Saturday, October 22, 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ethics, Editing and the American Media Defense of NPR

I know that I don’t post here nearly as often as I would like, but I wait until something happens that really annoys me. I want to rant about things that have some substance rather than just fill cyberspace with notes about life’s minor irritations.

That said, let’s take on the national media, just for fun.

Not long ago a "civilian" journalist posted a video of leaders at NPR making comments that were less than flattering to the GOP and the TEA Party. They suggested that conservatives and their ilk were racist, among other things.

The tape was made with a hidden camera (and for the record, a hidden microphone, as if that distinction is necessary). The "normal" or maybe I should say "regular" and certainly the "mainstream" media were outraged. These sort of ambushes were unethical by today’s standards and "real" journalists wouldn’t stoop to such levels...

Except for NBC News which once, to prove that the saddlebag gas tanks in Chevrolet pickups would explode in a collision put small rocket motors at the points of impact. They wanted to ensure that the gas tank would explode in a nice fiery display suitable for the evening news.

Except for ABC News that reported James Brady, the White House press secretary wounded in the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan had died. When it was learned that Brady was still alive, one of their anchors came on to tell us that they weren’t reporting rumors. They had verified their facts from three or four sources, which all sounded like good, solid reporting, except Brady HADN’T DIED. It makes no difference how many sources they had if the man was still alive.

Except for CBS News, which reported that they had documented evidence that George Bush hadn’t properly fulfilled his Air Guard obligation. Had they checked the documents, they would have learned they were bogus but they were too anxious to smear the President (and no, it doesn’t really matter what you thought of him, the news media should get the story straight before they broadcast it).

Except for NBC, again, which had been running sting operations to catch predators trolling the Internet for youngsters. These guys would show up and Chris Hansen would step out to ask them questions about what they thought they were doing. It all ended when one guy in Texas, about to be outed, shot himself.

Or how about all the stories about the Ford Pinto blowing up in rear end collisions because of the placement of the gas tank. The Des Moines Register ran a story headlined that suggested a woman had been killed in another Pinto accident... except the car hadn’t exploded. She had been thrown from the vehicle in a crash and died of her injuries. The car did not explode. That it was a Pinto was irrelevant. The headline was misleading, at best.

Or how about Peter Arnett, at one time a darling of the networks. He reported that the Viet Cong had invaded the American Embassy in Saigon during TET of 1968 but the story was inaccurate. While the Viet Cong did penetrate the perimeter walls of the grounds and did get onto the Embassy property, they did not get inside the building because of the bravery of the American Military Police guarding it.

Yes, a fine hair to split, but a reporter, a "war correspondent" ought to be able to figure that out and get the story right. This wasn’t his only mistake that has enter the cultural fabric of America thanks to Arnett.

He is also famous for quoting an American soldier who said that it was a shame they had to destroy the village to save it... except that wasn’t quite right either.

He reported on the siege at Ben Tre. The Viet Cong overran the city and isolated the American advisors in a small compound. The VC used captured artillery trying to kill or dislodge the advisors. Their shelling killed many civilians in the city. Major Phil Cannella led the group of advisors defending the small outpost.

Eventually, the Navy sent gunboats to assist Cannella and tanks and soldiers of the Army’s 9th ID broke the siege. The damage to the city had been done by the VC, not the Americans. Cannella, in talking to Arnett, made it clear that the Americans, in defending the city, had not inflicted the damage, but it was a shame that some of it was destroyed.

Arnett reported that Air Force major, Chester L. Brown, had said that it was a shame that some of the village had been destroyed trying to save it. The implication was that it was Americans who had done the damage. Arnett attributed the quote to the wrong man and let the incorrect implication slide.

How does all this relate to the topic here. It points out the hypocrisy of the media. They can use hidden cameras to expose cheating automobile mechanics and super markets that repackage out of date product, but let a hidden camera expose someone they like, such as NPR, and it becomes unethical.

"The tapes were edited," they scream.

"The whole story wasn’t broadcast," they claim.

And yet, that is exactly what they have done in the past. They have been caught in some wholly false stories and yet they sit in their smug newsrooms and condemn someone for doing exactly what they have been doing.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. There should be a strong press. There should be an outside watchdog on the government. But when that watchdog begins to lick the hand of one political agenda, then it has lost its way and its mandate.

So, I laugh at the press complaining about ethics. I laugh at the press for complaining about editing a story. I laugh at their discomfort in this story. Maybe they should take a look at themselves and see if they haven’t been guilty of a little bit of ethics violation themselves.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hubert Humphrey and Vietnam Bombing

I’ll tell you the one thing that makes my blood boil and that is politicians who feel they can say anything with impunity. They are not held accountable for some of their comments, unless, of course, they maligned a particular race, gender or sexual identity. If the only people affected are soldiers in the field, no one really cares...

If such is not the case, then explain how presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey could run for office and condemn the bombing that the Democratic Administration was carrying out during the Vietnam War and no one seemed to notice.

Yes, I know the war had turned unpopular by the time of the presidential campaign of 1968 but the point was that in 1968 (while I was actually serving in Vietnam, I might add), there were soldiers in the field. Their lives were on the line as they attempted to do what the government had asked them to do... or since this was 1968 and the draft still existed, forced them to do.

Anyway, Humphrey was running around campaigning and complaining about the bombing in Vietnam. But he called his boss, Lyndon Johnson and told him that he didn’t really mean it. His was just political rhetoric, appealing to a specific voting population, looking to be elected.

He apparently didn’t think about the soldiers in the field and what the reaction of them might be. Remember, in 1968, you had to be 21 to vote in an election and many, many of the soldiers in Vietnam were not 21. They were not a voting block to worry about.

Never mind that the bad guys in this, meaning the communists might be listening to him and believing him. Never mind that his statements might inspire them to hang on when they might otherwise have quit. Never mind that he was, basically, giving comfort to the enemy. He was running for office and he didn’t care what damage his words might have on the soldiers in the field. They wouldn’t vote for him anyway. In fact, many couldn’t.

What struck me was that no one in the media, when this conversation between Johnson and Humphrey came to light thought in terms of what consequences it might have had to those in the field. He wanted to be president and if a few soldiers died in Vietnam, well, that was the price.

In today’s world, it is even worse. Say something in Pennsylvania about not supporting the president’s war in Iraq, and the terrorists hear it immediately. They can watch it on the Internet. It can inspire them to new and bolder attacks on the men and women in uniform in those far off places. Say what you believe your voters want to hear because getting reelected is more important than the lives of some soldiers who probably aren’t even from your home district.

I once asked a peace demonstrator if she ever thought that the enemy might be listening and that her words might make the job of the soldiers more difficult and deadly. She said that such things weren’t her concern. Besides, they were all volunteers anyway. It’s not as if we drafted them.

Here’s the point, and it is one I attempted to make to the battalion commander as we sat in our tactical operations center (TOC) outside of Baghdad... you don’t say and do things that give aid to the enemy. The time to protest is before the soldiers are engaged... or to wait until they disengage. To protest after the war starts has consequences and unless you think about and understand those consequences in relation to the soldiers in the field, you ought to keep your mouth shut.

Yes, I know that this is a free country and we can say practically anything we want. But we can’t shout "Fire" in a crowded theater because there can be fatal consequences... and we shouldn’t say things about the war if we don’t understand how those statements will be interpreted by the enemy and how they affect the soldiers who are fighting it...

Maybe we should all pay a little more attention so we don’t end up with soldiers fighting in a war we might not like... but hey, I can’t think of a war that I would like. Sometimes it must be done...
And remember, we really didn’t start this one.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Law & Order and PTSD

So, I’m watching the original Law & Order, and by that I mean one of the latest versions of the original series. In it, as a defense, a psychologist points out that children, exposed to the nightly recap of two wars can suffer from post traumatic stress disorder...

I say, "No."

Not about the PTSD, but about the news showing nightly images of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is not true. You can go days without hearing stories of the war, and often those stories aren’t about the stress of combat on the soldiers, but about other aspects of military life. Should gays and lesbians be allowed to serve without having to hide their sexual orientation? Not exactly the same as details of the stress of combat.

For days I can read our local newspaper and not see a word about the wars. Not a single word. Important stuff overrules the news of war. After all, we need to know that Linsay Lohan might have sneaked from her rehab... Or Mel Gibson had another melt down... Or more about Kate and William.

Or that some alleged church, which I refuse to name, is protesting at a service member’s funeral because the government, and by this I mean the civilian leadership of the Department of Defense, allows homosexuals to serve...

Hey, if someone wants to serve, I say, "More power to them..." And who are these alleged God-fearing people who say otherwise? But I digress...

We can’t be bothered by news of the war. Besides, who does it really affect? The soldiers and marines fighting it, of course. Their families and their friends. But the majority of society pays no attention. There is no rationing because of the war efforts. There are no shortages because of the war.

I suppose what I’m saying is that the war just isn’t that big a part of life these days. It should be. We should be rallying behind our service members. But we don’t... and then we have to put up with all the nonsense that doesn’t really relate.

So, no... that character on Law & Order couldn’t be suffering because of the nightly images of the war on television because it just isn’t there on a nightly basis... and don’t even get me started on the slasher and torture movies that masquerade as entertainment.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Rachel Maddow and John Kerry

Rachel Maddow, the other night, wondered why the "right" attacks "war hero" John Kerry but no one has similar, harsh things to say about John McCain. Why does McCain get a pass but Kerry doesn’t?

I thought about this briefly and came up with multiple answers but before I get to that, let me say that I too, am a Vietnam Vet. I flew helicopters and received the standard medals that go with that mission. I can claim to be a combat decorated veteran with but a single tour in Vietnam and a single tour in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.

John Kerry, on the other hand, claims two tours in Vietnam but spent little more than fourteen or fifteen weeks there. His first "tour" was on a deep water Navy ship and it is possible that he never set foot on South Vietnamese soil while on that mission. Please remember I said possible... it is also possible that he went ashore for a period of hours. I was on Vietnamese soil for the full year I was there, living without air conditioning, often without electricity, and flying missions into hostile territory almost daily.

John Kerry, on his second tour, spent three month on river boats, a fairly dangerous mission where he claims to have been wounded three times. He used this to get himself out of Vietnam. I confess that had the opportunity presented itself, I probably would have done it too.

But the wounds were minor and when I hit an anti-tank mine with a helicopter, causing a slight concussion and ringing in my ears, I received no recognition, other than being the only helicopter pilot to hit an anti-tank mine with a helicopter.

Kerry came home early, got discharged from active duty early, on the condition that he would attend reserve meetings, but never did. Instead he embarked on a political career in which he condemned those of us who served as "baby killers," who committed atrocities at every opportunity, who were out of control, and who made Genghis Khan look tame. He used these allegations as a springboard for his political ambitions.

He was an organizer and participant in the now discredited Winter Soldier extravaganza in which soldiers confessed their sins and atrocities for the world to hear. Made no difference that some of those "soldiers" had never engaged in combat, never made it to Vietnam or were never in the Army. Their list of sins was cataloged and published without any attempt to verify their credentials or the events they claimed they participated in.

Kerry, of course, threw his medals away at one of the public demonstrations because, in the early 1970s, it was only idiots like me who were proud of their service. Oh, we never really mentioned it because, as Hollywood had noted, the quickest way to identify a villain in that era was to make him a Vietnam vet. Now, it’s to make him a corporate executive.

I learned this one day at work when it was somehow brought up that I had served in Vietnam. One of my co-workers said, "But you seem so normal..."

Anyway, Kerry’s medals eventually surfaced, on the wall of his senate office because it became a symbol to be a Vietnam vet. In fact, so many now thought of it as something to be proud of that during the 1990 census, when one of the questions was if you had served in Vietnam 13 million said yes... that’s out of the 2 – 3 million who actually did.

Then, as we watched Kerry accept the Democratic nomination for president, he strode to the podium, snapped off a salute and said, "Reporting for duty." Now a proud Vietnam veteran who had forgotten all the atrocities he had cataloged twenty-five years earlier, all the disgrace he had heaped on his fellow veterans by underscoring the myth that we were all a bunch of crazed killers who shot up villages for the fun of it and gunned down innocents at every opportunity.

Don’t get me wrong, these things did happen rarely and it made the life of all us that much more difficult, but certainly not with the regularity that Kerry would have had you believe...

And today, still in the Senate, with no higher political aspirations at the moment, Kerry again maligns the service of the service members in Iraq and Afghanistan suggesting they are under educated teenagers who can’t find a real job...

Since I was deployed with a National Guard unit, I knew that wasn’t true. We had one Ph.D. with us, a large number of men and women with master degrees, and a larger number of college graduates. We skewed older than the active forces but we did have some teenagers in our ranks and as in Vietnam, I saw our soldiers commit no atrocities but did see them repair schools, donate time to help Iraqi citizens at nearly every turn, and do much to help stabilize the country... without either Kerry nor the news media aware of all the good things we did.

So, Ms. Maddow, the reason Kerry is attacked is his hypocrisy about his war record, his condemnation of this fellow veterans when it is expedient for him to do so, his attempts to paint us as uneducated, wanton killers, and then his attempt to run on his combat record.

John McCain might be a lot of things, but he is not this blatantly two-faced about his military service. You might not like McCain’s politics, but he doesn’t attempt to claim political office on the backs of his fellow veterans.

And now you know why Kerry is not respected by very many veterans...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

George Bush's Lowest Moment

So George Bush’s lowest moment was when some hip hop guy (and yes, I leave his name out on purpose because it seems to suggest something about the importance of the statement) said that Bush didn’t care about black people. Not when Muslims (who were obviously extremists, as if it is necessary to qualify the statement) flew airplanes into buildings. Not when he learned that soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen had been killed in combat. Not when the wars continued and more American service members were killed or wounded.


When some guy suggested that he didn’t care about black people.

When Bush said that major combat operations had ended, I was on active duty with the Army.

When Bush leaned on his podium, looked into the camera and asked our enemies in Iraq to "bring it on," I was standing in our Tactical Operations Center (TOC) in Baghdad... not overly thrilled with Bush daring them to attack us.

When Bush talked of sacrifice, I was in Iraq while he was in Washington, D.C., living in a mansion, eating three good meals a day, and not worrying about an enemy dropping a mortar on him or shooting him or blowing up his Humvee with a bomb.

But his lowest moment was when some guy said that Bush didn’t care about black people.

Geez, how detached can you get? Maybe I should have said something about how I missed the last family Christmas because I was in Iraq and my mother-in-law, who hosted them, died the September following my return.

Maybe I should have said something about how that 14 months on active duty wrecked what was left of my writing career. Nope, no one has called and suggested they would pay really big money for my memoirs. Instead I have to scratch around and try to convince a publisher to pay peanuts for my books (one of which is now a Kindle Book because no one else would pay for it).

Well, George, I’m sorry that Kanye West said you didn’t care about black people. How about this? I’m not so sure you care about the service members you sent In Harm’s Way. Think about that.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bill O'Reilly and the Talking Heads

I have grown tired of the talking heads on TV and their continued promotion of their books. They all have them and they all hit The New York Times bestsellers list. And why not? They get nightly commercials to hawk their books while the rest of us aren’t so lucky.

These are the same people that "support the troops’ with everything they say, but I don’t see any of them in a uniform, holding onto a weapon and wondering if that dead dog in the road is concealing a roadside bomb... Oh, yes, the terrorists do that sort of thing and we learned to look for wires running from the animal into the bushes far away.

Why, you ask, should this bother me? Well, before my National Guard unit was called to active duty and I was sent to Iraq, I was a writer. I did many things. Science fiction. Action-adventure. Non-fiction. I had contracts to write books and I had work lined up.

Then we were called to active duty and I didn’t have time to meet my deadlines. Oh, the publisher were gracious enough to ask to me to finish as soon as possible. I finished one of the books just before we left home but the next didn’t get delivered on time... and the one that followed that was late. I could not fulfill my obligations for the copy edited manuscript or the page proofs because I was in Iraq.

They said that when I returned they would set something up and we’d do some additional books. But then it came time to deliver on that promise and they were all afraid that I would be deployed again. I told them that I thought that wouldn’t happen, but, of course it did. That deployment was short. Then came Katrina and I was on active duty for that and finally the floods here. All required periods of active duty lasting from about fourteen days to a month or more.

My writing career is now pretty much in the toilet. I don’t have access to a daily TV show to tell everyone about it. I can’t buy commercial time on TV or the radio because it is too expensive. And those talk show hosts don’t want to talk to me because they don’t care about what I think.

I’m wondering what the careers of all those talking heads would be if they had to take 14 months off to serve. What if they didn’t have daily access to TV to promote their books... and don’t tell me they’re too old to serve. I was in Iraq at 54... and this after serving in Vietnam at 19.
If any of them would like, I can speak intelligently on a variety of subjects. For example, I knew in 2003 that the Iraqis wanted us to leave, which is what all the surveys were reporting. I knew because I had talked to Iraqis in Baghdad and Tikrit and Babylon. But I also knew the rest of the statement... Yes, they wanted the Americans to leave, but not right now. That was something that hasn’t been reported until recently.

Hey, networks, why not?

Anyway, the point is... if I had access to a daily commercial for my books, I too would find myself on the bestseller list. Instead, I was out of the country, on a mission dictated by the president and endorsed by nearly all those talking heads. Now my career is in the dumper but none of them are around to offer help. Why am I not surprised?