DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
30 April 1996

THE MEDIA DOESN'T GET IT!

 

The American people don't have a lot of faith in the news media. Nor do I, from what I've seen first-hand on my beat.

A recent Harris Poll report shows only 14 percent of the people surveyed had "a great deal" of confidence in the press, while 57 percent had "only some" and 30 percent said "hardly any."

The poll showed the media rated just above Congress in the trust department and Bill Clinton actually rated higher than the media in this truth poll.

Desert Storm showed just how bad the vast majority of our so called "war correspondents" and "defense experts" are. Few called the action correctly. Most predicted a World War II-like bloodbath, and the vast majority made jerks out of themselves and their profession.

Remember CNN's Charlie Jeko donning his gas mask during his imagined "Iraqi chemical attacks," tearing off to a hotel bunker during his cooked up "Iraqi air attacks" and hyping the SCUD attacks in a twisted attempt to make himself a TV version of Ernie Pyle?

Not exactly accurate reporting.

Remember the Persian Gulf press briefings? The Washington Post's Henry Allen wrote at the time "Reporters look like fools, nit-pickers and egomaniacs; like dilettantes who have spent exactly none of their lives on the end of a gun or even a shovel; dinner party commandos, slouching inquisitors, collegiate spitball artists; people who have never been in a fistfight much less combat; a whining, self-righteous, upper-middle-class mob jostling for whatever tiny flakes of fame may settle on their shoulders..."

In military matters today's media not only blows it when the bullets fly, but many do the same sorry job of reporting when it comes to the misuse of our defense dollars. Few defense reporters focus on the hard-to-dig-up items dealing with waste, corruption, and abuse of taxpayers dollars that the Pentagon squanders by the Brink armored car load.

Instead of nailing three Air Force generals for overpaying a cool half billion taxpayer dollars on the C-17 aircraft contract, what does the media breathlessly report by the TV hour and newspaper truckload: "Tailhook sex scandal;" "U.S. Army woman soldier raped in Bosnia;" and "Skinheads in the U.S. military."

Most so called defense reporters cannot tell a Bradley Fighting Vehicle from a dump truck. Allen, a former Marine grunt who fought in Vietnam and who is a GI's war correspondent, says today's media instead of drawing "their staffs from high-school graduates, failed novelists and the occasional aristocrat looking to get his hands smudged" now select their defense crew "from people who had grown up in the class segregation of upscale suburbs, day-school products who had never been in places where you don't let your mouth write checks that your butt can't cash, had never even been yelled at with the professional finesse of a drill sergeant, a construction boss or a shop teacher."

Allen continues to hit the target dead center "The most important experience in their life had been college. During the summers, they had internships, not jobs... After the draft ended, virtually none of them even knew anyone who had been in the military, much less served themselves. They were part of what sociologists called the new class, the governing class, the professional class."

America spends almost $300 billion dollars a year preparing for war. Seventeen cents of every tax dollar goes to the Pentagon and over half of all federal employees work for that five-side gunocracy. Yet big national media outfits -- ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC and most major newspapers and magazines -- have more people covering either fashion or business than defense and damn few of these are military-wise.

It's not just the defense reporters fault. Many I know who cover the defense beat are smart, graduates of top journalism schools and they want to get it right. They read all the right books and journals, but battle-smarts doesn't come from books but from experience gained from being there. So they're easily conned by the military's professional spinners.

Until the editor's and publishers look beyond the profit bottom-line and hire qualified reporters capable of reporting the truth the American public will not be well served.