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January 01, 2009

MSM Brickbats and Bravos

We bloggers like to bash the mainstream media, and often our ire is justified by the media's persistent and deliberate refusal to hold themselves accountable to their own stated standards of professional conduct. Such behavior becomes particularly egregious when professional journalists tout the supposedly sacred trust reposed in them by the reading public to act as watchdogs over public officials. To hear them tell it, the media can brook no check whatsoever to their absolute and unquestioned power to defy lawfully appointed and convened grand juries and special prosecutors, publish classified information, selectively slander and libel private citizens without proof, so long as doing so "raises important questions". Their justification for acting without restraint is, ostensibly, that absolute and unchecked power corrupts absolutely.

And yet, they demand for themselves absolute and unchecked power over the subjects of their news stories, for they will submit to no lawful authority. Apparently, of all human beings on the planet, the media alone are incorruptible!

It's always fun (and worthwhile) to bash the media, and Patterico does a bang-up job of lambasting the LA Times for its serial reality-based reporting during 2008.

But if we do nothing but bash those in the media who screw up, we do a real disservice to those journalists who provide honest and fair reporting, and there are many more excellent reporters than we often like to admit. One of these at the LA Times is Tony Perry. I'd like to take just a moment to recognize Tony. This is the kind of news Mr. Perry chose to report recently:

Some Iraqis told him they were incredulous that the two Marines had not fled.

When Marine technicians restored a damaged security camera, the images were undeniable.

While Iraqi police fled, Haerter and Yale had never flinched and never stopped firing as the Mercedes truck -- the same model used in the Beirut bombing -- sped directly toward them.

Without their steadfastness, the truck would probably have penetrated the compound before it exploded, and 50 or more Marines and Iraqis would have been killed. The incident happened in just six seconds.

"No time to talk it over; no time to call the lieutenant; no time to think about their own lives or even the American and Iraqi lives they were protecting," Kelly said. "More than enough time, however, to do their duty. They never hesitated or tried to escape."

Kelly nominated the two for the Navy Cross, the second-highest award for combat bravery for Marines and sailors. Even by the standards expected of Marine "grunts," their bravery was exceptional, Kelly said.

The Haerter and Yale families will receive the medals early next year.

On the night after the bombing, Kelly wrote to each family that though he never knew its Marine, "I will remember him, and pray for him and for all those who mourn his loss, for the rest of my life."

Contrast that with the kind of personal courage this reporter found worthy of note:

Not long after that day at the Baghdad claims line in late 2006, Kim was on a two-week home leave. But even in the welcoming embrace of her small family, she couldn't let go of the pent-up tensions of the war zone. "I was so crazy, like a roller-coaster car that goes off its tracks and crashes," she says. "Sometimes I'd be pacing or paranoid or a little panicked. Other times, it would be just extreme depression." Kim's thoughts constantly turned to her kids. "It was incredibly emotional. I kept thinking, What if something happened to them? What if there was some emergency and they were hurt? I wouldn't be there for them," she says. "I'd be over in Iraq, just waiting to die."

The possibility of running away didn't occur to Kim at that point. But it did to her husband, Mario. He retreated to his computer, his usual hideout in times of stress. This wasn't the shy, sweet Kim he had known as a teenager; they couldn't go on like this. So Mario began researching antiwar groups and stumbled across the War Resisters Support Campaign in Canada. He sent an e-mail asking if anyone there could help. A former Vietnam War deserter named Lee Zaslofsky responded: Yes.

"The first time Mario told me, I dismissed it," Kim says. "What were we going to do in Canada?"

She remembers Mario pleading with her, "What options do we have?"

"We don't have any options," Kim snapped.

"Well, this is an option," he pressed. "It's better than none."

Kim was due to report to her base in a few days to travel back to Baghdad. With the deadline approaching, she and Mario piled the kids and everything else they could fit into the family's blue Geo Prizm, uncertain when they pulled out of the driveway whether they were heading for the base -- or for the border.

Kim was a wreck. They drove in a huge multistate circle for days, zigzagging west to east, north to south, debating and crying. "I could not make up my mind," Kim says. "And I was getting paranoid. We only used cash. Some hotels wouldn't take cash, so we'd have to find ones that did. I kept thinking that the police were going to break down our door in the middle of the night and find me." Kim thought about her life in the Army before Iraq, when she worked a simple 9-to-5 day, driving supplies from one place to another, packing up trucks, and unloading equipment from train boxcars. Now every time she heard a car door slam, she says, "it sounded like a faraway mortar."

She and Mario finally pointed the car north. On February 18, 2007, they crossed the border.

America disappeared fast in the mist of the Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls. Kim was too numb, too angry, to look back. One minute she was Private Kimberly Rivera, a soldier, an Iraq War veteran, and an avowed patriot. But when she left the country that winter day, unnoticeable in the crush of honeymooners and sightseers, Kim became something else: a deserter.

And therein lies a tale.

My husband met Mr. Perry during a tour of Anbar province while he was deployed to Iraq last year. He's a good guy and he does a lot of stellar reporting about our Marines. This guy is another.

Unsung heroes, in my book. So in a time in which we bloggers stop to reflect on all the things the media got wrong during 2008, perhaps it's not such a bad idea to reflect on a few of the things the media got right.

And maybe, as we do that, it's appropriate for us to count our blessings and give thanks. America is still a good place, full of decent men and women. May it ever be so.

Posted by Cassandra at January 1, 2009 02:44 PM

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I agree with you that there are "..many more excellent reporters than we often like to admit." However, the current state of journalism reminds me of the old joke about lawyers. "95% of the lawyers out there make the rest of them look bad."
I think maybe that could be applied to reporters also.

Posted by: Charodey at January 2, 2009 12:40 PM

Aye yay yay :)

I'd like to address that comment, because we had quite a dustup around here recently on just that topic and I am still rather upset about it.

I lost my temper, which I almost never do, and said some things I regret. And I closed the comments. And I'd do it again, though I wish I hadn't lost my temper.

I often wonder whether we don't tend to focus obsessively on the bad outcomes? IOW, the big stories that get our attention, where journalists get it wrong? And the cases where lawyers act like jerks?

How many stories, in how many small town papers, are covered well every single day? When I write my tributes to fallen soldiers and Marines, I always look to small town papers and I invariably find incredibly touching, well written pieces by local reporters. I am absolutely *astounded* by the quality of the writing in many cases, and the love and care that went into researching these pieces. It's obvious these reporters cared about their craft. And yet, there they are, stuck in the middle of nowhere. We never hear about them, nor notice their efforts.

How many have heard of Tony Perry? And yet he writes piece after piece about our Marines and soldiers. There are many others like him, and they don't uniformly write favorable pieces about the war but many are balanced and very fair. Some examine issues that are painful, but they do it responsibly and in a way that isn't calculated to hurt the warfighting effort. That's hard to do, and my hat is off to them for tackling difficult subjects well and with sensitivity.

There was a piece in the New Yorker, of all places, that I will be writing about. It just blew me away.

I used to be a paralegal. And so I know that attorneys don't make up the cases they work on. It's their clients who create legal problems and come to them for representation, according to laws passed by our elected representatives.

Trust me - if you get into trouble, you want to have someone to help you navigate the often complicated legal landscape. The reason it's complicated isn't their fault. It's complicated because WE make it so with our refusal to solve our own gosh darned problems on our own. We sue over EVERYTHING instead of working out our issues like civilized folk. A good attorney tries to get you to work out your issues without going to court.

But I can tell you firsthand that the kind of person who hires an attorney is either stubborn himself OR is dealing with another party who is being a jerk and won't be reasonable. Otherwise, they'd work out their issues without paying a 3rd party.

So, I think attorneys get blamed for problems WE create. A lot like the current wall street mess - we as a society are irresponsible and then we point fingers at the folks we asked to help us accomplish our own undoing.

But the bottom line is, no one forced our hands. We have free will, and to blame the car that drives you to the party is really a big much :p Maybe it's a contributing factor in what happens later that night, but it didn't cause the problem in the first place. Clients cause lawsuits, not attorneys. And no one ever forces anyone else to sue, nor do individual attorneys pass laws.

If we don't like the legal landscape, we need to push for tort reform and change the laws. You'll notice we don't do that, because way down deep we don't want to limit our own options ... just the other guy's options :p

Posted by: Cassandra at January 2, 2009 01:01 PM

There are indeed many fine reporters and much fine work that comes out daily in the news. Sadly, far too often the editors ruin it all. An opinion is allowed to seep into a story and is not removed. In fact, it is encouraged ("anti-choice protesters" anyone?). A liberal columnist is removed for a more liberal columnist. A conservative columnist is removed for a liberal columnist. A comic is replaced by a liberal comic (we have at least 3 of them running in our paper now, and I'm not counting Trudeau's which appears on the editorial page). Editorials are filled with propaganda and outright lies that would make any classic yellow journalist proud. These are the things people pay attention to and these are the things most afflicted with liberal media bias. Which is why the problem appears disproportionately large. On an average day you will find no bias, only decent stories, in the sports, local news, and even state news. That's the bulk of your average daily paper. The problems lie on the editorial page, national news, and, increasingly, the life or arts section where liberal books are glowingly reviewed one after another and conservative books are ignored or dishonestly bashed, often without the reviewer bothering to read them (I recall a review of an Ann Coulter book which discussed the book not at all, but simply attacked Coulter personally for 1/3 of a page). Absolute tripe on the big screen is gushed over while conservative films are, again, lied about and called the year's worst movies ('Expelled' I'm looking at you). A comic goes away and what is proposed to replace it? No, not Mallard Fillmore. Heaven forfend. Instead we get some kind of ghetto liberal black racist nonsense where all the white people are rednecked bigots always ready with a noose. Again - these are what stick with us, because we see them over and over again. We're not reading about the local library every day, but we do read about Bush every day. We don't see great stories about our military heroes every day, but we do get a liberal editorial every day. A far greater percentage of the news is well done than is painfully biased, but when the biased piece is the memorable tip of the iceberg seen above the waterline, that is the impression that sticks. If we could just melt off THAT part of the iceberg, we'd be in business...and people that make a living off media bias, or have it as a hobby like myself, would be OUT of business. And, I suspect, many of us would be THRILLED.

Posted by: Falze at January 2, 2009 02:17 PM

"I often wonder whether we don't tend to focus obsessively on the bad outcomes?"

Actually, that was why I made the comment, i.e. it is such an obvious exaggeration, but so aptly fits the perception. It does seem that the media outlets with the biggest megaphones are the ones determined to focus on the bad outcomes. The "liberal bias" in the media that is so often commented on may not be as pervasive as it seems, but when the majority of outlets that reach the most people are composed of those that fit the cliché' it isn't surprising that the impression is formed that the bias is overwhelming. That does gradually seem to be changing, thanks in part to bloggers such as yourself.

The comparison to lawyers is similar, in that the ones that you hear the most about are the ones that seem to want to abuse the system. No, they were not the ones who set up the system, but some will try any loophole that they may find. I know many fine lawyers, but I also know of ones that will do anything for an advantage. (I have in mind one divorce lawyer who's unofficial reputation was that the first thing he would always do in a case is make an accusation of child abuse against the other party in the case.)

Criminal lawyers that get the headlines quite often also seem to be more concerned with winning than with seeing justice done. This is true of both the defense and the prosecution. I know that our legal system is adversarial in nature, but I have never been able to understand how a defense attorney can continue to try and get his client acquitted when he knows that the client is guilty or how a prosecutor can continue to insist that a defendant is guilty in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I'm sure that you can think of examples of both.

As for the complicated labyrinth of laws that we have, no, lawyers are not the ones responsible, but I am of the opinion that the laws should be such that anyone of moderate intelligence should be able to understand them without having to go to a lawyer. Sometimes it seems that the laws were written for the express purpose of keeping lawyers in business.

Hooo, boy! I could probably write a very long post on my opinions of what is wrong with the U. S. legal system, but this is your blog so I'll limit myself to the comments I've already made.

BTW, I've been reading your blog site for a while and it is one of my favorites. Your thoughtful analysis and quirky sense of humor always make it a pleasure to read.

Posted by: Charodey at January 2, 2009 03:22 PM

As for the complicated labyrinth of laws that we have, no, lawyers are not the ones responsible, but I am of the opinion that the laws should be such that anyone of moderate intelligence should be able to understand them without having to go to a lawyer. Sometimes it seems that the laws were written for the express purpose of keeping lawyers in business.

I assure you that any lawyer worthy his profession is trying his best to solve his client's problems, not to create them. The real issue is that everyone wants the law to be written in such a manner as to benefit himself. If everyone of us just followed the Golden Rule, the legal profession would be out of business in a fortnight.

And then I can finally go sell ice cream on the beach

Posted by: It's That Damned Lawyer Agian at January 2, 2009 05:28 PM

I think it is mostly the outrageous in life that gets our attention. What is performed well (or just competently) seems unremarkable and so goes largely unnoticed.

I think, too, that our standards are changing in the sense that we don't have as high standards for most things anymore. I think that's true across the board in most professions - not just in law or journalism. We make a lot of excuses for sloppiness and no one is held accountable.

BTW, I've been reading your blog site for a while ...

Thanks for reading :)
I'm glad you commented.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 2, 2009 11:21 PM

I too read of the heroism of Haerter and Yale. I certainly am not prepared to make a judgement of this case, but it is starting to appear that the Medal of Honor is indeed one that today you must die to receive. It is getting very hard, if not impossible to segregate DSC's and Navy Cross citations from today's wars from Medal of Honor citations in previous wars.

There was even a report that one young Marine didn't get the Medal of Honor because his greatest act of risk came after he was shot by friendly fire, and he might have realized he was dying anyway from that wound and, thus, perhaps didn't make all that great of an ultimate sacrifice. Anybody who is shot, accidently or not, dying, knows it, and still gets up and does his job and saves others lives... well I certainly want to honor him. (Sorry I can't find a reference for that right now) I don't want to cheapen our nation's highest honor, not one bit, but there is some value in having a few of them around, living and breathing, to touch, talk to, revere for decades, as we did the heroes of our past. Having met and briefly talked with four Medal Of Honor heros, well those were four of the greatest events of my life.

I have traveled in Russia and seen the Hero's of the Soviet Union medals on lots of people who appear to have never left their desk in the Kremlin. They make the comparison of it to our Medal of Honor. How many paper cuts did that require Mr. Minister? I might have accepted that at first blush, if I didn't know they gave one to the expedition leader who made the first tandem skydive into the North Pole, for entertainment mind you, two years before our group took 70 skydivers there too. I certainly planned most assuredly on coming back and just don't think it merited any medals, but then maybe they just had a bunch extra. I hear we are still using Purple Hearts stocked up in the preparation to invade Japan.

Posted by: Tom B at January 3, 2009 11:51 PM

Rafael Peralta.

It was Sergeant Rafael Peralta, Tom.

And you're right. We should honor them.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 4, 2009 12:01 AM

Well, as someone who was recently involved in needing a lawyer's services, I will say this: If people would obey the (*&#% laws already on the books, then there wouldn't be a need for tort reform. I was once told by an IRS agent that the oft repeated mantra of 'ignorance of the law is no excuse' is the justification for persecuting what would normally be law-abiding citizens. But when you go into business, and there *are* regulations and statutes that govern your business, then you had better acquaint yourself with them, because some of them, if obeyed, will not only protect the average citizen, but prevent said business owner from the consequences of disobedience.

Or am I making myself too plain in all this?

Posted by: Cricket at January 4, 2009 03:29 PM

If lawyers are not the ones responsible for the legal loopholes then why are both the House and the Senate top heavy in lawyers or bureaucrats? Or corporate lawyers who lobby for their business clients? Every time I vote in my little red neck of the woods, I see at least four lawyers on the ballot.

Just asking...and yes, I know many fine lawyers who are part of the solution, but are fighting an entrenched mindset.

Posted by: Cricket at January 4, 2009 03:35 PM

Heh. I have a friend I'll call Denny (because that's his name) who regularly does pro-bono work for the City Next To Our Town as a court-appointed defense attorney.

His most-recent case involved a 15-year-old, repeat-offender car thief. After a masterly summation and plea before the court, his client was released on probation.

Three days later, his wife reported her car stolen.

Wanna guess who was driving it when the cops spotted it?

Denny still does pro-bono work, but now he calls it "research for his book"...

Posted by: BillT at January 4, 2009 04:54 PM