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.

Cross posted at Villainous Company.

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