By: Roger Aronoff
Accuracy in Media
The U.S. military “threw the book” at Bowe Bergdahl, charging him with “misbehavior before the enemy,” which could result in life imprisonment. Yet the mainstream media have clearly chosen sides before the case is decided. Members of the media have once again elected to skew their coverage of the Bergdahl case in order to place the Obama administration in a favorable light.
The swap of Bergdahl for the Taliban Five was met with considerable controversy. “This was a bad deal, all around,” we commented last year. “The administration tried offering the release of one terrorist detainee at a time. Apparently the Taliban turned it down. And two years earlier, President Obama was close to releasing the Taliban Five for nothing, except the right to claim he was once again advancing the cause of peace, this time with the Taliban.”
Perhaps one of the more egregious examples of media bias toward Bergdahl, and thereby the administration, can be found in a September 20 Washington Post front-page article entitled, “Disillusioned and self-deluded, Bowe Bergdahl vanished into a brutal captivity,” which emphasizes both Bergdahl’s mental health state and his brutal torture at the hands of the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network.
“Emotional testimony has underscored the relentless brutality that Bergdahl had to endure, as well as the chaos caused by his disappearance and the lingering resentment of some of his comrades,” wrote Dan Lamothe for the Post.
Tales of Bergdahl’s maltreatment and torture evoke sympathy and horror. But the trade for the Taliban Five made the situation worse—both for future soldiers who risk kidnapping, and for the rest of the world, which must bear the brunt of future evil acts that could potentially be influenced by the Taliban Five’s leadership and reputation. At the very least, this was a propaganda victory for Islamic extremists worldwide.
The Post article devoted only two lines to the arguments made by Army prosecutor, Major Margaret Kurz, who, Lamothe writes, asserted “that Bergdahl’s actions hurt the Army, his fellow soldiers and the mission in Afghanistan, and he must be punished.”
“One does not just walk away into the Afghan wilderness…and then return as though nothing happened,” said Kurz, according to the Post. These two lines, so inconvenient to the media’s narrative, were buried at the end of the article—where they were less likely to be read.
While breathless news reporting has covered every new revelation regarding Bergdahl’s mental health status, according to the Associated Press, “Military officials and prosecutors [have] downplayed or disputed those mental health claims.” By emphasizing Bergdahl’s psychological health, reporters hope to distract from this soldier’s deliberate act of desertion which endangered the lives of many of those with whom he served.
Last year, Time magazine cited the six soldiers who it said died hunting for Bergdahl. Yet the administration, according to Lamothe, would now like America to believe that these deaths are not connected to Bergdahl’s desertion. Newsweek was one publication that questioned whether or not those deaths were directly attributable to the search for Bergdahl.
Bergdahl’s motives were laid out quite clearly in last year’s Rolling Stone article.According to Tim Dickinson:
‘He wanted to be a mercenary, wanted to be a free gun,’ says [Jason] Fry. ‘He had a notion he was a survivalist, claimed he knew how to survive with nothing because he grew up in Idaho…. Before we deployed…him and I were talking about what it would be like,’ Fry recalls. Bowe looked at his friend and made no bones about his plans. ‘If this deployment is lame,’ Bowe said, ‘I’m just going to walk off into the mountains of Pakistan.’
Fox News reported back in April that “two senior sources” had told former military intelligence officer Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer that a 2009 investigation which forensically examined Bergdahl’s computer indicated that he had contacted the Russians before leaving his post.
“He was going to go off to Uzbekistan,” Shaffer told Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, describing the Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigation. “He had made contact with local Afghans and wanted to be moved to Uzbekistan and then made contact with the Russians because he wanted to talk to Russian organized crime…”
“‘He left deliberately, knowingly,’ Kurz said, and with a plan that took weeks to prepare: mailing his Kindle and laptop home, attempting to have his pay diverted to a relative, packing local clothing as a disguise, leaving his gun and other belongings on his cot,” reported the Los Angeles Times on September 17.
By characterizing Bergdahl not as a deserter but an unwitting victim, and even a whistleblower, the mainstream media hope to salvage President Obama’s damaged reputation for his outrageous decision to trade one soldier who abandoned his post for five high-ranking Taliban terrorists who would kill again if given the chance. Two of the five were wanted by the United Nations for crimes against humanity. And on top of that, Obama’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, said at the time of his release that Bergdahl had served “with honor and distinction.” President Obama, meanwhile. took great credit for this trade as an example of his determination to leave no American “men and women in uniform behind.” He even brought Bergdahl’s parents to the White House for acontroversial televised announcement of the release.
Discussions of why Bergdahl abandoned his post serve only as a weak explanation, a distraction from how this awful deal remains a stain on Obama’s reputation, and a foreshadowing of his administration’s future negotiations, such as the Iran nuclear deal. But the media are once again content to ignore the details and context of this story, along with other enduring Obama scandals.