How often do we pause to think about or express our gratitude for the dedication and sacrifice of those who serve in the Armed Forces? These young men and women are our first line of defense against evil and anarchy, and yet for many, their often heroic service is unappreciated. Or even twisted by some.
A recent item in the news caused me to reflect upon this service. It involved the passing last week of 28-year-old Robert Richards, a decorated former Marine scout sniper with multiple deployments to Afghanistan. As was reported in the Marine Corps Times and elsewhere, even after being severely wounded in 2010 — with his foot nearly being severed and shrapnel wounds to his throat — he still chose to go back to Afghanistan for a third combat deployment.
Sadly, and quite tragically, Richards is not known to most for his heroism and his dedication to his fellow Marines, but because of a video that surfaced in January 2012 showing him and other Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters. The video predictably caused an “international uproar” from media outlets, with the resulting controversy and proceedings greatly affecting Richards.
I would suggest these media outlets do not always have their priorities straight.
I would further suggest that, for instance, the photograph of the 7-year-old son of a radicalized ISIS member holding the severed head of a Syrian soldier should cause a greater international uproar. Or the photograph of a British rapper turned ISIS jihadist holding a severed head and tweeting the caption, “Chillin with my homie or what’s left of him,” should cause an ever greater international uproar. Or simply the army of ISIS marching across Iraq butchering Christians and all “non-believers” should cause a greater international uproar.
Some in the media relish highlighting the mistakes or “crimes’’ committed by the U.S. military. One of the most infamous examples was the coverage of U.S. soldiers “torturing” prisoners at Saddam Hussein’s former Abu Ghraib prison. While the humiliation and intimidation techniques used by these soldiers were reprehensible, they hardly rose to most people’s definition of “torture.”
And yet, the media could not get enough of the story. Numerous outlets repeatedly used the words “torture” and “brutalize” to describe what happened. During the disgraceful media overplay of this issue in 2004, I spoke with contacts in the Pentagon, who told me the sensationalized coverage would cause more Muslims to become radicalized. And that could lead to the deaths of American soldiers.
Do some in the media have an “anti-military bias?” During the fallout from the Abu Ghraib coverage, ABC’s Terry Moran spoke to the issue in a radio interview. Moran said, “There is…a deep anti-military bias in the media. One that begins from the premise that the military must be lying and that American projection of power around the world must be wrong. I think that is a hangover from Vietnam, and I think it’s very dangerous.”
If bias is at the root of some of these sensationalized stories, does the media have a responsibility to police from within? During that same time period, a number of networks were regularly showing footage of IED explosions killing and crippling American soldiers. I called certain media contacts and mentioned: “Who do you think shot that video? The very terrorists who just killed those soldiers. At what point do you stop being a news organization and start becoming propagandists for the terrorists?”
Some agreed with me. Some did not.
The American media owes a great deal to the American military. At the very least, they can repay that debt with fair and objective reporting and by putting certain actions in the proper perspective.
Sgt. Robert Richards was an American hero who served our nation with great distinction. Period.