Sunday, April 29, 2007

Where's The Outrage?

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A couple of weeks ago, I poked fun at the industry that seems to have grown up for the sole purpose of manufacturing faked outrage.

Michelle Malkin, Bill O'Reilly, Matt Drudge and the like have become experts in taking imagined slights and whipping themselves into a teeth-gnashing frenzy. I'm beginning to think that the real reason behind this is so that, when real outrages come along, we'll just be too tired and numb to notice or, more importantly, act on them.

Take, for example, the recent revelations being made in the cases of Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch. Tillman, you may remember, was the Arizona Cardinals linebacker who turned down a $3.6 million deal from the Cardinals to join the U.S. Army after the Sept. 11 attacks. Lynch was the pint-sized West Virginia girl who joined the Army, became a truck driver, and was captured by Iraqi forces during the early days of the war. Later, she was extracted from the hospital in a daring rescue by U.S. Special Forces, aided by sympathetic Iraqis.

As revealed in recent congressional hearings, both Tillman and Lynch have something in common: They were used in a campaign of lies to cover up Bush administration failings in Iraq.

First, Tillman. In the days after his death, the Pentagon spread the story that Tillman's Ranger unit had been ambushed by hostile guerrilla forces and that Tillman had died leading a valiant counterattack.

Only problem was, none of this was true. Tillman was shot by other Rangers in one of the tragic mistakes that have befallen warriors for centuries. And, as it turns out, the Army and the Pentagon knew this, and still continued to pump the Tillman-as-Rambo story for all it was worth. Witnesses to the shooting were ordered, under pain of court martial, not to discuss the actual circumstances of Tillman's death with his family, even with his brother Kevin, a Ranger in the same unit.

Lynch, for her part, had the circumstances of her capture inflated to mythic proportions as well. She had fought to the last, the stories trumpeted. She had emptied her pistol at her attackers and was overcome only after she ran out of ammo. From the news narratives, one couldn't help but see the mental image of the heroic Lynch, surrounded by heaps of her slain like a Viking warrior before the evil hordes overcame her.

In reality, as it turns out, Lynch never got off a shot. Her gun jammed, and she, as she put it, "put her head down and prayed." And her horrific injuries, which plague her to this day, were sustained in the truck crash.

One of the many really tragic things about the way these two young people were used is how unnecessary all the lies were.

There was no need to gold-plate the sacrifice of Pat Tillman. He was a hero when he walked off the football field and entered basic training. That sacrifice is in no way tarnished by his death from so-called "friendly fire," a fate that befell the South's own Stonewall Jackson. Tillman was certainly more of a hero than the dozens of chickenhawks who collectively make up what some have called the 101st Fighting Keyboard Brigade, sitting at their computers and cheerleading a war they have no interest in actually putting their own fat behinds on the line to fight.

And if you want a hero, I can give you no better example than that of Jessica Lynch. Not only has she endured months of agonizing recovery from her injuries, but she also found the courage to walk into a congressional hearing room and tell the world that "the story of the little girl Rambo from the hills of West Virginia who went down fighting was not true." Then she placed the laurel wreath on the heads of her comrades who died, including her roommate, Lori Piestewa, a Native American who didn't get a tenth of the press that Lynch did...until now.

That little girl's got cojones bigger than my head.

But, at the time Lynch and Tillman hit the front pages, the administration needed stirring tales to pump up the war fever. In Tillman's case, as his family points out, the Pentagon needed something to try to take the people's minds off the emerging story of the horrible abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. So Tillman and Lynch got drafted into the war they never signed up for: the PR battle.

With all that coming out, what is the Right outraged over? Well, Alec Baldwin made a nasty phone call to his pre-teen daughter.

And it seems that singer Sheryl Crow may have made Karl Rove uncomfortable at a party by talking about global warming. Oh, and she made a joke on her tour blog that one way to save trees might be to limit the amount of toilet paper one uses to one sheet. Now there's something to get your dander up.

For God's sake, people, wake up.

1 comment:

Mark Terry said...

As a novelist, one of the things that occurs to me is that we as media consumers need to be a little suspicious of news stories that seem to have a little too good of a dramatic arc. Invariably, the closer they feel to fiction, the more likely they are to BE fiction.

Yes, dramatic and heroic things happen all the time in real life, especially in war zones, but the truth of them is usually significantly messier than presented by the media, who, after all, loves something that seems like it could be instantaneously turned into a TV script.

Jessica Lynch, yes, was heroic. But not in a Rambo way. Tillman was heroic, in a tragic way.

But their stories lack the packaging that the media's looking for now.