HARPER: For a welcome change, media does its job on Bergdahl deal

Question of the Day

Should Congress make English the official language of the U.S.?

View results

The Obama team clearly did not foresee the fierce media blowback that occurred over the swap of five dangerous Taliban leaders for the only U.S. Army soldier held captive in Afghanistan.

In a welcome change, the media have apparently decided to cover a negative Obama administration story with an aggressiveness they haven’t shown for multiple other scandals over the past six years.


SEE ALSO: PRUDEN: Bowe Bergdahl, bad bargain


When the mud gets slung around so quickly in Washington, including apparent high-level leaks opposing the administration’s actions, it’s usually more than a partisan matter. Moreover, the complaints got real traction in mainstream journalistic circles. Within hours of this weekend’s announcement of the prisoner exchange, reporters started to dig up some significant information that had already been published about Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and his background.

For example, an article in 2010 in Britain’s Daily Mail described how Sgt. Bergdahl, according to the Taliban, had converted to Islam and taught his captors how to make bombs. Rolling Stone published an article about the soldier in 2012, which contained revealing nuggets such as:

“As his tour dragged on, the ‘hellish reality of war’ — including seeing an Afghan child run over by an American truck — weighed on [then-Private] Bergdahl, who came to see America’s presence in Afghanistan as ‘disgusting.’”

“There was an official cover-up — one that included White House pressure on The New York Times and AP to keep Bergdahl’s name out of the papers.”

Sgt. Bergdahl was clearly a troubled individual. He walked away from his unit in Afghanistan in 2009 and was captured by the Taliban. Several news organizations quickly found some of his fellow soldiers, who criticized his actions and questioned his patriotism, even though they had been forced to sign agreements not to talk about Sgt. Bergdahl. “He’s, at best, a deserter and, at worst, a traitor,” Sgt. Josh Korder told CNN, which has been quite aggressive in reporting the story.

The Washington Times reported that the military, which had lost at least six men looking for Sgt. Bergdahl after he vanished, did not want to send a rescue team, despite knowing his exact whereabouts and the captors’ numbers and firepower. Even The New York Times questioned the deal in several ways in an editorial. “Mr. Obama’s decision is likely to make it harder for the United States to implore other countries not to negotiate with terrorists in the future,” the newspaper wrote.


SEE ALSO: HURT: An unfair trade for an undeserving deserter


Nearly all of the media quickly seized upon the angle of whether the exchange itself had been legal. Under the National Defense Authorization Act, which President Obama signed into law only a few months ago, the administration had to give Congress 30 days’ advance notice of any transfers from the Guantanamo detainee site. That clearly did not happen last week, but the White House maintained the soldier’s health had deteriorated and the deal needed to get done — yet another point some have questioned since Sgt. Bergdahl is listed in “stable” condition at a U.S. military hospital. CNN legal expert Jeffrey Toobin said the administration “clearly” violated the law — a position seconded by Jonathan Turley of George Washington University.

Mr. Obama, now on a tour of Europe, defended his actions: “We still get back an American soldier if he’s held in captivity. Period. Full stop,” he told a news conference in Warsaw. He later acknowledged that the Taliban leaders he released might go back to fighting U.S. forces — a position confirmed by estimates reported in The Wall Street Journal that about 30 percent of those released from American custody end up on the battlefield again.

Whatever the case, the media have aggressively probed the problems with this deal — a welcome relief from recent scandals from Benghazi to the IRS that dropped off journalistic radar screens after many news organizations lost interest in these and other stories.

Christopher Harper is a professor at Temple University. He worked for more than 20 years at the Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and “20/20.” He can be contacted at charper@washingtontimes.com. Twitter: @charper51.

Comments
blog comments powered by Disqus
TWT Video Picks
You Might Also Like
  • Maureen McDonnell looks on as her husband, former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, made a statement on Tuesday after the couple was indicted on corruption charges. (associated press)

    PRUDEN: Where have the big-time grifters gone?

  • This photo taken Jan. 9, 2014,  shows New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gesturing as he answers a question during a news conference  at the Statehouse in Trenton.  Christie will propose extending the public school calendar and lengthening the school day in a speech he hopes will help him rebound from an apparent political payback scheme orchestrated by key aides. The early front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination will make a case Tuesday Jan. 14, 2014, that children who spend more time in school graduate better prepared academically, according to excerpts of his State of the State address obtained by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    BRUCE: Bombastic arrogance or humble determination? Chris Christie’s choice

  • ** FILE ** Secretary of State Hillary Rodham testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Chris Stevens and three other Americans. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

    PRUDEN: The question to haunt the West

  • Get Breaking Alerts