Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Curious Case of Bowe Bergdahl

Last weekend, President Obama announced that the United States had negotiated the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held by the Taliban since 2009. In exchange for Bergdahl's release, the United States turned over five "high ranking" Taliban commanders who had been held in Guantanamo Bay for more than a decade. These men were taken into the custody of the nation of Qatar, where they will remain for a year before being fully freed. 

The reaction from critics was immediate and over the top. Initially, the complaints had to do with the high price paid for Bergdahl's release, but quickly morphed into questioning whether Bergdahl was even worthy of release because of the suspicious nature of his capture, which may have occurred after he deserted his fellow troops. The story quickly snowballed and consumed news cycles for days, as allegations that other troops had died looking for Bergdahl popped up, others speculated that Bergdahl had been "flipped" like the fictional character Nicolas Brody in the TV show Homeland and others suggested the President had engaged in an impeachable offense for failing to provide notice to Congress as required by a proviso inserted into a recent Defense Appropriations bill. The fact that men were being held without due process in Gitmo for years on end was of no moment for those suddenly concerned about the rule of law. 

Of course, much of this narrative was driven by Republicans whose motivations were belatedly (as usual) discovered - John McCain had voiced support for a deal in the past, while others deleted anodyne tweets of support for Bergdahl in the wake of all the blowback. The same party that labeled anyone who questioned George W. Bush after 9/11 as flirting with treason now openly questioned the propriety of securing the release of one of our prisoners of war and much of the D.C. media gave them a pass. 

Indeed, the conduct of many in the media was even more shameful than that of the Republicans, who, after all, would find a way to criticize Obama if he declared his love of mom and apple pie. The President has been in office long enough that we have become desensitized to the odious, incessant, and unfair invective hurled at him by the other party, but the media's complicity in driving the narrative of Bergdahl as at best a deserter and at worst an enemy of the nation, was a travesty. The tone on Fox News was to be expected, but TIME Magazine put a photo of Bergdahl on its cover under the headline "Was He Worth It?" and the supposedly "mainstream" Washington Post joined the chorus of questioning the deal, allowing Allen West space on their website to publicly call for the President's impeachment. 

All of it reported without any context, little verifiable fact, and an almost reflexive desire to obscure the truth instead of illuminate it. It took days for the media to get around to reporting relevant information, like Bergdahl's condition at the time of his release (not good), that the claim that others died searching for him was tenuous, that the Taliban required secrecy regarding the negotiations in order to complete the deal, and that the "reporting" requirement that people claimed the President ignored may not have been ignored at all, and even if it had, its legality, as a limit on the President's authority as commander-in-chief was at a minimum, in question. In the meantime, Bergdahl's family was maligned, a welcome home parade for him was canceled because of threats that were directed to the town he comes from, and he has been tried, convicted and sentenced in the court of public opinion.

And these were just the facts about the instant case missed by the media. They ignored entirely the fact that George W. Bush had released hundreds of prisoners from Guantanamo and that other countries (most prominently, Israel) have done similar exchanges. Further, the idea that somehow the Taliban are unique enemies ignores history. Nazi scientists were recruited after World War II to lead our space program (look it up - "Operation Paperclip"), men who fought us in the rice paddies of Vietnam were leaders in that country when we re-established full diplomatic ties in the 1990s, and many of our closest allies were onetime foes (e.g., Germany, Japan, Italy, Mexico, England) who were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of our soldiers over the course of our nation's history.  

Of course, this is of a piece with what passes for "journalism" inside the Beltway these days. Republicans stir a pot to get Eric Shinseki fired and reporters happily pile on, ignoring the fact that a bill that would have helped address the scandal they were gleefully reporting on was filibustered by the same Senate Republicans who wanted Shinseki's ouster. Once Shinseki was unceremoniously let go, those same Republicans negotiated a deal while the media moved on. 

What is particularly egregious about what now happens is that the benefit of the doubt, and indeed, the cheerleading the media did before the Iraq War without a hint of skepticism of anything other than those who questioned that war's justification, has now been flipped on its head so that even the most specious claims raised by Republicans regarding anything having to do with the Obama Administration is immediately reported as immutable fact, except the "facts" usually turn out to be at best shaded truths and at worst total fabrications (see, e.g., the litany of Obamacare falsehoods starting with death panels and ending with insurance death spirals, Shirley Sherrod, the IRS "scandal," etc.). The mea culpas get buried 20 pages into the newspaper (if anyone is bothering to read them anymore) or left to the Rachel Maddows of the world to point out. 

Such would have been the case with Bergdahl, regardless.The same Republicans screaming "impeachment" for negotiating his release would have done the same had he died in captivity.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent analysis of the outrage du jour; and no, we don't get tired of pumpkin photos.