"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Failure to inform

rainey BARRETT


The media’s outburst of sustained patriotism and flag-waving over the Bowe Bergdahl story in recent days seems symptomatic of that same media’s oft-repeated failure to report stories rather than announce events. Now, after the first 48 hours, nearly all of them have run the other way in a “rush to judgment”.

Bergdahl, of course, is the Idaho soldier released by the Taliban in Afghanistan a few days ago. For 48 hours, the media was ecstatic and breathlessly related lots of fluff without much substance. Rather than go back to the original reporting on file to flesh out details of his capture five years ago, the kids slathered viewers and readers with gooey gossip severely lacking in fact. Chasing crumbs on the floor while leaving the loaf on the table, seems to me.

Bergdahl may ride in a parade or two around Idaho. But there’s also reason to believe he could wind up in prison or, at the very least, be charged with desertion, given time-served as a prisoner-of-war and dishonorably discharged. Some of the things said by his parents at hastily called bi-coastal media events, could do their son more harm than good. To wit: his father’s decision to learn the Afghan language, comment about hardships caused Afghans by America and the war while growing a big, bushy beard like real male Afghans.

Then add some of the comments from soldiers who risked their own lives to find Bergdahl in the early days after his disappearance, the death of several soldiers on that detail and reports Bergdahl simply loaded up a canteen with water and walked off into the countryside – without his rifle – and you’ve got far less a wonderful story and more of another tragedy of war. And desertion.

The Bergdahl story is far from over. But, if the media had been doing any professional job at all, these details and a lot more could have been reported right at the top along with what was known about his release. The story wasn’t so much about his negotiated freedom as it was about how he was captured in the first place. The story has bookends. And – sadly – both were simply not included in all the reportorial B.S.

There was a time newspapers adequately reported these kinds of things. Lots of detail massaged by editors and proofreaders. Then radio came along. Radio wasn’t designed for long, fully-reported stories. You got the gist of things, then sought a newspaper for details. Then TV hit the scene. Facts gave way to pictures and pictures drove the coverage. TV newscasts had to have “graphics – pictures – movement – action.” Radio gave you the immediacy, TV showed you what happened (sometimes) and newspapers had the details. Now – not so much.

When Ronny Reagan’s Federal Communications appointees deleted all requirements for local radio news, we information seekers took a hit. When they knocked down barriers to same-market-ownership and cross-ownership of competing media, we were hit again. With the advent of the I-net, we turned to electronic data to satisfy our need for detail. That didn’t last long. Between reduced hours of staffing and interminable repetition, even the I-net – with rare exception – has succumbed to “flash-and-dash” coverage.

With brevity, understanding a story can be difficult. Today’s media kids – in all types of media – are being told to “write down.” In newspapers, a few paragraphs al la “Huffington Post.” In radio, standing network protocol is no more than 30 seconds! TV “packages” are supposed to be less than two minutes. With pictures.

Two factors complicate the issue of getting facts even more. One – too many of these kids can’t “write down.” They don’t know how. And it’s tougher than you think. Try this for yourself. A 30 second story read aloud is eight lines of 40 characters each. Take what you know of the Bergdahl story and write it for a stranger who hasn’t heard any of the details. Go ahead. Try it. Get it all in there. We’ll wait.

And two – our access to news is being cut. Have you noticed that CNN, for example, has no newscasts after four p.m. seven days a week? How many local radio stations in your area have newscasts? How many of those few that do simply read the local paper? Has your local newspaper gone out of business? Or, like the once great “Oregonian” simply been gutted – reduced in size with days of delivery cut? If you’ve got a local newspaper that still publishes seven-days-a-week, that’s the exception in too many places.

We live in an age where information has never been more plentiful. But we also live in an age where too many people aren’t exposed to accurate, basic, factual information in their daily lives when necessary. They either don’t search it out or accept the half-reported stories they hear and read. Like the Bergdahl story. Or the stories-mixed-with-opinion on MSNBC and Faux News.”

While accurate, none of this excuses the first days of “reporting” in the Bergdahl episode. We’re dealing less with a “patriot” here than we are a young fella from a small Idaho town – dropped into a shooting situation that most of us have mixed emotions about. I don’t want to condemn him for what he did or why. So far, the condemnation I feel is for a media that hasn’t done it’s job to inform.

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