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Another look at the mainstream press vs. the military

A couple of days ago, Jay Tea mentioned the kidnapped New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell, who was freed by British commandos after he was captured by the Taliban while investigating the alleged deaths of dozens of Afghan civilians following a recent NATO air raid. Unfortunately, Farrell's colleague Sultan Munadi, two Afghan civilians, and a British soldier all lost their lives during the raid. Yesterday, executive editor Bill Keller defended the assignment that resulted in the kidnapping, explaining that the story was "important" and that it "could not be verified by phone calls or the Afghan rumor mill."

The scenario (a military strike force sent into enemy territory to rescue captured Western reporters) reminded me of this infamous incident that took place on PBS some twenty years ago:

In the late 1980s, public television stations aired a talking head series called Ethics in America ... This episode was sponsored by Montclair State College in the fall of 1987. Its title was "Under Orders, Under Fire," and most of the panelists were former soldiers talking about the ethical dilemmas of their work. The moderator was Charles Ogletree, a professor at Harvard Law School, who moved from expert to expert asking increasingly difficult questions in the law school's famous Socratic style. During the first half of the show Ogletree made the soldiers squirm about ethical tangles on the battlefield.


Then Ogletree turned to the two most famous members of the evening's panel ... two star TV journalists: Peter Jennings of World News Tonight and ABC, and Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes and CBS. Ogletree brought them into the same hypothetical war. He asked Jennings to imagine that he worked for a network that had been in contact with the enemy North Kosanese government. After much pleading, the North Kosanese had agreed to let Jennings and his news crew into their country, to film behind the lines and even travel with military units. Would Jennings be willing to go? Of course, Jennings replied. Any reporter would-and in real wars reporters from his network often had. But while Jennings and his crew are traveling with a North Kosanese unit, to visit the site of an alleged atrocity by American and South Kosanese troops, they unexpectedly cross the trail of a small group of American and South Kosanese soldiers. With Jennings in their midst, the northern soldiers set up a perfect ambush, which will let them gun down the Americans and Southerners, every one. What does Jennings do? Ogletree asks ... Jennings sat silent for about fifteen seconds after Ogletree asked this question ... he finally said. "I am going to tell you now what I am feeling, rather than the hypothesis I drew for myself. If I were with a North Kosanese unit that came upon Americans, I think that I personally would do what I could to warn the Americans." Even if it means losing the story? Ogletree asked.

Even though it would almost certainly mean losing my life, Jennings replied. "But I do not think that I could bring myself to participate in that act. That's purely personal, and other reporters might have a different reaction." Immediately Mike Wallace spoke up. "I think some other reporters would have a different reaction," he said, obviously referring to himself. "They would regard it simply as a story they were there to cover" ... Ogletree pushed Wallace. Didn't Jennings have some higher duty, either patriotic or human, to do something other than just roll film as soldiers from his own country were being shot? "No," Wallace said flatly and immediately. "You don't have a higher duty. No. No. You're a reporter!"


A few minutes later Ogletree turned to George M. Connell, a Marine colonel in full uniform, jaw muscles flexing in anger, with stress on each word, Connell looked at the TV stars and said, "I feel utter . . . contempt. " Two days after this hypothetical episode, Jennings or Wallace might be back with the American forces--and could be wounded by stray fire, as combat journalists often had been before. The instant that happened he said, they wouldn't be "just journalists" any more. Then they would drag them back, rather than leaving them to bleed to death on the battlefield. "We'll do it!" Connell said. "And that is what makes me so contemptuous of them. Marines will die going to get ... a couple of journalists." The last few words dripped with disgust. Not even Ogletree knew what to say. There was dead silence for several seconds. Then a square-jawed man with neat gray hair and aviator glasses spoke up. It was Newt Gingrich, looking a generation younger and trimmer than when he became Speaker of the House in 1995. One thing was clear from this exercise, he said: "The military has done a vastly better job of systematically thinking through the ethics of behavior in a violent environment than the journalists have." (emphasis added)

Even in the shadow of 9/11, not much seems to have changed. The Leftist mainstream press never loses an opportunity to demonize or pillory the military. But at the same time, they have no qualms about allowing -- or even asking -- the military to sacrifice its own men in order to save a journalist.

To me, that says a lot about the core beliefs of today's Left.


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Comments (26)

When a soldier is threatene... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

When a soldier is threatened, the journalist will not interfere because that would ruin their neutral status and make them part of the story.

When a journalist is threatened, the soldier will interfere because that is their duty.

It is time for journalists to announce (or, at least, declare before venturing into harm's way) that they are neutral, they do not wish to become part of the story, and should they be kidnapped or captured or threatened, no soldiers should intervene out of concern of altering the narrative or conveying the impression that the journalists are favored by the soldiers.

Very nice, Michael. You took what I started and ran with it in a way I should have seen -- but didn't.


Exactly. Thank you.... (Below threshold)

Exactly. Thank you.

I wonder how Chris Wallace ... (Below threshold)

I wonder how Chris Wallace would have viewed his dad's answer?

Michael Yon is an exception... (Below threshold)

Michael Yon is an exception and it once almost got him de-embedded but, then, most MSM "journalists" likely do not consider him a "journalist".

Next time this happens the ... (Below threshold)

Next time this happens the military should not help and should block any ransom payments. Ransom to any of these animals should be considered direct monetary support and be illegal. These journalists live in a world where their right to be a member of the "free press" is protected by the military. A couple of head chopping videos, with the Allah Akbar chant, might change a couple of opinions.

Good men lost their lives t... (Below threshold)
Jay Guevara:

Good men lost their lives to save an NYT cockroach?

That's just so wrong, on so many levels.

I remember this series. It... (Below threshold)
jim m:

I remember this series. It was uniformly excellent. The liberals came off as complete poseurs and never realized how smug and self satisfied they appeared. It was clear that they felt themselves the moral superiors to everyone in the room while they applied one ethical standard to everyone else and a different one to themselves.

You can see the video from this story: http://newsbusters.org/node/4479

The best part of Colonel Connell's comment was Peter Jennings nodding in agreement when the colonel says, "They're not Americans, they're just journalists."and the look of utter loathing that the colonel gives Mike Wallace who happens to be sitting in the chair at his immediate left.

The fact that Mike Wallace is forced to agree with the colonel only increases my contempt for him.

I remember seeing th... (Below threshold)

I remember seeing that show. I was in High School, I had become an American Citizen that year. I could not believe what I was hearing and and it has always been one of the reasons I disliked the press. So many of them take the rights given to them by our Constitution for granted.

I categorically disagree wi... (Below threshold)
jim m:

I categorically disagree with Howcome.

The military should not bend in their code of conduct, not one iota. It's what make them both the most respected and most feared military on he planet. It's what makes them better than the scum journalists with their arrogant attitudes of superiority.

I say this having both a mother and a sister who are professional journalists. My sister would never have made the error in judgment that Wallace did. My mother... well I'll try to assume the same.

"To me, that says a lot abo... (Below threshold)

"To me, that says a lot about the core beliefs of today's Left."

Their "core beliefs" are malleable. Just ask CNN re what they knew of what was going on in Iraq under Saadam. They kept quiet so as not to lose their reporting position inside the country.

I've often wondered what Mr... (Below threshold)

I've often wondered what Mr. Wallace would have done if Dan Rather had been embedded with the American patrol.

So you are viewing this as ... (Below threshold)

So you are viewing this as a purely partriotic duty to warn the soilders and not a moral duty. I am not trying to imply that anyone is wrong to view Mike Wallace as an American before being a journalist.

What would you think of an American journalist about to witness an ambush of a unit other than American or an ally of America?

M.L., It's the grunts' lame... (Below threshold)

M.L., It's the grunts' lament to bail out noisy recon patrols and silly-vilians. Thus the grunts' license to bitch. But you pretending to care is beyond funny.
J.T., good to have you back. I hope you brought your blog repair kit.

Lest you forget:

9/11/01, 1720 (5:20PM), WTC7 collapses

What would you think of ... (Below threshold)
jim m:

What would you think of an American journalist about to witness an ambush of a unit other than American or an ally of America?

The key word in that question is 'American'. The word journalist could be exchanged for ditch digger, doctor, accountant, plumber etc. It doesn't matter.

What should they do? Stay out of our military's way that's what. Alerting the enemy would be an act of treason (actually a pretty clear act since it would be providing very direct aid to the enemy).

People have argued that American journalists who have embedded themselves in enemy military units are providing aid and comfort to the enemy. By creating what is essentially propaganda for the enemy they tread dangerously close to that line. Some cross it. All who do such a thing benefit from the tendency of Americans to give people second chances. The desire to give people a second chance and to make up for their mistakes is not generally found amongst our enemies. Certainly it is lacking among the islamofascists that we are currently fighting with.

Ask Daniel Pearl how that one worked out for him.

Jim M,I am sorry I... (Below threshold)

Jim M,

I am sorry I didn't make my question clear. I was asking about a situation where an American journalist was covering a conflict that the US was not participating in. Like Isreal vs. Palistine, Russia vs. Georgia, wars in Africa, etc.

I am asking if you think there is a moral duty of a reporter from a third country to take an active role in a conflict.

WorldCitizen, two questions... (Below threshold)
John Irving:

WorldCitizen, two questions for you. Do you live in the United States, and do you vote?

John Irving,This, ... (Below threshold)

John Irving,

This, I think, would be considered by many of the regular commentators here an attempt to change the topic.

I am just wondering where people here believe moral obligations of journalist covering war are drawn. Not trying to denegrate anyone's pariotism or anything like that.

To answer your questions...yes and yes.

Sorry,patriotism.<... (Below threshold)



Well, then, you have a cert... (Below threshold)
John Irving:

Well, then, you have a certain obligation to support your country. Others may support theirs, but the topic here was specifically about Americans and American journalists. so the attempt at changing the topic is yours, not mine. I just wanted clarification as to your original viewpoint.

Oh, and by the way, Israel is an American ally. You seem confused, as you initially asked the question as to non-allied/non-interested conflicts, then threw that one in. As the "Palestinians" wholeheartedly support terrorism against the U.S., they most certainly are on the wrong side of that conflict insofar as our nation is concerned.

You really should pick a better handle, also. There's no more such a thing as a "World Citizen" then there are winged unicorn cavalry.

WorldCitizen, it would be u... (Below threshold)

WorldCitizen, it would be up to the specific journalist in the hypothetical cases you present. The press in Israel sometimes gives the palestinians a heads up concerning Israelie troop movement. I prefer journalists be a patriot of whatever country they represent first and foremost. ww

Does being partiotic mean t... (Below threshold)

Does being partiotic mean that a journalist should only write stories about the military and their operations that portray them in a favorable light? As some on the left might say, "Cheerlead for a war". Does patriotism include writing stories, however true they might be, that might disparage military personnel and their actions?

For example, the stories about Abu Ghraib. The guards involved were found guilty and sent to Levenworth, that is a good thing. Getting rid of military personnel that violate rules. Yes, they may have been scapegoated and put on trial to appease world oppinion, but unless there were substance to the charges they would have been found innocent. Unless you are going to disparage the officers that made the rulings. But, I think many people would argue that the stories did harm to our mission in Iran and provided recrutement material for the enemy.

Is it always a case by case basis where there can alway be a difference of opinion or are there some fundemental moral priciples that any reasonable person would say should always be followed?

I agree the journalists sho... (Below threshold)

I agree the journalists should cover stories but be sensitive to the consequences. As an example: The Newsweek article about the flushing of the Koran. Totally untrue, but caused riots and deaths. CNN sits on stories all the time. So does the NYT's. Unfortunately, only when it benefits their bias.

I personally do not believe there are any journalists left. The ones we have now approach stories with a slant already decided. And also, journalists use adjectives in there pieces to diminish or magnify a subject. I would prefer just the facts. No anonymous sources. No sensationalization. ww

Being patriotic means lovi... (Below threshold)

Being patriotic means loving ones country. I love my children. Does that mean that my children always does the right thing? No When they doe wrong it is with love that I correct them so that they grow, If I reward bad behavior then I encourage it.

I also know that before I am an occupation I am an American First , I have duty to my fellow citizens , to support and defend them. That is why in war if I am with those who would seek to destroy my fellow Americans and I had the ability to save them I would.

The other thing is that those who committed crimes were punished by our military Justice system. Solider, Sailors Airmen Marines, and Guardsmen are subject to the UCMJ and are held to higher standards of conduct and violations in times of war often bring death penalty as possible punishment.

Yet i have not seen the Arab world hold the people who Cut peoples heads off for not converting to Islam to account.
Why does the press talk about that?

If the reporters are going ... (Below threshold)
Mikey NTH:

If the reporters are going to go off on their own after being warned, then the reporters ought to pen a release stating that they have been warned, that they are disregarding the warnings, that they know the danger, and that the US government or its allies are under no obligation to go and rescue them.

WC does not seem to remembe... (Below threshold)
John Irving:

WC does not seem to remember that the military released the information on Abu Ghraib, not some "intrepid" reporter. Honor and honesty are far more common in the military than they are in journalism.

The news media always costa... (Below threshold)

The news media always costanly attacking our military then wondering why when they go to a miltary base and get such hostile treatment YES THE VULTURE FLIES INTO THE EAGLES NEST AND WALKS OUT PLUCKTED






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