Friday, November 13, 2009

Salon on "silly" Fort Hood media coverage

Award-winning journalist Mark Benjamin over at Salon has penned a keen analysis of the biased and woefully off-base tenor of media coverage of last week's Ford Hood shooting spree, focusing on incendiary terms like "terrorism" and "political correctness" rather than the real issues:

The media's silly Fort Hood coverage*

By Mark Benjamin

Everyone wants to debate terrorism and political correctness, but the real story is the failure of Army medicine

The conventional narrative of the Fort Hood shootings, one week later, has been distinguished by the reporting of unconfirmed -- and sometimes incorrect -- details and the drawing of dubious conclusions. The only thing that suggests the current story will withstand the test of time better than the initial Pat Tillman myth (that he died in combat, rather than by friendly fire), or the overheated tale of heroism by Jessica Lynch in 2003 (which Lynch herself protested), is that two basic facts seem clear: The shootings certainly happened, and given the number of eyewitnesses, it's almost certain that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan did it....

First, the ongoing factual unraveling of the narrative. As the New York Times reported this Thursday, initial information seized on by talk shows that Sgt. Kimberly Munley, a petite police officer, bravely brought down Hasan in a hail of gunfire in which she was also wounded was, well, also not true. Munley, it seems, just got shot. Senior Sgt. Mark Todd actually shot Hasan to the ground and cuffed him after Munley had already been wounded.

Also on Thursday, the Washington Post raised solid questions about previous reports that Hasan had tried to get out of his military service because of what he saw as a growing schism between his religious and military duties....

Despite some print publications attempting to keep track of these kinds of facts, a lot of media folks continue to ask the wrong questions and/or provide some of their own unlikely, or unsubstantiated, answers.

The Monday after the shootings, I got my first taste of how the story was embarking on a life of its own as I settled into a chair at one of MSNBC's Washington studios to do Dylan Ratigan's "Morning Meeting."

"One question being asked, among many, is whether political correctness stalled the response to possible warning signs from Maj. Hasan," Ratigan said in his introduction....

Too much political correctness in the military? You know, the place where they fire you if you admit you're gay? The Army has its share of challenges, but in a decade of covering the military, I certainly haven’t come across any evidence that the institution is somehow paralyzed by the burden of gratuitous political correctness. And while that might provide a convenient way for Army officials to explain, anonymously, why nobody prevented Hasan from killing 13 people -- "We are just too afraid of criticizing Muslims" -- I haven’t seen a shred of evidence to suggest this might be true.

The cover of Time magazine depicts another befuddling sideshow to the Fort Hood story. The cover is a picture of Hasan with the word "Terrorist?" over his eyes. "It is a story about why Maj. Hasan is a terrorist," Time managing editor Richard Stengel explained on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" one week after the killings.

I'd heard this one before -- the debate about whether we should label Hasan a terrorist, or the shooting as an act of terrorism. Right-wing media host Laura Ingraham railed at me on this subject on her radio show this week after I had referred to Hasan as being partly motivated by a "religious thing," but I had failed to use the word "terrorism." "I say that you won’t call it what it is," she shouted, "which is terrorism!" (I had called it "Muslim extremism" but that wasn't good enough for Ingraham.)

The obsession with that label "terrorist" seems beside the point. The real question is why the shootings were allowed to occur, and who, exactly, dropped the ball -- not what we call it all afterward….

The passionate determination to hang the "terrorist" label on Hasan, or rail against "political correctness" in the military, are just more symptoms of media stars more excited about hot-headed debate than covering the real story. And the real story may be sadly familiar: It looks like Army medicine blew it, once again.
Benjamin's full analysis, well worth reading in its entirety, is HERE.

Mark Benjamin is an award-winning investigative reporter with Salon.com's Washington bureau. Since 2001, Benjamin has focused on national security issues with an emphasis on the plight of returning veterans and detainee abuse. He was hailed for exposing problems caring for veterans at Walter Reed starting in early 2005 and also obtained for Salon the Army's entire Abu Ghraib investigative files.

*Excerpts posted with the written permission of Mark Benjamin

Hat tip: Bruce Miller

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