I did my best to avoid journalists like Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly, as well as politicians such as U.S. Senator John McCain and Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald, when I was with the U.S. military. I believed then, as I do now, in press freedoms and representative politics. People have the right to know, to speak truth to power, and to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
But celebrity status and an associated ability to spin confers upon media and political stars the power to separate freedom of speech from responsibility for speech. We called these reporters and politicians “battlefield tourists, or celebrities”, because of their self-serving agendas.
Williams’ claim that his helicopter was shot down doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Choppers always travel in formations of two or more and never alone, as he claims. Unless the air ship is landing or taking off – the most vulnerable maneuvers – the enemy needs a wire or radar guided weapon to fire a projectile and track it to the helicopter. A rocket propelled grenade (RPG), the weapon of choice in Williams’ journalistic selfie, is, by comparison, a ‘point, shoot and pray that it hits the target’ weapon. These inaccuracies come as no surprise; battlefield celebrity-tourists sacrifice the facts to place themselves at the center of the story.
With due respect for McCain and McDonald’s former service, both are also guilty of celebrity-tourism. In McCain’s case hundreds of soldiers had to be pulled off other duties so the battlefield celebrity-tourist could casually stroll through a still dangerous Shorja market in Baghdad and declare ‘improvements in security’. McDonald was caught on tape claiming to a fellow veteran that he was former Special Forces; a blatant untruth. Coming from retired service-members these stories aren’t only false, they affect morale. The common government employee or soldier is left to wonder whether journalists and politicians want to know or care about the dangers they face.
Bill O’Reilly claims to have served in a war zone where he protected a wounded cameraman while in the gun-sights of an Argentinian soldier. In O’Reilly’s case neither friend nor foe can account for his whereabouts and his story’s veracity. His recounting leaves the tell tale scent of a battlefield celebrity-tourist; he focuses on himself to the exclusion of all else.
I’ve been asked to write tell-all books and articles about my experiences as a military cultural advisor. Unlike the subjects of this article, I’ll stay “squared away for my military battle buddies” and refrain from telling tall tales about imagined battlefields.
David Matsuda lives on Texas Streeet.