Speculation and the Media

Posted: June 9, 2014 in Uncategorized
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As I watch all the coverage surrounding the deal that resulted in the release of Sgt Bowe Bergdahl from 5 years in captivity under the Taliban, I am reminded over and over again of the recent weeks of similar reports that bombarded the airwaves when flight MH370 disappeared.  The two stories are completely different, but the US media handled both in identical fashion: speculation.  And, blatantly evident with the Bergdahl coverage (if one is paying any careful attention at all), is what they are not saying.

There once was a time when you could turn on the television or radio, or pick up the newspaper and just get the facts of a story.  “Flight MH370 disappeared from radar at xxxx hrs and a search is underway to determine its location.”  Or, “The administration has negotiated a trade with the Taliban to release the last POW being held in Afghanistan.  When complete details become available, a story will follow.”  Nowadays, that isn’t enough.  Not only do people demand more (although I suspect most US citizens would get along fine waiting for the “story to follow”), but political pundits jump at every discernible chance to elbow in and make sure the public is apprised of the “facts” before the real story has a chance to unravel and be told.  For some reason, media allows this.  Media plays into it, offering a voice to both sides, in the name of “balanced reporting.”

Bullshit.  What it’s left with is speculation.  And it leaves everybody chasing their tails, not knowing who or what to believe.  Or worse, it creates a stronger divide than that which already exists.  And, in the case of folks like Sgt. Bergdahl and his family, it has them convicted before they’ve even had a chance to come home and get reintegrated into society and subjects their families to the worst that that society has to offer.

Most everyone knows the story – or at least the highlights – of Flight MH370.  It took off, it disappeared, there were about 400 different (and in some cases “certain”) theories about where it went and why, and…it’s still missing.  Watching that unfold was like watching a soap opera, until it was discontinued for the next tragedy.  And all of it, every single second of it, was speculation.  For the families who are living with that the disappearance of their loved ones every day, it’s horrific.  But it’s worse to subject them to the continual onslaught of the rantings of political conspiracy theorists and scientists who are simply making guesses out loud.

The story of Sgt. Bergdahl is, in some ways, even more tragic, because we see before us very clearly how certain facets of the administration use and manipulate the media to their own ends.  Putting aside the legality of the administration’s deal (I need only go back to the last administration to point out that it is not unusual for the Commander-in-Chief to occasionally side-step the law; the only question would be whether in this case he had justification to do so) and the wisdom in proffering such a trade and focusing just on the extraction of Bergdahl from captivity, and we still have all sorts of bothersome concerns regarding the judgments being made about him.

There is a fascinating article written about Bowe Bergdahl and his family in Rolling Stone back in 2009 that everybody should read if they haven’t:


Here are the facts as I know them:
I don’t know why Sgt. Bergdahl walked off his post back in 2009 (and I will argue that no one else does, either). Everybody – *everybody* – is saying he deserted, but I wonder why there is no opening for the possibility that he could have been suffering from some sort of medical or psychological event.

He did send an email to his parents in 2009 that appears to express a disillusionment with the US and the military. While I agree with that, I think his thoughts and change in beliefs actually support the idea that his “desertion” could have been a psychological event. I’ll have much more to say about the email in a separate post.

He was held captive 5 years. By the Taliban. When an individual is held prisoner, they go into survival mode and will do whatever they can to stay alive. He likely learned some of their language, adapted to their cultural habits. Not because he found an affinity for them, but because they were the only people he saw for 5 years.

His family never forgot him and did whatever they could to keep them in their hearts. They’re being judged harshly and unfairly now, they’re getting death threats, from people who know no more about them than what they are hearing in the media. The news is that the father has a long beard, spoke in the language of the Taliban, and praised Allah during a press conference, so he must have converted to Islam. But the public is motivated by fear and what they perceive to be a threat. In fact, his supporters, those closest to him, who have spent time with him over the past few years, have explained this behavior as simply a loving and devoted father trying to connect on a human level with the people who had his son.

The more I pay attention to media in this country, the more important I realize it is to get my news from a vast variety of international sources. I’ve always read journals from Britain, India, Asia, and the Mid-East, but in these days and times, I find an urgent need to find an even greater balance and to remind myself to read with an open mind and an open heart.


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