Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell - And then some

The news media has a strict "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in covering gays (AKA homosexuals) in the military. Reporters don't ask important questions so they don't tell us very much. A recent PBS News Hour featured two members of a commission studying what would happen if DADT ended. One said the military treated everyone as "equals" and gays merely wanted the same treatment, nothing special. Everyone is treated as equals? So that's why female service members have different standards and living facilities, not to mention the contrasting worlds rank creates. Is there a reporter with the guts to ask if allowing openly gay soldiers in barracks will lead to the end of separate female and male quarters? I recall a movie about the army of the future that shows male and female space troopers showering together.

I sense that few reporters actually served in the military. I shouldn't be surprised. Veterans were slim in the ranks of reporters when I worked at AP. I remember a news conference by former soldiers who sued CNN over its "Tailwind Story." The 40 or so assembled journalists were asked to raise their hands if they served in the armed forces. About five or so hands, including mine, went up. This incident is covered in my book, so I won't go in to details.
I think the problem is that there are no really good military writers. I don't mean war correspondence, of which there are many outstanding ones. I mean the "peace correspondence," the reporter, possibly a veteran, whose full time job is covering the armed forces, who reads the Marine Gazette and All Hands and has contacts in all services.

If there had been a few of these around during the WMD controversy a key question might have been asked: What was the mission statement given to the troops just before the invasion? Was it "Find Those Damned Weapons of Mass Destruction!!!" No, the Eve of Battle statement by Major General James Mattis to the soldiers and marines who would risk their lives was a simple one: Get rid of Saddam Hussein who "for decades .. has tortured, imprisoned, raped, and murdered the Iraqi people." Weapons of Mass Destruction were only mentioned in passing, and then in the past tense.

I suppose the failure to highlight the statement should be expected from a news corps that struck deals with Saddam to pay little attention to his crimes in exchange for access to news elsewhere (See John Burns' comments in "Embedded."
Today Bing West is an exception when it comes to military writers. He's very good, but I consider him a military writers' writer. Reporters read him to be informed. When the reading public mentions a military writer it's usually Thomas Ricks, author of "Making the Corps" and "Fiasco." I wasn't impressed by either book. How can one take seriously a writer who, on page 398, dismisses lack of coverage of the Second Battle of Fallujah in 2004 by saying that by then "journalists were fatigued and probably numbed somewhat to the violence." And this after conceding that "if a battle of this intensity had occurred during the spring of 2003 invasion, reporters would have treated it like another D-Day." Someone didn't do their job - and I don't mean the marines.