Friday, April 3, 2009

Clark & Taguba - A Media Tale of Two Generals

As we all know everyone in the media seems to have an opinion about General Wes Clark's remarks about McCain when Clark appeared on Face the Nation this past Sunday. 

"I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president," Clark told Bob Schieffer.

We've had multiple stories, blog posts and chats in the major newspapers and the cable folks can't seem to get enough of the story. The pundits are all drooling over the prospect of having another crack at opining about Clark's comments - McCain's response - Obama's reponse - McCain's response to Obama's response, yada, yada, yada. Why even Howie Kurtz, the supposed media critic for the Washington Post, got into the act when he wrote his own column about Clark. 

The majority of the media discussion seems to imply that Clark was at fault. According to some of the narratives, it was even implied that Clark was somehow guilty of dissing the suffering that McCain experienced as a POW even though Clark praised McCain's service and called him a hero for the torture he endured as a POW. Now I have an opinion on the Clark comments but for the purpose of this diary it's irrelevant because this diary is about a media tale of two generals.

Unlike General Clark, the second general in our tale got very little coverage in the media for his comments. Maj. General Anthony Taguba didn't make his comments on a talkshow. He didn't even say them out loud. He wrote a preface to a report by Physicians for Human Rights called Broken Laws, Broken Lives. Included in that preface were these words by General Taguba:
This report tells the largely untold human story of what happened to detainees in our custody when the Commander-in-Chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture. This story is not only written in words: It is scrawled for the rest of these individuals’ lives on their bodies and minds. Our national honor is stained by the indignity and inhumane treatment these men received from their captors.
He also used words like wanton cruelty, willful infliction of harm and finally he said this:
...there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.
The media isn't quite as taken with Gen. Taguba as they are with Gen. Clark. The pundits aren't lined up to opine on Taguba's remarks and Howie Kurtz didn't write about the media's coverage or even their lack of coverage. In fact, some of you might not have even heard about what General Taguba said because it disappeared pretty quickly from the media, if it was covered at all (there were a few notable exceptions). I did a quick check on the Washington Post website and they only had four entries for "Taguba" show up while using their search tool. Three of the four pieces that talked about General Taguba appeared in Dan Froomkin's blog. Mr. Froomkin even had one blog entry with the appropriate headline: 

Now I may not be a journalist but even I know that it's not every day that you have a former Maj. General in the Bush administration, who actually conducted the first Abu Ghraib investigation, come forward and accuse the WH of war crimes. And you'd think that for such an unprecedented story like this that contained such a serious charge that it would be a front page story for sure. In fact you'd probably think that such a story would even include side stories to go along with the main story. But, if you thought any of that would happen you'd be wrong, at least if you were reading the Washington Post. The Post had no front page story about General Taguba and his charge of war crimes. They didn't have an A2, A3, A4, A5 or even an A6 story.  

The fourth Washington Post Taguba reference that turned up in my search was for a story by Joby Warrick. The Warrick story appeared on page A7 of the Post but the title on the story didn't mention General Taguba. It didn't even mention war crimes like the Froomkin blog title accurately described. In fact, if you were looking for the Taguba story on June 19, 2008, as I was that day, you might have missed it. The Warrick piece, which was the only non-blog piece about Taguba that I could find in the Post (if someone knows of another please let us know), was called:  

Not exactly a sizzling headline for such a dramatic story, is it? Like the bland headline above, the actual Warrick story never mentioned the extraordinary charge of war crimes made by Taguba. The closest Warrick ever got to mentioning war crimes was when he said this:
In a statement accompanying the report, retired Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, who led the Army's first official investigation on Abu Ghraib, said the new evidence suggested a "systematic regime of torture" inside U.S.-run detention camps.
Now it's pretty clear from reading General Taguba's actual words that he did more than just suggest torture, he said there was no doubt. But you wouldn't know that from reading the Warrick story (In fairness it should be noted that while I reference the Post in this diary they were by no means the only media outlet to downplay this explosive story).  

Most of us don't really need any more examples to know how far our media has strayed from it's traditional role of informing the public and acting as the public's watchdog because we've already seen far too many examples of that fact. But for me, A Media Tale of Two Generals is about a subject far too important for me to let it go without comment.

So while Gen. Clark, is getting unwarranted coverage from the media for comments that will probably be forgotten long before the election, the same media is dissing the importance of Gen. Taguba's comments, by downplaying or not even covering his accusation that the Bush administration committed war crimes when they systematically tortured their prisoners. Taguba's comments are not just some campaign banter but serious charges against the Bush administration that deserve far more coverage than they've been given so far. The next time you are tempted to post a comment on a MSM website about General Clark's remarks about McCain, I hope you will remember A Media Tale of Two Generals and tell the media that they are covering the wrong general. You can then explain to them that it's General Taguba and not General Clark who made the kind of important, history making comments that deserve the scrutiny of the press.

This was originally published on Daily Kos 7/3/08

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