Brennan: News media undercut U.S. military

By Tom Brennan

The news media are being too cute for words when they refer to the targets of U.S. drone strikes in the Middle East as “alleged members of al-Qaida.” That makes it sound like those killed by rockets fired from American drones may have been innocents who were wrongly targeted. That is possible, but so is the likelihood that you will win the PowerBall lottery tomorrow.

I have been in and around the military enough to know that those who remotely aim the missiles must have a high degree of certainty about their targets before they let fly. Otherwise a mission is no-go.

If the same media approach were applied during World War II, the news people would have been reporting that in the opening hours of the D-Day invasion Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s military forces killed 4,000 to 9,000 “alleged” German troops.

Give us a break, people. And give the American military a break. In war – and the United States is at war with al-Qaida – those who pull triggers on weapons aimed at enemy operatives assume a huge responsibility.
Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt unless an unacceptable number of innocents are being killed. So far, that does not seem to be the case.

We need a vigilant news media, but not one so politically correct that it embarrasses the journalism field and the people of the United States.

The problem of excessive and improper use of the word “alleged” by news and headline writers – and by a broad range of commentators – unfairly undermines the public’s confidence in those who carry a big burden for the nation.

The media at all levels pull this sleazy trick – local, regional and national.

Knock it off!

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And while we are defending people, let’s not get our undies in a bunch because the head of the Alaska Correctional Officers Association claims that Spring Creek Prison is understaffed.

I don’t often agree with labor unions, but the guards group at Spring Creek Prison deserves to be heard on the question of whether the staffing situation at the state’s only maximum security penitentiary is appropriate for the need.

Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t, but making that argument is the union’s job. Its claim that Spring Creek needs more people in guard uniforms is predictable. But let’s not get overly excited just because an organization is doing what its members expect it to do.

Let’s keep in mind that the employer here is government – and given the dumb things that government at all levels has done in recent years, that should make you skeptical if nothing else does.

The Department of Corrections is the decision-maker on staffing at Spring Creek, and its decisions are subject to review by higher levels of state government, including the Governor and the Legislature.

There was one obvious problem that was left untended at the prison. The cells where a “disturbance” broke out last Monday were supposed to have stainless steel sinks and toilets. Instead they were still equipped with porcelain washbasins and potties like the ones at your house.

The porcelain equipment may be fine in a domestic situation, but in a place like Spring Creek they are breakable and therefore offer the makings of weapons, flooded cellblocks and all manner of trouble.

There may or may not be a serious problem at Spring Creek. Somebody with expertise, authority and the public interest in mind needs to look at the situation and see what it calls for.

The fix, if one is needed, may be just rigid stainless steel equipment to replace the fragile sinks and toilets. Or it may involve more staffing or something else entirely. Perhaps the prison was just unavoidably short-staffed that night. Things like that happen and are not necessarily indicative of a larger problem.
Let’s find out.

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And while we are agreeing with people we sometimes disagree with, let’s add the Anchorage Daily News and its position on the candidacy of former state Rep. Vic Kohring for a seat on the Wasilla City Council.

A Daily News editorial notes that Kohring betrayed the public trust while in his former office and appears to be running for the Wasilla post “to serve his own need for redemption or justification.” I agree.

U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and a handful of state legislators – including Kohring – were shafted by the federal government during an Alaska trophy hunt by a special investigative agency that was running out of worthwhile projects and got drawn into an Alaska jihad. Some of the targets spent years behind bars in federal penitentiaries. Most of that time was overkill.

But all of them, with the possible exception of Stevens, broke the law and deserved at least a fine from the Alaska Public Offices Commission and in some cases removal from office.

In a couple of cases (notably the miscreants’ private-sector collaborators) a month of two in the state pokey would have been appropriate.

Their crimes were rinky-dink by national standards, but they should not have been ignored by the state’s legal system.

Kohring should take himself out of the Wasilla race. If he doesn’t, let’s hope the voters do.

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And starting next week I go back to disagreeing with everybody.

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