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GORDON DUFF: RESURRECTING THE GHOST OF ERNIE PYLE

FROM WAR CORRESPONDENTS TO EMBEDDED REPORTERS TO PAID PUNDITS TO RODEO CLOWNS

WARTIME JOURNALISM ENTERS AN ABYSS

By Gordon Duff STAFF WRITER/Senior Editor

The best known and most famous war correspondent in US history is Ernie Pyle.  Killed in combat on Okinawa in 1945, Pyle personified the perfect combat reporter.  Pyle lived with the men in the field, lived as one of them and wrote of them in a way that honored them and made them human, made their lives real and brought war home to those who might not otherwise understand the reality of it.  Pyle was the best of a crowd that included Edward R. Murrow who reported on the London blitz or Walter Cronkite, known for his stories from the North African campaign.  Most journalists who we remember from the 50s through the 70s made their name as war correspondents.

To the journalists of today, the few that try to keep alive Ernie Pyle’stradition, reporting can be lonely and dispiriting.  As with Pyle, reporters suffer an even higher casualty rate than troops in the field, almost as though they were purposefully targeted.  The United Nations tracks this and the numbers are shocking.  Yet, even with such risks and efforts being made, there is no outlet for real war news.  Media of old, radio, newspapers and magazines have been replaced by corporate controlled “entertainment,” simply another term for cheap propaganda.  However, it started long before Fox News came along.

The Kennedy murders may have started us down the slippery slope.  Both killings, and that of Martin Luther King, were clear inside jobs.  Almost nothing in either killing would hold up under the most minor scrutiny.  Is that when our willingness to look away from the unthinkable made the unthinkable a tool that would be used against us time and time again?

Vietnam was where things started going wrong.  DaNang and Saigon had their press corps, reporters who sauntered into the field on rare occasions for hand-fed stories.  Eventually, dramatic combat operations, sending units by helicopter into enemy infested areas were planned for news value alone as domestic opinion against the war increased.  Operation after operation killed thousands of Americans with with no impact on the war at all, other than to gain a few seconds on the evening news.  This happened but it will never be told.  It can’t be as there was no one honest enough to have told it. 

Later, in what we can call Gulf War I, the military gained control much the same way our government had learned to stifle independent reporting.  If you reported anything too independent or unfavorable, you would lose access.  No access, no story.  No story, no job.  Blackmail.  Lessons learned here in controlling the news for the sake of security would be used later in Gulf War 2 to control the news for reasons of deception, not of the enemy but of America itself.

By 2000, any story could be crushed, spun or invented.  Everyone would jump on-board.  No journalist could question anything without fear of losing access, “having an accident” or simply being fired.  Independent journalists like Gary Webb or Steve Kanga and so many others were suicided or died of mysterious “street crimes.”  Reporters who refused to stick to “party line” were considered as expendable as corporate whistle blowers.  All you needed to kill off a reporter was another reporter willing to say, “He was troubled, a loner.”  It became possible to kill anyone, kill any story and do anything.  You could invade countries, rig elections or even put the government in the drug business on a massive scale as during the Reagan administration.

Then came 9/11.  Blaming that on a small time former Mujaheddin leader, Osama bin Laden, slowly dying of kidney failure while under virtual house arrest in Afghanistan was a work of amazing chutzpah and imagination.  Never has any story in American history fallen apart so many times with, literally hundreds of key players leaking enough information to blow the whole mess out of the water and yet, years and years later, though few take the cover story seriously, no power capable of pushing for real answers is able to overcome the corporate propaganda machine.

Controlling the press and manufacturing news is nothing new.  We got into the Spanish American War based on falsified stories by the Hearst group, something taught to every American youngster.  Spinning 9/11, an attack that could have originated from anywhere, least likely where we placed blame, was only a beginning for a new phase. 

What is a pundit?  Is it someone hired to speak out or is it someone hired to lie?  What happens when our own government hires former military officers to misinform the public, misinform to such an extent as to cover massive misconduct leading to a pair of disastrous wars? 

PENTAGON PUNDITS AND WAR CRIMES

On October 16, 1946, newsman and propagandist, Julius Streicher was hanged for crimes against humanity.  His crime was the use of his news organization to justify persecution of Jews and aggressive war.  War correspondent Howard K. Smith witnessed the hanging, reporting that Streicher”went down kicking” in a lengthy ordeal.  The difference between Streicher’s crime of inciting persecution of Jews and supporting Hitler’s illegal wars shows many clear parallels with those serving our news organizations today.  If intelligence was falsified to justify the invasion of Iraq, leading to the deaths of tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of civilians and new media took an active role in a conspiracy to misinform the public, sectors of our government and to attempt to justify an illegal and unjustified war then full responsibility must be taken.

Nuremberg set a standard for dealing with such issues, a standard that might be made applicable, not only for Iraq and Afghanistan but eventually for 9/11 as well.

HAS AMERICAN MEDIA MADE OUR WAR DISAPPEAR?

The next Ernie Pyle probably isn’t out with troops in Afghanistan.  He or she may be Kabul, fighting for attention, for a chance but is just as likely to have an “accident.”  War has never been perfect.  We always had bad commanders, defective equipment, fraud and corruption, bungled operations, none of this is new.  The “Fog of War” has always required censorship and feeding a certain amount of fiction to the folks back home.  We accept this.

Hollywood turned out shamefully patriotic movies.  Some, like Sergeant York, were excellent, that and 30 Seconds Over Tokyo.  I never tire of watching them.  America had her back against the wall, the entire world did.  The downside has been that we may have learned to cover up too much, so much that we have spent 60 years declassifying a history that we have found, in places, total fiction.  Almost immediately after WW2, many Americans began considering the war a mistake.  Another move, The Best Years of Our Lives presents this and other controversies and, having done so, disappeared from view for decades though one of the finest movies ever made. 

We still get the movies.  Mel Gibson wins the Battle of Na Trang in We Were Soldiers and a war movie, Hurt Locker won best picture.  I enjoyed it.  However, I don’t know if it was real.  If Ernie Pyle had been around to “tell it like it is” I might know.  You could show me anything about Iraq, and I have been there, and I wouldn’t know.  You could show me the war in Vietnam only 30 miles away and it would be like another planet.  I was that close to My Lai.  I couldn’t begin to understand what I am told happened there.  The Best Years of Our Lives talks about that too.

Another day I turn on the news and nobody as died.  Is that because it is a phony war, all pretend, all drug dealing and troops eating steak dinners and riding around in air-conditioned limousines?  This is how the military likes to tell it, but if that’s true, why are so many of our kids coming home in such bad shape?  Is the military trying to get us to blame them for failing us or being weak?  I hope not, that would make me very angry.

Can we get the truth back?  We don’t need to know how much some lobbyist paid a Congressman or who was involved in what plot.  We get this all day every day.  Sometimes I am afraid to open email.  I would like to read a page, just one page telling me what a Marine lance corporal with a rifle squad did today, who he talked to, what he ate and how he is doing.  As a citizen of a country meant to be a democracy, not a republic, I demand it.  If an American dies or is wounded, I want to feel it to, I want everone to.  If we are doing things right, then let me hear it straight, not from a publicist or paid pundit/liar.  Get me Ernie Pyle.   Our troops need Ernie Pyle, they need him in spades.

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