Saturday, February 28, 2009

Obama: Honor Our Fallen Heroes -- And the Constitution

President Barack Obama, who recently asked for a policy review relating to the 1991 ban on news coverage regarding the remains of fallen service members, should keep in mind that he is not only commander in chief of the military but, more importantly, president of all the people of the United States.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has announced that he has lifted the 1991 ban on news coverage and will allow families of the fallen service members to decide whether they will allow press coverage.
The president seems to be forgetting that press coverage of the military concerns all Americans, not just the military, and not even just the families of the fallen heroes.
We’ve had one president who virtually ignored the U.S. Constitution, we don’t need another. The first amendment of that document was written to protect the basic rights of all Americans, including the right to a free press.
There may be military “secrets” that call for certain military activities be conducted stealthily, but the transportation of the flag-draped coffins of fallen service members should not be one of them.
Criticism of the press is a tactic often employed by anti-democratic proponents who find it difficult to perform their skullduggery in the open. There’s no substitute for freedom of the press as a means of keeping government, and the military, open and above board.
The initial ban on press coverage was created under President H.W. Bush after split-screen TV embarrassed the Administration when the president was shown joking while, simultaneously, a solemn ceremony for the fallen troops was pictured at Dover Air Force Base, the destination of the flag-draped coffins.
The military, of course, does not want Americans to see our war casualties. Neither did the Bush Administrations. The “living room war” in Vietnam, which we watched to a great extent on television, was largely responsible for the strong anti-war sentiment in that era, and both military leaders and politicians would prefer to put a much rosier face on our wars.
Despite the ban, both President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush made exceptions when it was expedient. Clinton allowed photographs of coffins of U.S.S. Cole casualties arriving at Dover, and Bush released a photo of the arrival of the remains of victims in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon. The ban was restated, expanding the prohibition, in 2003 when Iraq was invaded.
President Obama’s new look at the ban is the result both of lawsuits and the opinions and concerns expressed by military families.
Secretary Gates has decided that the families, “those most directly affected,” should make the decision regarding media coverage.
“We ought not presume to make that decision in their place.” Gates told reporters. He believes these decisions should be made “on an individual basis by the families of the fallen.”
Gates, noting his decision came after taking into account the reaction of the military families and groups that represent them, said a group of advisers will develop a plan to implement the new policy.
Neither Secretary Gates, nor President Obama, has indicated any consideration of the U.S. Constitution or the long-held tradition in the United States of freedom of the press.
No one who favors press coverage of the flag-draped coffins arriving home has anything but respect for the fallen heroes and their families. It is because of that respect that it is essential to respect the U.S. Constitution and maintain our freedom of the press tradition.
There is no reason to believe that a free press will do anything more than report the news that Americans need to understand government and military policies – including the waging of wars in foreign lands.
The press will continue to report both sides of this issue – that’s their job!
Do we really want military commanders making our decisions for us?
Do we really want to allow our Constitutional rights to be deleted from the Constitution by anything but due process under law?
Do we really want this issue to become a political football?


Chris Bergin said...

I can somewhat agree with you Mr. Torpey except I wonder if the Keith Olbermans of American media are of the same caliber as you. You see people like him and those at NBC and oh yes CBS have bias! You see Dan Rather was let go from the anchor desk of CBS because he falsified records in the name of his views. We as a nation forget those little facts. So the DOD is to trust the media with the fate of the fallen? If you can falsify or taint the story how can you tell the story of those who defend the freedoms we enjoy? WOW how can that be possible? So the pictures you highlight here make me ask when were they taken? Next question I ask is who are those soldiers in those coffins? Did those soldiers die in combat, an accident, were they even in Iraq or Afghanistan? Yes soldiers are "delivered" to Dover AFB wherever they may have lost their lives in service to our country. I've served 10.5years on active duty, 8 of those years are with the USMC and I've done my share of funerals of both active duty and retired! You could not imagine how many soldiers pass due to accidents both on and off the job. Take the fact that before 9/11 that average number is above 4,000 per year! As a journalist you can check that fact out at the DOD. That number is darn close to the the numbers of soldiers fallen in combat zone to date in Iraq, in total years of fighting, and including those who died due to accidents or sickness! Which also brings a question does the media today mention when a soldier dies form an accident in Iraq? Not that I've heard, and I consider myself a news junkie! So the debate ensues of right and wrong and only people like you and I can press on to keep the facts straight.

Mr torpey, in light of this discussion you've provided I ask you to reconsider your statement; "There is no reason to believe that a free press will do anything more than report the news that Americans need to understand government and military policies – including the waging of wars in foreign lands."

William F. Torpey said...

I appreciate your comment, Chris, and I thank you for your kind personal remarks. As a professional journalist it is important to me to maintain objectivity when reporting news. That does not mean, however, that I can not express my opinions in any appropriate forum.
Keith Olberman, like the broadcasters on Fox News and elsewhere, are commentators, not journalists. It is unfortunate that the line between the two has been significantly blurred on television.
Dan Rather, whom I hold in high regard as a journalist, reported what he believed to be factual, but made the mistake of not getting his sources fully verified before broadcasting that story. While the standards of news reporting have slipped in recent years because of corporate ownership of the airwaves, I do not believe that NBC and CBS are bias.
On the subject issue, the DOD has limited responsibilities in creating national policy on press coverage. The DOD's responsibility is to preserve and protect military secrets, promote the morale of the military and establish proper procedures for military funerals. It is not "the decider" when it comes to press coverage.
A free press means exactly that -- freedom to publish without government control over what is published. That means that not everyone will agree with everything that is published. To quash any publication because you do not agree with it means you prefer to have government control what is published. Is that what you want?
It's not the number of soldiers who die in combat that is questioned here, but whether government under President George W. Bush was attempting to keep this information from being reported to the American people. It's a similar issue regarding the cost of the war in Iraq being financed "off budget" so that Americans can not fully evaluate the cost of the conflict and the wisdom of government policy.
I stand by my statement on the role of the free press in reporting on the flag-draped coffins and on all other issues. While you may disagree with some reports, or believe the reports are biased, I ask that you consider the alternative: government control of the news -- and violation of one of our basic Constitutional rights.

Chris bergin said...

I can see we are close on several issues. I think my point about our media is that they have skewed quite a bit here in the past ten years than you may be aware. If most of the media is of a liberal lean, how will those individuals tell our story? For both of us being prior service we understand the mission, and that those who serve, like probably any company or organization try hard to control what is presented. Next, let's look at the Obama machine. We know less about President Obama than we know about "Joe the Plumber." Ask yourself why is that. Really as a news desk man I beg you to ask that quetion! This is the same media we attempt to give control of our most sacred servants pictures! Your also asking me to allow the media to use these pictures while out the other side of the liberal party there is growing speach of the fairness doctrine and limiting gun rights! Both of these discussions by the way supported by the so called main stream media. If the viewer ship is dying and the readers no longer buy the papers how can they be called main stream? This is another subject of debate but these entities are dying for a reason. Men like you of your time and caliber are not the group of today who only print the news they feel worth printing. How do I know this, point of fact is there is more going on in Iraq than death! You and I know this truth. I even came face to face with a Time magazine reporter who intentionally left out major pieces of "his" story in the early part of the war because "it did not fit his agenda!" Reporters are investigators not agenda mongers or we call them lobbyist around Washington. As you can tell I lean more conservative but I vote Independent. My nation comes before my party! The media reverses this. Ask Wolf Blitzer who has been quoted many times saying he is a citizen of the world. Yet this man is senior political anchor for CNN!
Tell me why i should trust this media.
Next question I have is what is the difference between the Obama and Bush administration. My answer is little or nothing! Biden cannot remember a website and has more speech gaffs but yet he does not compare to his boss who talks out both sides of his mouth and has been caught on numerous occasions doing so. Examples are all over the internet. If these examples are available here on the net than why not on our trusted media?

William F. Torpey said...

Most of the media does not lean liberal; in fact, it's just the opposite. That is strictly right wing propaganda.
Television is overwhelmingly ultra conservative, but conservatives see anything they disagree with as "liberal." For years there has been virtually no liberal point of view portrayed on radio or television. Liberal broadcasts are making a little headway on radio, but corporations, and conservatives, overwhelmingly control both radio and television.
Obama, himself, is not so much liberal as slightly left of center. On top of that he's going out of his way to try to accommodate Republican views, but he's not getting much cooperation. The reason most people don't know a great deal about Obama's background is that he worked as a community organizer. As a state legislator and as a senator, he wasn't a grandstander. unlike most legislators.
The media does not "control" anything. It comments on government and business and, primarily, acts as a watchdog to insure that government operates above board for the benefit of its citizens.
Corporate media monopolies have skewed the reporting of news badly since the 1980s, and something has to be done to insure that all sides of the issues are represented. The Fairness Doctrine isn't a panacea, however, if corporations are not held in check such legislation may be necessary. Liberals generally oppose gun violence, not guns. Most do not want to take guns away from legitimate gun owners.
"Mainstream media" face competition from the Internet these days, but continue to have great influence.
I do not believe that Time Magazine endorses bias on the part of their reporting staff. Reporters are primarily fact finders. Some are assigned to investigative stories, but no reputable reporter would purposely misrepresent the facts, nor would any editor stand for such behavior.
Not everyone on television or radio is a "reporter." Most are commentators or guests who express their personal opinions or those of the organization they represent.
Wolf Blitzer is entitled to his opinions as political anchor at CNN as long as he is not reporting "news." News reports and politically commentary are two different things.
The differences between Bush and Obama are like night and day. If you scroll down from this blog entry to the next commentary, "Probe the Bush Administration" or further down to "Bush Legacy, Obama Hope" you will see the articles of impeachment that outline the allegations of illegal behavior by President Bush. Obama, on the other hand. is working hard to bring traditional values and economic recovery back to America.