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January 18, 2011
Truth and Tucson (Three)By Greyhawk
(A series begun here)
First reports are always wrong - that old adage can't be repeated enough. In a previous installment we examined the role of several military veterans in the Tucson rampage. Those stories were revealed in reports filed several days after Jared Loughner's assault. Initial reports from the day of indicated he'd killed Representative Gabrielle Giffords and several other citizens attending her public appearance at a local supermarket. Reports of her death proved premature, but soon enough they were replaced by the following hasty narrative: An Afghan vet, driven over the edge by Sarah Palin's Tea Party political hate speech, had opened fire with a semiautomatic weapon. He hadn't acted alone, and at least one accomplice was still at large.
"Hasty" is the key word - "opened fire" and "weapon" are the only accurate portions of that description. Most everything you'd need to know to "understand" Jared Loughner was known within hours of the event - and none of it remotely pointed to "politics" - at least as a rational person would define the term, as motive. Still, national media reports the day of (and day after) the event looked less like what could be found with a one-minute Google search (links to Loughner's YouTube page and reviews of the bizarre videos there were also in my inbox within minutes of the first report revealing his name; links to descriptions by his friends of a guy who was anything but a conservative Tea Party military veteran followed shortly thereafter) and more like this example from that evening by the Associated Press:
A gunman nearly unloaded a semiautomatic weapon at a busy supermarket Saturday during a public gathering for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, wounding the Democrat and killing Arizona's chief federal judge and five others in an attempted assassination that left Americans questioning whether divisive politics had pushed the suspect over the edge.
Add another unstable veteran to the tale. He had nothing to do with it, of course - had that space been used to provide more descriptions of Loughner by his friends, or more details of the contents of his "Internet postings, including some that express convoluted observations about government" that conclusion would be obvious to any rational reader.
Glenn Reynolds - as usual - collected and presented links throughout the day of the shooting (start at the bottom of the page here and work up). "Sadly, I don't think most of them had to "descend" very far," was Reynolds ultimate take on national media outlets' coverage of Tucson. (Another example: CNN's use of a picture of someone else identified as Loughner.) His conclusion: "local media did better."
But unless you were in Tucson - or on the internet - you had no access to that local news. Among those relying on hours of "national news reports" that substituted rabid speculation for factual details was a Tucson resident making his way home from California:
His own imagination might have fueled his fever pitch during that race against time (and evening news deadlines) to get home from his convention - but six hours of unrelenting assurances that Sarah Palin and the Tea Partiers were trying to kill him and everyone like him could have contributed to his rage, too. One can almost sympathize with him if, by the end of the long ride, he was imagining Palin herself pointing one of those big Alaska Grizzly Bear guns at him from behind every cactus on the route.
And during those same six hours most every claim regarding Loughner, his background and motives were debunked. The irony that Dupnik was right to blame "radio" for whipping up a frenzy - but had opened fire on the wrong specific target - was lost on the sheriff himself. Delivered before his engine had cooled, his press conference statements came in time to be added as further confirmation to many of those same erroneous day-of-the-shooting reports that inspired him to fire them off in the first place. "When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government - the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," Dupnik declared. "And, unfortunately, Arizona has become sort of the capital, we have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."
That assessment might have surprised combat veteran Dr Peter Rhee, who would later state that Tucson was "embarrassing and pathetic" to trauma surgeons "because violence is almost nonexistent... I know everyone in the country thinks World War III is going on in Arizona, but it's probably still the nicest place I can think of to live." (Part of the reason additional surgeons had to be re-routed from Afghanistan for this horrific event.)
Within 24 hours the remaining elements of the bogus narrative that emerged almost before Loughner's victims were on Rhee's operating table were acknowledged as such. Stars and Stripes ran a story debunking Loughner's "military veteran" status - though local news had it the day before. (Four days later Lopez would acknowledge that she'd "...wrongly reiterated some information told to me immediately prior to the interview that the suspect shooter in the Tucson attack was possibly a veteran of the war in Afghanistan." The Washington Post would simply overwrite their original reference to the claim.)
And that same Sunday morning saw Sheriff Dupnik on national TV assuring America that reports of other shooter(s) were also wrong - "There's no doubt [Loughner] acted alone." But even in the clear light of dawn, when it came to the last vitriolic shred of the Tucson shooting myth - the sheriff would bitterly cling to his guns.
More to follow.
Posted by Greyhawk / January 18, 2011 3:41 PM | Permalink
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...)
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