Rage Against the News

So, a journalist videotapes something we’d rather not believe can happen — a Marine killing a wounded, unarmed enemy. The official response is that the incident is under investigation. And the unofficial response is: from people who feel the war is a misguided, ruinous dead end — people like me — that the incident somehow shows how senseless and tragic the whole adventure is. And from people who appear to feel that all the devastation of life and treasure in Iraq is just part of the cost of preserving our freedom and security — a view I find mind-bendingly out of touch with reality — there’s rage: that a reporter would dare do his job, that the actions of one of our soldiers would be questioned, that anyone could second-guess the need to blow away a wounded enemy, regardless of the circumstances.

Of course, the reactions on the other side (here and here for instance) go a lot farther than that. Kevin Sites, the journalist who shot the pool video, is now the enemy, “a turd,” “a slimy bastard,” and worse. Another blogger urges: “Note to all soldiers: If a prize-greedy journalist films something you don’t want aired because you know it could get your fellow soldiers killed, take the camera and destoy [sic] the film. You have the permission of the people who support you and NOT the savages you are so rightly killing.” Some posts even advocate violence against the journalist.

What’s stunning is the desire, on one hand, to deny what the pictures show, and on the other to punish or even shut down the source of the information. The right-wing site MichNews (“Most In-Depth, Conservative Honest News & Commentary) ran a column today that made the modest, unhysterical charge that Sites is an accomplice to al Qaida and Saddam Hussein and decrying how the video besmirched the “heroic warrior.” The column, by someone named Irwin Graulich, calls for a boycott of NBC and its owner, General Electric for “their despicable practices.”

OK, I was moved enough by that last piece of writing to send a letter in response:

Dear Mr. Graulich:

Regarding your piece “Fahrenheit Fallujah,” two points:

First, have you seen the videotape? If so, you would seem to be intentionally mischaracterizing it. The individual or individuals involved did not face any kind of “split second decision [sic]” in this case. Indeed, one voice can be heard identifying the wounded enemy as casualties from the previous day, then other voices discuss whether one of the wounded men is feigning death; then comes the shooting. If it’s improper to jump to the conclusion that the videotape

shows a Marine committing what amounts to murder, it’s also improper to characterize the tape as showing a Marine facing a life-and-death situation with no time to assess the situation.

Second, your comments about Kevin Sites amount to slander of a journalist who has a long and very accessible record of sympathetic coverage of our troops in Iraq. Far from portraying them as heartless killers, he’s done as much as any U.S. journalist I’m aware of to put a human face on a group of people who’ve been called upon to do an inhuman job in inhuman circumstances. Don’t take my word for it — check out his independent writings on the war at kevinsites.net.

The truth of this war is ugly and savage. It’s also ugly and savage to so casually condemn those who honorably and professionally try to convey that truth.

Respectfully yours,

Dan Brekke

Trying to respond reasonably and respectfully in this situation may be absurd. It’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, comes back in response.

5 Replies to “Rage Against the News”

  1. Nice post, and letter to the “columnist.” I didn’t make the connection with Kevin Sites. That guy does some really incredible reporting, and has since he really burst on the scene on CNN, I believe, reporting post-9/11 in Afghanistan. I watch him often on MSNBC now, which seems to give him some latitude to tell lengthy, impressive stories. I just read his bio, too, and made another connection: he has been lecturing at Cal Poly’s journalism department. Wish he’d been there while I was in the department there — truly a top-notch reporter. The impression I get from watching him is that he’s pushing the envelope of solo broadcast reporting abilities, as well as his skill to be in the right place at the right time to get fantastic — or in this case, terrible — stories. And you’re right about his site, he’s hardly “with” the enemy and appears to have the full support and trust of the unit to which he’s assigned. Go Kevin.

  2. I also said in my post that people like you “are unfamiliar with the new face of war.” If you really want the truth, you should look much farther than that video. All you know is that you don’t like war – and on that we agree. War is ugly. But sometimes its necessary to fight. And one would be naive to think our treatment of ‘them’ is even comparable to their treatment of ‘us.’ Take everything we’ve done wrong and then compare it to the beheadings, the murdering of innocent citizens -including children, the torturing, the suicide bombings, and just the basic way they ignore any rules of engagement. In no way do I advocate loose cannons in our military. As I stated, “The real difference here is that America will punish this young man if he was out of line. The terrorists would praise anyone who shot a wounded Marine.” But if you will check your info, you will find this Marine did nothing wrong. And maybe now, the booby-trapped terrorists won’t play dead anymore. Sites was simply trying to make it big using this awful video. That’s no way to profit. If he understood war he would not have done that. Anyway, there’s probably no arguing with you because you are most likely a pacifist. And that means I wasting my time here. Best of luck.

  3. Mrs. E.: Well, don’t be so sure you’re wasting your time. Any chance we have to hear another’s point of view is an opportunity.
    We’re just going to disagree about Kevin Sites. If you look into his background, you’ll see that he’s intimately familiar with the face of this war and has been very supportive of the troops he’s encountered and written about. I actually think the people who are vilifying Kevin Sites are engaging in exactly the same kind of behavior that they imagine Sites is guilty of. They’re vilifying someone for doing his job in good faith. Was the reality he showed ugly? Absolutely. But unless you want to discard one of the fundamental freedoms Americans have always prized, a free press, you have to be ready to take the ugly with the heroic. Just as in deciding to go to war, you have to accept that the people we send into battle will be plunged into ugly, tragic circumstances like the one Sites shot in Fallujah.
    As to what I do or don’t understand about war: I’ve never been in combat — just missed the Vietnam-era draft because it was ended the year my (very likely to be called) number was pulled. I’ve always felt the only way you could truly understand that experience, the terrors of it and all the rest, would be to be in the middle of it. So by that definition (and, by the way, have you been in combat yourself?), I don’t truly understand the soldier’s experience. That having been said, I’ve had a lifelong interest in war and warfare. I’ve thought a lot about the qualities and circumstances that transform ordinary people like us into people capable of both the most heroic and the most dreadful acts. I’ve wondered how I’d behave in some of the situations we’ve put our troops in.
    To the extent I believe some wars are justified, I’m no pacifist. But you don’t have to be a pacifist to object to this war. At best — to put things in the most charitable light — it’s a terrible miscalculation of the real threat to our nation and of the challenges and costs involved in remaking another society from the ground up; at worst, it’s the result of a careless, dishonest decision by a group of people who didn’t deeply care about the consequences. Either way, we and our kids and their kids will be paying for this, in many different ways, for a long time to come.
    Thanks for your response.

  4. Dan: Well bravo for a having a good discussion about it! I’ll have one more go before I call it quits on this one. Thanks for your reply.
    Actually, I don’t like what Sites says about the Marines. He’s over there to criticize them and he just needs to remember that he plays a very important role when reporting on a war. What he reports could actually cause people to be killed. The problem with his video is that it doesn’t tell the whole story, and the details leading up to that one moment are vital to the understanding of why this happened. Somehow, all that gets lost in the re-telling and now this video is prime time for arab tv’s everywhere. In that way, its no different than the beheading videos. They’re recording wartime atrocities as well. Which one is worse? Which one makes the news and reverberates globally more than the other? The world loves to hate America. And this one-sided video will do wonders for our reputation.
    Have you seen the Nick Berg beheading video? I have. That is the new face of war; and those slaughters choose to remain faceless, wrapped in their towels, while also country-less and uniform-less. We’ve never played by these rules before.
    It’s a whole new war, and I want perspective. I don’t get that from msm. If it bleeds it leads, no matter what the cost. Well, the cost to our Marines, and indeed America, is huge. Our soldiers are keeping that computer of yours safe and free so that you can say whatever you want to say. And yet if they make an error you condemn the U.S. military for an ugly war? But that is war! And this one is worth fighting simply because there are major terrorists going down on their own turf, and not ours. These elusive terrorists are real enemies. They don’t care about us at all. They’d love to kill us and drag our charred bodies through the streets to make points. Our military is not like that. And I do not, in any way, think you can compare the two. If this perspective fails to register, I fear you’re just not getting enough info from the ’other side of the fence.’ Hopefully I’ve made any sense here, but nevertheless this has inspired me to write a major blog on this whole issue. So, thanks again for the debate, and best of luck out there! By the way, here’s some terrific links for your perusal: http://iraqthemodel.blogspot.com/ http://www.thetruthaboutiraq.org/ http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/1117/p01s02-woiq.html and especially this one because the author agrees with you that this war is wrong: http://www.juancole.com/2004/11/more-on-marine-mosque-killing-iraqis.html

  5. I started more than once to write a long response to your comment, but somehow I don’t feel arguing will get me anywhere. Just suffice it to say that we disagree about Kevin Sites and about why we’re in Iraq. We agree it’s a bad situation and we’re up against an enemy that’s using unspeakably brutal tactics. Bottom line, despite the disagreements, at least we’re talking a little. That’s not happening very often with people on the whole Iraq issue. Also, thanks for the links, and I have been checking them out. Lots of interesting stuff there, as you said.
    Here’s one in return: http://www.tomdispatch.com/

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