The second Post of the email I received from Sarge is about backlash from media reporting.
This week's news cycle seems to focus on a single issue: will the word
"Haditha" become the new buzzword for U.S. war crimes?
I was in Iraq when the Abu Ghraib story broke in 2004 (side note: I drove
past that very prison just last night) and I don't think the American
military has really recovered from the scandal. I remember the backlash it
caused, the increased attacks and IEDs. When I began to read into this
Haditha story, I suddenly realized why attacks have spiked in recent days.
One major disadvantage of the media blitzes these reporters perpetrate is
that they cause more discontent and violence in a country where you can buy
a Soviet-produced rocket propelled grenade launcher with two rounds for the
price of an iPod. For a moment set aside whether these Marines are innocent
or guilty and think about what kind of backlash this story is going to
produce. More IEDs will be placed, more weapons will appear on the streets,
and more soldiers are going to die. I'm a major supporter of the First
Amendment, but I have a vested interest in this incident being kept
low-profile. If it's true, it's an atrocity, and the men responsible from
bottom to top should swing from the yardarm. If it turns out to be yet
another case of the media attacking the Bush administration, an as-yet
unknown number of U.S. servicemen will have been killed as a result of a
media circus. If the latter is true, can we hang the reporters for negligent
Freedom of the press is a double-edged blade, but it seems these days it
only cuts one way. Major and respected media figures and outlets wave their
politics about like a banner, but anyone who dares to call them on it is
immediately branded a censor and an enemy of free speech. What about
professional responsibility? My fellow soldiers and I are bombarded with
reminders to protect military secrets when speaking to our families on the
telephone or through email, yet the same secrets we're protecting can be
purchased by our enemies simply by stopping off at a newsstand and picking
up a copy of Newsweek. Retractions are rare and grudging, and in cases where
acts of violence can be traced directly to irresponsible reporting, no blame
is shouldered by the news. Anchors simply tell us about the latest incident
without ever adding, "our bad." I'm not asking for self-flagellation, but
I'm getting sick to death of my fellow soldiers being sacrificed on the
altar of journalism and of the absurd sentiment that the people have the right
to know everything and anything, even if it endangers our forces overseas.
Freedom of the press also requires some level of responsibility.
So I implore you, next time you read an article or see a news report about
Haditha, say a prayer for our men and women in uniform that none of them
come to harm because of that report.