On Saturday, the President of the United States announced that the last American prisoner of war, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, had been released by the Taliban after nearly five years in captivity. The announcement was made in the Rose Garden and the President was joined by Bergdahl’s parents. However, by Wednesday, what should have been an uplifting story about the United States not giving up hope on retrieving every last soldier imprisoned by enemy combatants had been twisted into a dark tale of deception, desertion, treason and appeasement of terrorists. Republicans in Washington and the right-wing media decided to push all-in by claiming the President had negotiated with terrorists and endangered the nation’s security in order to save an anti-American deserter who deserved to be held as a prisoner indefinitely by the Taliban.
While the President is sadly used to this type of behavior from the right, it is highly doubtful that Bergdahl and his family was prepared to be such a huge target of disdain and scrutiny. The Bergdahls have had to deal with the awful reality of their son being held captive by the Taliban for nearly five years, not knowing if they’d ever get to see him again. Instead of being allowed to feel joy in the knowledge that their son will be returning home soon, they’ve had to endure numerous taunts from media figures, who have stated that Sgt. Bergdahl’s father, Bob Bergdahl, looks like a Muslim and a member of the Taliban, and have complained about comments he’s made.
For the right-wing media, nothing is off-limits when it comes to discrediting the President and finding any way possible to tie him to a scandal in order to run him out of the White House. Everything is fair game. Therefore, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and his parents are going to be subjected to this scorched earth campaign, where Bergdahl is going to be called a traitor, a deserter and a treasonous anti-American who sought out and collaborated with the Taliban. At the same time, his father is going to be labeled a terrorist sympathizer who wants to join his son as a member of the Taliban. All of this is just an inroads to smear President Obama. If conservatives are able to get any traction with these despicable tactics, they will continue. However, if they sense that the general public isn’t buying this latest made-up scandal, they will move on. But there will be no apology for the damage done from their actions.
It isn’t just the normal mudslingers that we are used to, either. Sure, far-right websites like Breitbart, National Review Online, The Drudge Report, Daily Caller and WND have all published dozens of articles and blogs tearing apart Bergdahl on a personal level. And, of course, Fox News has spent hours of airtime allowing guests and contributors to prattle on about whether or not Bergdahl deserved to be rescued and if we should have just left him with the Taliban. However, mainstream media outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post have allowed emotionally charged screeds to be published, while MSNBC has treated the story like Hollywood celeb gossip. An example of this type of coverage was exhibited on Wednesday’s episode of Morning Joe.
Whatever questions there are about Bergdahl’s service, his potential desertion of his post and the actions taken that lead to his capture will be dealt with by the Army. The fact is, he was an active member of the service who was held prisoner by the enemy. It was this nation’s duty to get him back, regardless of his personal politics or feelings towards his country or service. Constantly disparaging and denigrating him and his family only piles on to the ordeal that all of them have had to deal with these past five years. This man was held captive by enemy combatants. His parents spent day after day, month after month, year after year wondering if he’d ever make his way back home. Now that he’s been rescued, all of them are subjected to even more anguish brought on by pundits and politicians, who are only looking to rile up Obama-haters ahead of the midterm elections.
Thankfully, there are some people who have already spoken out against this irresponsible and sickening display by the right. Eric Boehlert of Media Matters wrote an opinion piece Wednesday. In it, he took Fox News to task for its abhorrent behavior as of late.
When an emotional Jani and Robert Bergdahl strode into the White House Rose Garden on Saturday to the share the emotional announcement by President Obama that their son, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl would be returning home after being held captive for five years by the Taliban, it’s unlikely they could have foreseen that their family would soon be under attack by the right-wing media, or that Robert Bergdahl would be depicted on Fox News as a possible terrorist sympathizer; mocked on national television as he awaited a reunion with his ailing son.
They couldn’t have foreseen it because I don’t think it’s ever happened before. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a dedicated media campaign to not only undermine a returning prisoner of war, but to also cast doubt onto the soldier’s family; to portray them as un-American even as they prepare for their reunion.
Instead, Fox News has helped transform the prisoner swap involving Taliban detainees into “an increasingly vicious partisan issue,” as Buzzfeed described the Republican decision to go into relentless attack mode, complete with enlisted publicists and strategists, to subvert the return of an American POW.
It’s symptomatic of a conservative media mini-mob that now obsessively politicizing everything, and does it all with the knob turned up to 11.
Another piece that was released on Wednesday was written by Shane Bauer at Mother Jones. Bauer, as you may recall, spent 26 months in an Iranian prison before finally having his release negotiated in 2011. If anyone can truly relate to what Bergdahl might be experiencing right now, it is Bauer. In his article, an open letter to Bergdahl, he tells the returning POW that he will “need to relearn how to be a person.” Bauer also advised Bergdahl that he’d have to deal with some very nasty things directed his via the media.
You will have infinitely more support than most prisoners do when they are released. People will recognize you on the street and welcome you home. But you’ll soon discover that others, in op-eds, blogs, and emails, say terrible things. You’ll find that many are blaming you for your own captivity. Ironically, these are generally people who feel very strongly that your captors are their enemies. Some of them think you should be punished further. You’ll see that many blame you for the deaths of American soldiers, rather than blame the war itself. Blaming the victim is always a way to protect the powerful.
At the end of his piece, Bauer adds a postscript asking a favor from his fellow journalists:
It would be nice—though its hard to imagine—if the media didn’t descend on Bowe Bergdahl like a pack of wolves. When I was released from Iran, some journalists tried to squeeze their way onto my flight home. One tried to embed with our families as they waited for Josh’s and my release, even though our relatives were very clear that they did not want this.
There are some things more important than a scoop. Nothing special will be added to the world if you are the first person to interview this man; you will only satisfy your own ego. He is new to the world. He is going through the slow process of coming to grips with freedom, to being able to function on his own. Don’t prey on him. Give him a chance.
We can only hope. But I think we know that this won’t be the case.