A Navy veteran of the tumultuous Vietnam and Nixon years, he served his country from inside that chaotic White House. I cannot sing his praises enough! As a writer and a brother, a mentor and a friend, this man has had a life-long effect on me and so many others. Enjoy the spell he weaves with his mastery of prose and attention to detail that only his style surpasses.
Alright, alright enough already!! Like most Americans, I have been glued to my television watching the carnage that passes for modern warfare intermixed with the so called analysis of same from various pundits – retired senior military officers (who by the way should know better), unemployed politicians of both parties (who certainly should know better), and various persons of note apparently willing to publicly display the fact that they don’t have the slightest idea what they are talking about. This last group frankly put me in mind of a mix of Edgar Bergan’s old pal Charlie McCarthy and the more recent screen horror puppet “Chuckie”.
Day after day at the news conferences, briefings and senate subcommittee hearing potty breaks, the same journalists ask the same inane leading questions of the same officials, military and civilian. Why do they do this? How long does it take for the answers they are given to sink in? What is the motivation for this unseemly and irritating behavior? Can anyone identify it?
Any mother worthy of the title can identify it in a New York minute – selective hearing. They hear only what they want to hear and ignore the rest as irrelevant. Like petulant children bent on having their own way, they seek to develop answers that they hope will generate sound bites of an embarrassing or controversial nature supporting their own political or philosophical agendas so they can file their scoops and rush home to sit by their mailboxes waiting for their Pulitzer Prizes. To paraphrase the Scriptures – He who lives by the sound bite will die by the sound bite.
There is an old tactical adage that if you give people enough rope they will eventually hang themselves. The case may be argued that the amount of rope required is inversely proportional to the subject’s estimation of his/her own education or intellect. The fact that the reporter’s education may be totally unrelated to the topic at hand and inadequate to qualify him/her as an expert is of little consequence as far as they are concerned. They persist in feigning a level of knowledge they obviously do not posses nor are capable of possessing. Nor does it appear to matter that their intellect may be prejudiced or in a lot of cases be flat out questionable.
Journalists worthy of the title should report only the facts surrounding the events they observe or are assigned to cover. They should be skeptical of all of their sources, official or not and always be aware of the motives or agendas of those sources. In fact calling attention of the public at large to these motives or agendas is often as much a part of the story as the relevant facts surrounding it.
They are after all human beings and having opinions is allowed as long as they openly own up to them and keep them separate from their work product. Any one with half a brain would realize that pursuing perfect objectivity is not easy. But hey, lets be honest; that’s why they get the big bucks, perks, and occasional trips on Air Force One.
Where the majority of them lose it is allowing their own emotions, prejudices, and personal opinions to color their professional work all the while maintaining an aura of saintly objective purity. The rest get jobs at Fox News or pursue other careers hopefully more useful. Politics or stand-up comedy comes to mind.
It is very satisfying to see a sizable majority now dining on generous servings of crow dished up by our splendid young men and women in uniform. Imbedding journalists with the military is a stroke of genius in my humble opinion. I understand why a lot of members of the military establishment are uncomfortable with the idea but it does two basic things. 1) It goes a long way towards re-establishing trust and credibility between the military and the public which took such a hit in the Viet Nam era and 2) it gives the local area commander some physical control over the correspondents rather than allowing them to run around willy-nilly getting into all kinds of trouble and making PITA’s of themselves even more than normal.
There is no experience quite as humbling as diving into a muddy hole upon hearing the AK-47 rounds whizzing over one’s head, feeling the impacts of close RPG or mortar rounds and dealing with the laundry and personal hygiene problems such situations can cause. The quickest way to create an ally is to expose him to the common danger you both face.
Up until now I have been mostly critical of the press at large. Please let me shift my emphasis and hopefully clarify my stance. By and large I have no bones to pick with the in the field working press. They are after all subject to the influence of those who have the power to control the various aspects of their professional lives such as pay, future assignments and the like. The function they perform in our free society is not just necessary but critical to the survival of our Democracy.
The middle and upper management of most press organizations however appear to be attempting to manage the news to influence public opinion rather than simply to facilitate reporting it. It is these people who in my estimation do not deserve the title of journalist - propagandists maybe but never journalists. In some cases they may even withhold or omit comment on certain stories to protect either their organization or themselves from supposed consequences. Reference the recent disclosures of the CNN official regarding the brutality of the early years of the Iraqi regime. One has to wonder what the impact of that revelation at that time might have had in the stream of current events. Timely truth always ultimately structures events in a positive way at least as much as repression of it can temporarily have negative impact.
As I have already acknowledged, journalists are human beings and as such are subject to the same weaknesses, foibles, and temptations as we all are. They bleed, they die, and they are capable of bearing scars - those that are visible and those that are not. In aspiring to the title of journalist, they make certain commitments to the rest of us – to be our eyes and ears in far away places, to always tell the truth not necessarily as they perceive it but unvarnished bare facts, and to adhere to a self imposed standard of conduct that gives us a measure of faith in their credibility.
Such commitments are often and should be grounded in good intentions; but keeping and maintaining them should be a constant personal goal. To keep and maintain such commitments primarily requires two basic things – integrity and sacrifice.
Personally I doubt I could be a true journalist; not from lack of integrity or unwillingness to sacrifice, but an aversion to dealing with the people they have deal with and doing some of the things they have to do. It would sorely tax my gentle Southern upbringing.
The True Cost Of Political Proctology – “It would be nice if fear of public exposure kept the cruel, stupid and inept out of public life and power but it hasn’t seemed to deter them in the past.”
Cancer Patience – “Experience is of no value unless it is shared.”
My Rant – “Ok boys and girls, fasten your seat belts, put your seats and tray tables in the full upright position, and get ready. I am going to try my hand at this “rant” business.”
Negro Mattie – “Perhaps the greatest testament to Mattie’s capacity to love was the fact that we were not the only white family to pass by her casket with tears in our eyes.”
Doc – “To say our family respected and trusted our family doctor is an understatement.”
Little Sisters - “I was her foil and scapegoat . . .”