Monday, July 31, 2006

From the wires

Ok, I'm abandoning my normal liberal credentials for the day. I'm going to sound like a John Birch conservative for a few paragraphs. Sorry to my faithful readers (mom and JP should be proud).

The Associated Press put out a story this AM about a marine corps marksman. This is a kid who enlisted after 9/11. His father was a sniper in the Navy Seals and now owns a weapons shop. Like a dog-faced Tiger Woods, his dad taught him to make long range shots when he was still too young to hold the rifle. Dad would place the but of the gun against his own shoulder with his son cradled between them (I assume sitting on his lap) and walk him through the steps of firing. He's been hunting all his life. He's done two tours in Iraq and has 20 confirmed kills and 30 probables. That means he's probably killed 50 people.

What interested me at first in this story is how it was an indication of Teddy Roosevelt statement that sport--particularly hunting--existed primarily to train young men for war (he also said all games should be suspended when the country was at War--TR believed that if we at war then all of us should be at war, a vast difference between him and the president who tries to emulate him). This kid is the modern day sergeant York.

But the reason I'm writing about it is totally different. The AP article included the marine's name, where his unit was fighting, his father's occupation, the number of children he had, his home town and the town where he and his wife live now. I'm not going to repeat any of that here. I had always thought it was military policy not to reveal the names of individual soldiers lest they or their families be targeted in some way by terrorists, and I had noticed media outlets basically upholding that policy for soldiers currently stationed in Iraq. Here is all the info someone would need to go after this guy's father or his wife and kids, or target him directly. It's not like he's a spy who's had his cover blown, but it does raise some concerns.

Now, I'm not saying AP shouldn't print this info (though I won't). This read like a human interest profile. It wasn't even really news. It was a positive and supportive article for the most part, and I could see the Navy recruiting department having a hand in it. But this is a guy who has killed between 20 and 50 insurgents. He is a poster boy for terrorist reprisals.

Did the AP have an ethical responsibility to withhold identifying information on this marine? Would the story have been interesting without it? Should what they have done been illegal? Would outlawing it be constitutional? I don't know. Ethics are questions of value--meaning they are judgment calls.

But this kind of thing is dangerous. My step father was a sniper in Viet Nam (he was both a Marine and US Army at different times). I've got a good friend who was a Marine Corps sniper. My cousin and several friends have done tours in Iraq, and I worry about all of them going back, so this isn't an academic exercise for me. This is important. If the media left this kid out to hang and something happens to him they would bear some responsibility. If the Navy set this up for good publicity (and I hope not, but it smells that way to me) what exactly is the meaning of semper Fi then?

What they did to this kid is, in my opinion, ethically the same as Cheney and Rove revealing the identity of Valerie Plame. And I'm on reccord as saying Rove and Cheney should go to jail for that. But they aren't the press. The press has protections. But what responsibilities come with that?


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