Skip to comments.Afghanistan massacre suspect named as Sgt Robert Bales
Posted on 03/16/2012 3:53:49 PM PDT by Future Snake Eater
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Since you're doing this all on your own, may I give a bit of perspective of why reporters do what they do? This isn't so much intended as advice — you seem to be doing an excellent job on your own and don't need any advice — but rather trying to help you (and others reading) understand what makes the media tick. I know we're strange wild critters sometimes, but understanding the media isn't any more difficult than trying to explain to a typical civilian what it means to be a soldier. People in both professions live in a very different world than the way most Americans live, and that's much more so at the upper levels of the media — i.e., most people interviewing you now — than at lower levels in small newspapers and small towns and cities where I've spent most of my career. I have former colleagues working now at the upper levels of the media (USA Today, some Washington outlets, etc.), and while that's far from my world outside Fort Leonard Wood, the basics are still the same.
First, why is everybody calling you? The main reason is that most reporters try to be fair, and that means, among other things, they want to get both sides of a story if possible. They also want to get it firsthand from you rather than relying on someone else who may or may not have gotten the story right, and I think you can appreciate that.
A few words about media bias: with a major story like this all bets are off, but bias most commonly shows up in what stories editors consider worth covering, not how the stories themselves get covered. If a reporter wanted to portray SSG Bales as a monster, he probably wouldn't be calling you for background on him.
You can be assured that most if not all of them are reading each others’ articles on the internet, and the Associated Press article can be used in whole or in part by any media organization which is an AP member, but reporters want to hear things from you directly.
For the moment, for better or for worse, you're the only person other than SSG Bales’ lawyer who can give an insight into his side of the story. Because SSG Bales’ lawyer didn't know him until very recently and has had only limited contact with him, media will understand — probably correctly — that you have more insight into Bales than anyone else who is talking right now.
An additional factor of why they're calling you is that people want to paint a human picture of what somebody is like beyond the bare bones facts.
You can paint that picture in ways almost nobody else can, since you actually served with him in combat and saw how he reacted under fire. Even spouses and close civilian friends may not be able to do that. You've probably heard the Vietnam-era soldiers telling their wives that they refuse to discuss what they did in Vietnam with comments like “Honey, if I told you what I did you wouldn't love me anymore.” In my own family, none of us had ever heard much about my father-in-law’s Korean war experience until my niece decided to join the Army, and then she heard things from her father and grandfather that nobody else knew, not even their wives. Even a reporter who doesn't understand the military will realize you have a window into SSG Bales life that virtually nobody else has; those reporters who do understand the military and know what it means to be a platoon leader will know that you likely have the best possible insight into his performance as an NCO of anyone other than his current unit members — and the Army won't be letting those soldiers talk to anybody pending completion of their investigation.
Of course, there are more impersonal ways to find out about SSG Bales. Court records tell a story, but it's an incomplete story at best. Military service records say a great deal, but most reporters won't know how to interpret his service record other than calling him “highly decorated,” and those few reporters who **DO** understand the military will understand that it's possible for somebody to chase medals rather than being a good soldier. How many “lifers” do you know with a chestful of medals who weren't anywhere near as good as other people who did their jobs quietly and weren't interested in being a gloryhound?
Eventually a picture will emerge about SSG Bales which represents a consensus of what the media think he's like. You won't be the only person helping form that consensus, but first impressions count a **GREAT DEAL** and by what you've said about him being an excellent NCO who saved lives, you've already helped cast doubt on the early reports of SSG Bales being a guy with marital and alcohol problems who snapped. What you said carries much more weight with media than an attorney hired to represent him, and that's the way it should be since you represent your own views and have no agenda to do anything except say what you believe to be true.
Having said all that, I want to say more on the issue of media bias. You and I are both conservatives or we would not be on Free Republic. I am well aware, after more than two decades in the working press, that my politics are a minority in the media, and I've often been the token conservative in the newsroom. On the other hand, you will find that reporters who choose to cover the military or the police beat usually do so because they like those subjects, and may be a lot more appreciative of the work of those who wear the uniform.
You won't see this so much early on, but there are media organizations which are hunting for another My Lai massacre story or at least an Abu Ghraib. Most reporters want to be honest, and if they didn't, they wouldn't be calling you to paint a human face on a guy who in the civilian world would be viewed as being accused of mass murder. But be aware that as this story continues, there will be reporters who will try to play what I call “gotcha games” to trip you up.
My personal recommendation to people is when giving interviews on high-profile subjects with reporters you don't know, ask to have your own tape recorder running, just in case you get misquoted. Since most of your interviews will be by phone, if you don't have the equipment to tape your phone calls, getting some may be a good idea, and is perfectly legal as long as both people know the call is being taped. Cell phones pose a problem since they typically can't be recorded due to interference of the cell signal with the recorder microphone -- that is the one exception. My view is it's more important to give an interview and do it quickly via cell phone than to wait until you get home and can use a land line, since reporters are usually on deadline and need to do an interview quickly. But for longer interviews when you can schedule a time to talk, a tape is useful, and it's usually those longer interviews where you have the greated chance of getting drawn "off message."
Since most reporters today use tape recorders themselves, few if any will object. Just don't act like you're telling them “I don't trust you, I want a tape.” There are other perfectly legitimate reasons to have a tape that have nothing to do with lack of trust. Most though not all reporters will understand that you are a soldier in the United States Army and you may have to explain what you said to your chain of command, in context. I personally believe having a tape protects everybody, but I know not everybody agrees. I wasn't terribly happy when staff members for a certain Democratic senator stuck tape recorders in my face as I was interviewing their candidate, but I understood why and a nice request would have been happily granted.
At some point you're going to be asking yourself the question, “Why am I bothering to keep giving these interviews?”
Here's my answer. The reporter is going to write his or her story whether you talk to them or not. Do you want your side of SSG Bales to come out, or do you want only his enemies talking? The public perception of SSG Bales will be determined by the media and you can play a key role in that.
There's also an important underlying principle about America being a free republic with the military answerable to the citizens. Unlike what some liberals think about the Army and unlike what some conservatives wish were true, Army Public Affairs doctrine includes such mottos as “maximum disclosure, minimum delay,” and “bad news does not improve with age.” If soldiers don't tell the story of what the Army is doing, either it won't get told at all or it will get told by people who don't like or don't understand the Army.
Several closing points:
I personally know the retired Army engineer officer who since retirement has worked for a dozen years in Army Public Affairs and is on his way to help coordinate public affairs stuff in Afghanistan. He's a straight shooter and has dealt with crisis management cases before, including ones where it quickly became clear that I knew more about situations than the generals who were supposed to be in charge because O-5s and O-6s under the generals weren't telling their supervisors the whole story. He knows what he's doing and he will be pushing for a straight and honest relationship with the media. He strongly believes the Army has an important story to tell, and while the media may sometimes get the story wrong, it's the Army's job to tell its own story and get truth into the hands of the public who pay to keep the military running.
And for other media reading this — I know absolutely nothing about this case beyond what I'm reading in the media, but I do know how Army Public Affairs works, and as long as you're honest with them they'll be honest with you, **ESPECIALLY** on a high-profile crisis management case like this. Just because soldiers wear uniforms doesn't mean they eat kittens for breakfast and enjoy killing. None of us know the facts of what SSG Bales did or did not do, but whatever happened in that Afghan village is totally out of character for a soldier.
To the older reporters who went through Vietnam and disagree with what I wrote in that last paragraph: we aren't in the Vietnam era with draftees who don't want to be there. Every soldier wearing the uniform today signed up after 9/11 knowing it was very likely if not certain they'd be deployed at some point to Iraq or Afghanistan. It makes a big difference; with no insult whatsoever intended to the Vietnam-era soldiers, the Army today can be much more selective, and even in the civilian world you know that an organization choosing between lots of applicants gets better people than an organization that isn't being or can't be as selective.
I know this is long. I sincerely hope it helps not only you but others reading here.
Yeah, that was helpful, I do appreciate the information/advice. I’m certainly new to all of this, and I feel like I’m walking on eggshells with the fact that I’m still an active duty Army officer. Not that I’d really say anything different, I feel I have to be careful, and I’m limited in the medium I can approach due to that status (NO television!).
I’m finding that TV people are flabbergasted when you decline to speak on TV. It’s kind of funny, actually. I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to go an armed raid against a terrorist target in Baghdad, so....
I understand the “no video” rule but I also understand why reporters are surprised. Many people caught up in something like this love to be on TV and keep the tapes to show their kids and grandkids. That's what television reporters expect, especially at the national media level, but when it's explained that putting you live on air could result in you becoming a target, generally they understand. TV reporters routinely have protect the identities of images of rape victims or undercover police officers.
I wish you well, Captain... and you're finding out firsthand how easy it is for someone like Rick Santorum to get drawn off-message by answering questions that may create complications.
We'll all find out much more soon about what happened with SSG Bales, and I'm guessing you'll end up being called as a defense witness in the court-martial so this probably won't be your last time explaining publicly what you know of SSG Bales.
Well, aside from potential career ramifications, I also feel like going on TV like that would basically be more feeding into my vanity than trying to help Bales.
It must be hard for presidential candidates. I have the luxury of saying “I don’t know” or “that’s above my pay grade” whereas a competent presidential candidate can’t possibly get away with that (see what I did there?). Plus, I haven’t exactly been hit with “gotcha” questions like they have to deal with.
I’ve little doubt that the defense will call me out. Should be interesting.
We've already seen on Free Republic how Cain got blasted for giving essentially that answer, which was probably a perfectly honest and forthright answer, to questions about things he didn't know about. When you're running for president, if you don't know the answer to something you're accused of being ignorant; if you give an unwise answer based on incomplete information, you're accused of even worse things.
I'm guessing you've got more than a passing familiarity with courts-martial. I've covered enough of them in both the Air Force and the Army to believe the military judicial system is significantly better than its civilian equivalent. The difference won't be as great with a high-profile case, but it is dramatic with lesser cases where, unlike military JAG personnel who have adequate time to prosecute and defend, the overworked civilian prosecutors cut deals because they don't have time to deal with the cases and defendants either rely on overworked public defenders or pay for the best justice they can afford through getting their own private defense attorney.
Whatever happens to SSG Bales, he'll be treated fairly by the military court martial system — severely, but fairly.
I can't consistently say that about civilian courts. I firmly believe in the American judicial system, but crime has greatly outstripped the willingness of taxpayers to pay for police, courts, jails, and other things which are necessary to have a well-ordered society. So much tax money is being wasted at the federal level on worthless social programs that voters don't get to approve by referendum that local tax issues, which typically **DO** have to go on the ballot, get defeated regularly, thereby forcing local governments to rely more and more on federal aid.
Interview with Atty Browne just confirmed my previous post. SSGt Bales has no memory of the killings. Charges expected by March 22; Browne indicating he won’t likely go for insanity defense, rather a diminished capacity defense.
Report went into further details of financial liabilities from work as a broker.
The latest reports are that the suspect has “no memory” of any of the events that night.
There is much being hidden about this case.
I had heard rumors to that effect, but this is the first confirmation of it I’ve heard.
The whole thing stinks. Too much that doesn’t add up.
Did I say that. There are other "interested parties" besides Obama. Maybe the Iranians trying to get that Imam to come out of that well.
But you're right We don't know what we don't know.
Maybe because he didn't do everything that he's being accused of? It's possible. Remember all the fake causalities in Israel and Lebanon, attributed to the Israelis, with photos. Upon checking the same little girl was apparently mangled in both places, and the same guy appeared in images (purportedly) from both places. Or the photoshopped smoke over Lebanese cities.
Who's paying Browne?
We learn more that way. I know I do anyway. :)
Interesting quote from above article.
ales also denied reports that he was drunk at the time of the attacks, according to Browne.
"He said he had a couple sips of something but he didn't have a full drink," the lawyer said,"
OG; 1st Reply: “So, it appears you are proposing that this event is the impetus for some sort of convoluted plot to give Obama the emergency powers necessary to allow him to remain in office indefinitely.”
El Gato: “Did I say that. There are other “interested parties” besides Obama. Maybe the Iranians trying to get that Imam to come out of that well.”
No; you didn’t say that; which is why I prefaced my comment with, “So, it appears...”
Your original post was rather cryptic; hence my speculative reply; which, as you affirmed, brings us right back to what I stated in my first post: “We don’t know what we don’t know.”
Anything beyond that is pure speculation. ‘Makes a great plot for a novel; but, beyond that, has limited value.
Absolutely; and I appreciate the hint about Van der Lubbe!
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