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June 19, 2009
The New Sound of SilenceBy Greyhawk
CJ Grisham has been going where the media fears to tread - and he's got a hell of a good story for his efforts. To bring you up to speed quickly, other than an AP claim to the contrary there's actually no evidence available that the White House (or President Obama himself) has issued a statement regarding the murder of Private William Long in Little Rock earlier this month. (See C.J.'s post here, previous Mudville entry here.) The White House maintains a comprehensive collection of presidential statements, speeches, and press releases and there's no mention of Private William Long to be found there.
I can't say whether or not the AP appreciates being the sole source of presidential decrees, but while some might be content to accept an independent news outlet's role as Presidential Press Office C.J. has been combing that White House archive (where my follow up search for "Private Long" yielded only documents related to private long-term health insurance) for an actual statement from the President - and found no such document. In hopes that that omission was merely an oversight by an over-worked staffer he's been talking and emailing with them, too - more on that shortly.
End of discussion.
The White House press room is a designated "blog-free zone" - so there was no one there to ask a follow up to that. C.J. suggests "A REAL reporter would follow up with, 'Oh okay, it did? Can you provide that please?' Or, 'why wasn't it provided nationally like all the other statements?' Or, 'Why wasn't the Dr. Tiller statement only released in Kansas like the Arkansas shooting statement?'"
I would have asked if that Arkansas release was in addition to the AP's - but like C.J. I wasn't there (at least, not then). But I do have access to "many stations in Arkansas" via the world wide web - and I can tell you if they received any statements from the President or the White House they didn't post them with the rest of their coverage of the story. In fact they didn't even mention receiving them.
Here's a collection of links to newspaper and television station web sites in Arkansas. Among them I found the most extensive coverage from Little Rock television station KATV. Even they only reference the AP claim - and those claims are only found in their published AP stories here and here.
Their coverage does include details mostly overlooked in the national reporting. For instance, at the request of the defense (after videotaped confessions were revealed) the presiding judge issued a gag order prohibiting the prosecution or law enforcement from publicly discussing the case. Fair enough - but the next day the accused killer phoned the AP from his cell and told them his lawyer was making claims that weren't true (a regular "dream" client, this guy), and that his primary reason for shooting the soldiers (he won't call it murder because he considers it justified) was because "he wanted revenge for claims that American military personnel had desecrated copies of the Quran" (thanks, Newsweek) and raped and killed Muslims. (Edited to simply "anger over what soldiers had done to Muslims" in most national coverage.)
Rival station KLRT reported that Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe was among the mourners at Pvt Long's funeral, but made no mention of their receiving any statement from the President of the United States. (They do have comments from wounded soldier Quinton Ezeagwula's former football coach.)
Little Rock CBS affiliate KTHV offers a statement from Captain Mathew Feehan ("The army is a family. We consider it a personal loss. I think overall we're just shocked. This isn't something we expect to happen in downtown Little Rock.") in their coverage, but nothing from the Commander in Chief.
Turning to the Department of Defense for any possible confirmation there, the only reference I could find to Pvt Long was a June 9th public affairs release titled "Wounded Recruiting Office Shooting Victim Praises Army for Support". That story on Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula includes a brief claim that "President Barack Obama released a statement shortly after the incident." I'm certain he did - but I'm not certain he issued one about the incident.
Which brings us back to C.J. When he contacted the White House for clarification he got a third answer. Not "Sorry, we made an exclusive statement to the AP, check with them" or "we only released that to Arkansas media" - instead, he was told "the President is attempting to call the family of Army Pvt Long".
We've got three different answers now from the White House on the central question "did the President make a statement"? I suspect the correct answer would be a fourth one: "no".
There are obvious comparisons to be made between this story and coverage (and administration responses) to other high profile murders in the United States this month. The unnamed reporter questioning Robert Gibbs on the topic seems to acknowledge that point. However, I find myself more disturbed by two other issues raised - what this story reveals about how we know what the President really said (if anything) about any topic and how the Commander in Chief views his troops - two issues of no small significance to the nation. I see no positive indicators from these events on either at this point.
Some might question C.J.'s motives in keeping this story alive. All I can offer in response to that is that he's an Iraq war veteran (Bronze Star with V) and founder of the web site They Have Names - you can read about his motivation for that project here - but I can also offer personal testimony.
CJ and I were at the White House together, and given the chance to address the national security and veterans affairs staff he took the opportunity to express both his support and concerns for their efforts with regard to active and veteran troops - in a manner that impressed me as respectful, candid, honest, and authentic. At the time, the veterans should pay for their own healthcare story was resolved but still recent, and the President's decision (later reversed) to release additional Abu Ghraib photos was making headlines. He advised them in no uncertain terms that he saw those as early stumbles, that it wasn't a great start, but that he hoped for better things to come.
I'm certain this was not what he had in mind.
Must-reads on this story:
Posted by Greyhawk / June 19, 2009 12:23 PM | Permalink
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November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
I like having visitors to my house. I hope you are entertained. I fight for your right to free speech, and am thrilled when you exercise said rights here. Comments and e-mails are welcome, but all such communication is to be assumed to be 1)the original work of any who initiate said communication and 2)the property of the Mudville Gazette, with free use granted thereto for publication in electronic or written form. If you do NOT wish to have your message posted, write "CONFIDENTIAL" in the subject line of your email.
Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com