Media's Bergdahl Fiasco: Why TV News' Demise Can't Come Soon Enough

A mother's agony has become the media's political football.

A mother's agony has become the media's political football.

There was a time in American history when the release of an American prisoner of war would have been universally celebrated, at whatever cost it was made. There was a time in American history when a newly elected president traded arms to free American hostages, and a time when an American administration staged a rambo-style rescue of an American soldier - who it turned out was "rescued" from a hospital.

And there was not a smidgen of a question in the immediate aftermaths of those events from the American media or mainstream American politicians as to the patriotism of the president, nor a hint of accusation that by having those Americans released, the respective presidents had endangered American security.

Not a smidgen of doubt on those two questions, even though in one case, President Reagan literally armed an adversary, Iran (although his heart and his head seem to have had a difference of opinion on the matter) in order to secure the release of American hostages. And in the other, George W. Bush's defense department staged a made-for-TV 'rescue' operation for Jessica Lynch and made up a story about her that she herself later confirmed was falsified.

And that was appropriate. No matter how an American in captivity is brought home, America prided itself on never abandoning our people - no matter who they were, and the security bona-fides of the Commander in Chief who fashioned those operations were not called into question, because at one point in the not-so-distant past, the American media believed that those issues were above politics.

The Republican patron saint didn't stop at trading arms with Iran, of course. Reagan assisted the Sandanistas in Nicaragua with funds from the Iranian arms trade in direct contravention of Congressional dictate. Few, if any, Republicans repudiated Reagan then, let alone now, a time when Ronald Reagan has become more sacred to the wingbat GOP than the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Yet today, another president has arranged the release of another American prisoner of war from captive hands, and his patriotism, along with that of the rescued soldier, is called into question by the same elements of our politics who routinely extol President Reagan and who aided and abetted George W. Bush's disastrous war policies.

When I refer to these elements in our politics, I am not speaking merely of the unpatriotic, if not traitorous actions of the modern Republican party and its members in Congress, I am also talking about the media. USA Today last night released a poll, in which they found that 43% of Americans say President Obama mishandled the Bergdahl release, while 34% say he did the right thing. USA Today reported that story as if in a vacuum, claiming that it is the exchange of five Taliban members who were being held in Guantanamo for Bergdahl that Americans disapprove of.

In truth, the poll speaks not of the president's failure to perform due diligence but on the abject failure of our media industrial complex. It is comforting, I suppose, that despite wall-to-wall "controversy" coverage of the Bergdahl release, the media remained incapable of convincing a majority of Americans that the president did anything wrong. 

What the USA Today poll really proves is that our press has failed spectacularly at its job to report the news and has become a 24-hour poutrage-generator.

Not a single time has any Congressional correspondent pointed out the Iran-Contra affair to Republican Congressmen frothing at the mouths about Congressional notification. The Republican leadership - and some Democrats - are not made to seriously answer the question whether a technicality in the law - and likely an unconstitutional technicality - should have been reason enough to risk the life of an American POW, and if Bergdahl's life had ended in the Congressional 30-day delay dictate, what the reactions of Congressional leaders would have been.

Even more importantly, members of Congress - Republicans and Democrats - coughing up a lung about this prisoner swap are not, for even a moment, held to account for their own deplorable political plays to keep open America's only prison that holds prisoners without charges or trials. The larger issue of the clash between time-honored American tradition of giving every criminal - even the most vicious ones - a fair trial and the neoconservative vision of indefinite detention is completely ignored in what passes for news on America's airwaves.

This is important not only because forcing Guantanamo to stay open is a far larger dark spot on the American character than the swap of five Taliban prisoners for an American POW could ever be, but also because it, in and of itself, confirms the president's power to make this swap.

By disallowing funds to transfer prisoners from Guantanamo to American soil to be tried in American courts, Republicans and Democrats in Congress have made anyone held there without a trial de facto prisoner of war - and the president's broad power as Commander in Chief, once hostilities begin with Congress' assent, unquestionably includes the power to swap prisoners, a long-standing and well-recognized tradition in the laws of war. Any attempt by Congress to interfere with the president's decisions with regards to prisoners of war - beyond those imposed by the Constitution itself - is therefore unconstitutional.

This is a simple deduction of the Constitution and logic, but you will be hard-pressed to find it anywhere in the mainstream media. Because that would challenge the manufactured Constitutional crisis the media is trying to push, and it would interfere with the faux-scandal Republicans want to make out of it.

But the media's job is not to generate outrage. Their job is not to make salacious headlines. Their job is to report the facts, the law, and challenge not just the president but Congressional leaders as well. They have forgotten that, and they have become unworthy of the freedoms afforded to them by the First Amendment.

The media's massive failure at its job is not new. It is likely because of that failure that despite severely one-sided, and ridiculously counterfactual coverage of this story, they remain unable to convince a majority of Americans that this is a scandal. In that respect, the one redeeming light in our politics may be the steady decline of TV news viewership, and especially its precipitous falling-off-the-edge among young viewers. Among the 18-29 age group, regular TV news viewership dropped from 46% in 1992 to just 11% in 2012.

If the traditional media is a dying industry, its demise cannot come soon enough.

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