Midland, TX – A decade ago, I was hunting not far from here with my now departed friend Joe Foss, the World War II Marine fighter ace and Medal of Honor recipient. I made an impatient, long range shot at a fast moving deer – and missed the target. Joe shook his head, looked at me and said, “What were you thinking?”
Joe’s challenge came to mind repeatedly this week during interviews about my new book, American Heroes in Special Operations. Almost invariably, young reporters asked a question or two about the bestselling book and then shifted to queries about events during the Reagan administration. Finally, they got around to what was really on their minds; the hot story of the day: “Do you have any comment on Prince William’s engagement to Kate Middleton?”
Now, I have to admit that I suffer from what my kids call “cultural deficit disorder,” or CDD. The first time I was asked about the royal nuptials, my feeble response was: “Who?”
When the reporter explained that Princess Diana’s oldest son William had just announced his betrothal to a “commoner,” my response was even worse: “Who cares?”
It didn’t take long to learn that was the wrong answer. Apparently, everyone in the media cares about it. By the time we re-boarded the book tour bus, the royal engagement was the lead story on every network and newswire. It dominated the blogosphere. And the next day it was in every newspaper – local and nationwide. Photos of the attractive couple were everywhere. It all brought to mind the question Joe Foss put to me: “What were you thinking?”
“If it bleeds, it leads” is a canon of today’s mass media, so bad news usually trumps good news for editors and producers. But this week proves there is another even more powerful maxim: “Trivial celebrity ‘news’ beats all.” The carefully choreographed royal pronouncement pushed at least two other events – far more important to Americans – well into the background of U.S. print and broadcast media.
The English engagement eclipsed coverage of the Medal of Honor presentation for U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta. He’s but the eighth recipient of our nation’s highest award for valor “above and beyond the call of duty,” in the war against radical Islam. The Iowa soldier’s combination of courage, humility and self-sacrifice make a compelling narrative. Yet, thanks to our media’s infatuation with the rich and famous, we now know more about a British prince’s fiancée than we do about one of our bravest and brightest countrymen. Those who want to know more about what SSG Giunta did to become the only living recipient of the Medal of Honor in this nine-year long war should visit the website, www.freedomalliance.org.
The masters of the mainstream media also chose the British monarchy over another all-American story: the successful extradition from Bangkok of notorious Russian Viktor Bout, an accused gunrunner. The former Soviet Air Force officer is accused of running a high-tech illicit arms delivery service for despots and terrorists around the world. For two years, Moscow waged a sub-rosa fight to prevent the Thai government from turning Mr. Bout over to U.S. justice. How he was apprehended in a DEA sting operation, taken into custody and arrived here late Tuesday night to face U.S. justice is more exciting than a John le Carre novel. But it lost out to the sappy story of how William toted around Princess Diana’s ring before popping the question to his soon-to-be.
This week’s shallow coverage of a living Medal of Honor recipient, and the intriguing story of how brave DEA agents captured a major crime figure accused of aiding and abetting murder and mayhem on a global scale, doesn’t come as a surprise. What passes for “reporting the news” these days would shame any real newsman. Perhaps that’s the principal reason why newspapers lose circulation every day and viewers have largely turned off the evening news on the “Big Three” networks.
The inability or unwillingness of the mainstream media to cover and report that which really matters to Americans begs the question: “What are they thinking?” Maybe they aren’t.