One of the ongoing problems we all face in dealing with contemporary history (where sources can come forward or be questioned years or decades after the fact) is the issue of memory vs. reality. I’ve posted about that issue and it’s a challenging one – especially when the sources start telling us things we really want to hear, things they did not say to anyone at the time, offer to official investigations (even anonymously) or record in any way prior appearing with new and explosive information.
I noted a series of posts the other day in which the release of James Files was being discussed. The most striking comment was one person saying that Files sounded sincere and they would believe him until it was conclusively proved he was making false statements. OK, but that is a matter of belief, of faith and a personal decision and needs to be accepted for what it is and no more.
What is becoming more of a concern to me is that more and more elements of the media are also sliding into news which either factually suspect or presented with little background or context. In some instances that appears to be just part of an overall trend in the news media, which has re-positioned itself as a combination of “reality TV” and as entertainment (same thing with the Weather if you look closely). I first sensed we were entering a sea change when CNN came up with the “Situation Room” format….essentially saying to the audience that this is not just news, its “participation” and anything and everything can be made into a crisis or situation.
Worse yet, the exponential increase in the number of news outlets on cable/satellite and on the internet has combined with talk radio and blogging to create a demand for content which is really not news, it’s simply grist for editorial, most often with a pretty obvious agenda. Those outlets are on the air so frequently that they constantly need new content and are constantly on the lookout for content that “fits”. They want it so much that they increasingly accept it with no vetting of sources or any real fact checking – even to the extent of not vetting their own on screen analysts. Fox got burned just last week for long term use of a military/national security specialist whose background was a good deal less than what Fox was touting – and the discrepancies were not that hard to find.
The last couple of weeks brought us a dramatic example of this rush to news in the national story about Ted Cruz’s father being linked to Lee Oswald and the JFK assassination. I’m not going into that here, it’s been widely deconstructed since it was based in nothing more than some highly problematic opinions by two facial recognition “specialists” who then became pretty defensive about even their own remarks on the identification. It’s not clear how the story was generated, it is clear that it was promoted for political purposes. And sadly one of the main bloggers promoting it appears to have committed suicide.
Of course if you follow his death down the right internet trails that in itself will reveal a conspiracy and actually verify the original Cruz story (uh, that was sarcasm, just to be clear).
And this week I ran across the following on Fox News:
The story first focuses on an unnamed source (we don’t know his unit, his rank or most important his career specialty or his base of assignment). We are told his remarks are in regard to aircraft on the flight line at Aviano Air Base in Italy….
The source said: “I definitely believe that our aircraft could have taken off and gotten there in a timely manner, maybe three hours at the most, in order to at least stop that second mortar attack … and basically save lives that day.”
The story about a failure to deploy aircraft then transitions to Mike, described as a former team sergeant for a military anti-terror quick reaction force, once known as the CIF…
“For some reason they were all shut down, and I think it leads back to a policymaker somewhere because nobody in the military is going to shut down an operation,” he said. On the night of the attack, Mike was at Delta Force headquarters in the U.S. monitoring the events as they happened.
And if you can’t guess the political implications of the story – which appeared to gain little traction other than at Fox – you can read it for yourself.
The thing is that the average reader is simply presented with no context and no real facts which would allow them to evaluate either the man from Aviano or Mike as to their credibility, or perhaps most importantly for the value of their observations. Having researched Benghazi in considerable detail – and written about it in Surprise Attack – I can tell you that both the activities at Aviano and Special Forces headquarters were examined in great detail by lots of people including Congressional Committees desperately seeking evidence of exactly the sort of failure to respond that the Fox article pursues with these two new sources.
Those investigations left few stones un-turned, we have the details of the teams that were assembled and dispatched, we have the details of the air units and weaponry at Aviano and exactly why the decision was made not to send fighter bombers to Libya. We even know the command structure in that decision and the fact that for most of the night that command was aware of the embassy in Benghazi but not of the CIA operation being conducted out of the annex. If anyone is interested in all that it’s available in numerous sources and summarized in my chapter on Benghazi. Email me if you want to chat about it. Perhaps the most discouraging fact is that there are some serious lessons to be learned from the attack and changes that were made afterwards – but since the media doesn’t cover those sorts of stories it’s hard to tell if those changes are still in effect, or have been funded in the current budgets.
Admittedly I’m rambling a bit, but my real message here is that everyone certainly will reach their own conclusions, opinions and beliefs on such events. Fine. But the media – well what at one time was called the news media, now it’s just the media – either needs to return to its roots in fact checking and true investigative journalism or we need to be a lot more cautious and critical about what it sends our way as news.