S. Military of targeting (intentionally killing) innocent civilians. As the head of a major news division, he took the opportunity before a foreign audience in slandering the U.S. Military with these untruths, and then lying about what he said. (No tape or transcript has ever been made available to refute what has been reported that he said, that he denies.) I would think stockholders and owners of reputable media outlets wouldn't be too enthused by heads of those organizations making outrageous claims not backed up by fact.
Perhaps you allude to Dan Rather too? The gentleman who made a ruinous situation worse for CBS by attacking his critics and assuring the American people that the source of his reporting was unimpeachable? Who's producer, no doubt with his full support, bit fully into a fraudulent story, perhaps planted by political operatives, but surely abetted by a known anti-Bush crank?
The military should be and surely is fully accountable to the American people. The U.S. Military is probably one of the MOST responsive organizations in the world in terms of accountability. We even have our own legal system that exists outside of and in addition to criminal courts, and we can be punished by both.
I've mentioned before that, when deficiencies or problems are noted at all levels of command, almost immediately we see corrective actions, training, preventative measures.
The American people should and can be very proud of their military, notwithstanding and in spite of the infrequent abuse of power or transgression. And proud, too, that moreso than any other institution, public or private, tries to right whatever wrong takes place within our organization.
If the press handled its own transgressions with as much humility and earnestness, we wouldn't be having this discussion.