If you want to hear an earful, ask an American soldier how he feels about our news media. You will invariably hear an outpouring of dismay and outrage over antagonistic and reckless reporting. I have stacks of letters and e-mails from soldiers and their families sharing those frustrations. During the Vietnam War, those sentiments would get packed away – private hurts to be silently borne for decades.
But today, the Internet has allowed soldiers on the front to disseminate their views – breaking through the media’s entrenched, anti-military bias – in unprecedented ways. In the wake of Newsweek’s publication of its unsourced, mayhem-inducing and now-retracted item about Quran desecration by U.S. military interrogators at Guantanamo Bay, a sergeant in Saudi Arabia immediately responded on a blog called The Anchoress:
I have placed my life and the life of my fellow soldiers in danger in order to achieve a measure of the freedoms we enjoy at home for the Iraqi and Afghani people. As soldiers, we all understand that we may be asked to participate in wars (actions) that we (or our countrymen) don’t agree with. The irresponsible journalism being practiced by organizations such as Newsweek, however, [is] just inexcusable. At this point, because of their actions and failure to follow up on a claim of that magnitude, they’ve set the process back in Afghanistan immensely …
I don’t regret serving my country, not one bit, but to have everything I’m doing here undermined by irresponsible journalists leaves me disgusted and disappointed.
Military bloggers across the Web this week echoed the sergeant’s disgust with American journalism. And it’s not just Newsweek.
“We are decorating pages,” sniffed Giulia Melucci, the magazine’s vice president for public relations, to the St. Petersburg Times.
As Ralph Hansen, associate professor of journalism at West Virginia University and a rare member of academia with his head screwed on straight, observed:
Portraying honorable soldiers as deserters is clearly inappropriate. And I don’t see any way Harper’s could claim that they weren’t portraying the young Marines as deserters. A cover is more than just art. I think that someone had a great idea for a cover illustration and forgot that he or she was dealing with images of real people.
The members of our military are more than just an expedient means to a titillating magazine cover or juicy scoop or Peabody Award. Too often since the “War on Terror” was declared, eager Bush-bashing journalists have forgotten that the troops are real people who face real threats and real bloodshed as a consequence of loose lips and keyboards.
It’s not just Newsweek that needs to learn that lesson.