Winter Soldier: Can the Mainstream Media Handle the Truth?

Media Misteps

The track record of the mainstream media’s efforts to unearth and report the truth about the war in Iraq is shoddy at best. When one considers that this war has been a big money maker for the corporate owned media and its sponsors, the integrity of the reporting – or lack thereof – becomes suspect. Whether the failure to engage in authentic investigative journalism is a result of incompetence or of manipulation, there is little doubt that it contributed to the nightmare that is the Iraq war.

Recently, the Center for Public Integrity exposed 935 false statements made by the Bush administration between October 2001 and August 2003, regarding the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Had any major news outlet in the United States pressed for the truth and exposed just a fraction of those lies, we may very well not be in Iraq today.

Instead of asking leaders the hard questions, the talking heads and pundits engaged in nightly cheerleading to the rhythm of a steady drumbeat with slick graphics, Pentagon-approved experts and mind numbing flag waving.

Five Years Later

Today, we turn on the tube to find those same faces salivating over discussions about whether a presidential candidate’s voice is too shrill, whether one has enough substance or if another is conservative enough for his own good. They do occasionally talk about each candidate’s campaign-issued platform on Iraq, but what continues to be overlooked are the facts on the ground. What is not evidenced is a sincere level of obligation to the men and women whom they cheered on as they marched off to war, or to the country that has been obliterated by five years of a bloody occupation.

Next week, the media will have an opportunity to chart a course of redemption. From March 13-16, veterans will gather in the Washington, D.C. area for the chance to speak out and share their experiences about what is happening on a daily basis on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War  will provide an outlet for veterans to speak out and for the American people to gain a better understanding of the human cost of this war.

The title, Winter Soldier, arises from the writings of Thomas Paine who in 1776, declared “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

Stepping Up

In 1971, a group of veterans exposed the criminal nature of the Vietnam War in an event called Winter Soldier. Following in their footsteps, today’s Winter Soldiers will bare their souls for the sake of their country. A FAQ sheet provided by IVAW states, “We are fighting for the soul of our country. We will demonstrate our patriotism by speaking out with honor and integrity instead of blindly following failed policy.” Kelly Dougherty, executive director of IVAW and a former sergeant who served as a military police officer in Iraq explains, “We’ve heard from the politicians, we’ve heard from the generals, we’ve heard from the media – now it’s our turn.” “It’s not going to be easy to hear what we have to say. It’s not going to be easy for us to tell it. But we believe that the only way this war is going to end is if the American people truly understand what we have done in their name.”


IVAWs Kelly Dougherty (Photo: Cheryl Biren-Wright)

Liam Madden, an Iraq war veteran and cofounder of Appeal for Redress  serves on the Board of Directors of IVAW. In an article published by AlterNet, Madden writes, “Thanks to our nation’s leadership, history will come to know this as an era of unabashed torture and war, led by the United States and its amorphous War on Terror.”

Regarding Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan, he explains “We understand that truth, honesty and integrity are essential components to a functioning democracy. That is why American citizens must have informed opinions and take action in keeping with their principles – millions of lives depend on it.”

Madden makes clear that this is not about pointing fingers at his brothers and sisters in uniform. “Soldiers and Marines are not to blame for the suffering of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan; these veterans’ stories will indicate that responsibility belongs to those in the seat of power. Winter Soldier will prove that the problem goes much deeper than the atrocities of Abu Ghraib or the massacre in Haditha.”

The IVAW website backs that sentiment stating “Contrary to the rhetoric of political and military leaders, wrongdoings in Iraq and Afghanistan are not isolated incidents perpetrated by ‘bad apples.’ Throughout the military, from the highest levels of power, servicemen and women are being ordered to do things that violate their consciences and the rules of war. We repeatedly see lower enlisted soldiers getting punished for bad policy. Winter Soldier will place the blame of atrocious U.S. war policy where it belongs: on our political leaders.”

Four Days in March

Hundreds of veterans plan to travel to Washington, D.C. for this historic event which will feature live testimony including supporting video and photographic documentation. In order to ensure legitimacy of the testimony, a verification team made up of 20-members is gathering and vetting all testimony in advance. Background checks, interviews, questionnaires and incident reports are required. Every veteran participating must have his or her DD-214 which is issued to military members upon separation from active service. The process doesn’t end there. After collecting testimony, each story is thoroughly researched including interviews with members of the participant’s unit. Anyone fabricating their story or posing as a veteran will be handed over to the authorities.

In addition to individual testimonies, panel discussions designed to focus on the human impact of the war as well as the breakdown of the military have also been planned. Among these panels are The Crisis in Veterans’ Healthcare; Corporate Pillaging and Military Contractors; Rules of Engagement; Divide to Conquer: Gender and Sexuality in the Military; Racism and War: The Dehumanization of the Enemy; Civilian Testimony: The Cost of War in Iraq and Afghanistan; and the Cost of the War at Home.

Coverage to Date

A look at the press coverage to date on IVAWs media page, finds reports primarily from local media as well as alternative news sources such as Common DreamsAlterNet and truthout. An insightful and comprehensive article from a well-known news source was published this week. The article entitled, Patriot Missiles: Iraq Veterans Against the War came not from the New York Times or the Washington Post, but from the U K’s Sunday Times. While the U.S. mainstream media has remained largely silent about next week’s event, the 1971 Winter Soldier did receive attention during the 2004 presidential elections. Media types like Chris Matthews and Joe Scarborough delved into presidential candidate John Kerry’s participation in the Winter Soldier investigations and the controversy surrounding it.

Their apparent disinterest now suggests that there never was any real concern by the media about the effects of the Winter Soldier investigation on fellow soldiers, but that instead the discussion was driven by the intoxicating effects of campaign vitriol.

Lest anyone think that they’re not talking about it now simply because it’s not yet taken place, just look back at the media build up and anticipation of the testimony by General Petraeus last September.

Hilton v. Lugar

In the world of 24-hour news coverage, there certainly is time to highlight, even discuss in depth, many of the oft-ignored issues that will be presented next week. Rather, the public is regularly inundated with sugar coated stories and nauseating celebrity gossip by purported news programs. Sometimes, though not often, the frustration over these nonsense stories that steal air time from hard news spills over unexpectedly. And that, my friends, is a real treat.

Enter Mika Brzezinski, cohost of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” with Joe Scarborough. Last June at the top of the hour, she was handed a story about socialiate Paris Hilton’s release from jail. Brzezinski did the unthinkable. She refused to read it. Later, her producer again pushed the story elevating it above the story of Republican Senator Richard Lugar’s break from President Bush on Iraq war policy.

Brzezinski, offended by her producer’s insistence that the story of a capricious Hollywood socialite take precedence over a Republican Senator challenging the President during a time of war, attempted to set the Hilton script on fire. [video link] Not satisfied, she then retrieved another copy from Dan Abram’s office and put it through a paper shredder much to the delight of viewers.

Upsetting the Cart

A more sobering example of on-air dissent, took place last month on the set of Fox and Friends. Guest, Montel Williams, tv host and former Naval officer was pressed by the hosts to discuss the “major tragedy” of actor Heath Ledger’s death. [video link] Williams objected to the relentless coverage stating, “Honestly, my heart goes out to the family, but I have been repulsed by all the coverage. Here’s a question I have. Watch this. How many people have died in Iraq since January 1? Can you give me a number?”

Host Brian Kilmeade jumped in and remarked “It’s about…it’s about 20.”

Williams replied, “No, it’s not about . It’s 28. I say it that way because we’re going to spend 15 minutes talking about this, I’ve not seen one death, one name of a soldier, one name of a person that allows us to do this.”

Host, Gretchen Carlson asked quizzically “Why do we do that as a society.” Williams answered “Because it’s our voracious appetite to bring on ratings. That’s what it is. We know it as a fact. Let’s be honest about it.” Carlson agreed “Of course, it’s the ratings.” She then moved to place the blame on the public, “It’s the appetite, we’re feeding the beast. The audience…”

“Well, cart before the horse, horse before the cart. I don’t know who drives it,” Williams responded. “I think right now if we woke up this morning and instead of talking about Heath Ledger, we talked about the troop who died last night by the IED…”

Kilmeade defended the media by stating, “We talk about the war plenty. I was actually embedded. I was there for the invasion.” “I got ya,” offered Williams. Kilmeade continued, “I think everybody in this country knows we’re at war.”

Williams countered, “Nobody in this country knows who died yesterday and if I know about Heath, I want to know about the troops.”

Kilmeade then asked whether there was any realistic way to talk about each of these deaths individually. Williams resolved that “We can talk about all of the troops from yesterday and I’m sorry if we’re going to sit here and have this discussion about Heath Ledger, I want to tell America [looking into the camera] 28 troops died since January 1st. That’s what I want to talk about.”

The hosts relented and offered Williams the chance to tell them about one of the troops who died since January. Thirty seconds later, they went to commercial. Montel never returned. Just days later, it was announced that Fox declined to renew it’s contract with the Montel Williams show.

Truth and Consequences

Last year, Joe Scarborough an early and ardent supporter of the invasion of Iraq concluded that the U.S. could not win the war. He stated, “And you’re hearing that from a guy who’s been a hawk from his earliest days. But I’m also a realist…When the facts change, so does my mind. You know, what do you do? Well, bottom line is, if you keep your feet in cement and you don’t change with the realities on the ground, then you’re responsible for the killing of a lot more U.S. troops.”

Well, Joe, next week a group of brave men and women will gather to share with the world the realities on the ground. Will you be there to listen?

A Challenge

I offer then, a challenge to the media. A self-imposed stop loss – no weekend get away, no excursions to the world of eye candy reporting. For four days next week, censor the celebrity and political hijinks. You cheered the troops on while turning your back on the truth, the least you can do now is hear their stories and report them to the public. Hey, Scarborough, Matthews, Blitzer et al – can you handle the truth?

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Note: IVAW has coordinated live video and audio feeds of the entire Winter Soldier weekend. For more information visit, How to Watch

To learn more about Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and the Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan, visit www.IVAW.org.

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writer’s note: when writing this article, i was conflicted regarding montel williams’ question “how many people have died in iraq since january 1?” understanding that williams’ was referring to u.s. military, i did not address the fact that, of course, a far greater number than 28 died as a result of the war in iraq since january 1 if one considers the iraqi people. still, this is an issue that needs to be recognized and it should be noted again that it will be addressed during the winter soldier investigations as servicemembers and civilians will be discussing the impact of the occupation on the civilian population. end.

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One response to “Winter Soldier: Can the Mainstream Media Handle the Truth?

  1. Provocative, revealing and written in a way that’s rarely seen elsewhere.

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