Dear News Media: Shut Up. Just Shut Up


I just got a call from one of my best friends.  Her husband is one week away from leaving Iraq and coming home - one of the hardest times in deployment.  It's that time when you pray for your "luck" to hold.  The time in deployment that it all comes down to - the final countdown and the prayers that nothing will go wrong in the last few hours before our spouse leaves the danger zone.

She had just learned, from the news media, that there were casualties in her husband's unit.

Frantic calls to her husband's unit had yielded the necessary blanket black out information.  "You'll know as soon as we do.  We'll call you as soon as we know.  Hold strong, we're doing everything we can."

We expect that response as much as we hate to hear it.  We know that it's the truth - that we'll know as soon as they do.  We understand the need to inform the families of the casualties first.

Too bad the media does not, also.

Oh the media waxes poetic about how they hold back in deference to families of the military.  "We don't release names!" they self-righteously announce.  "We wait to give up names and biographies until  families are notified!"

That's not good enough.  That's not nearly good enough.  Military families are not stupid, whatever others may believe.  When we hear the word "casualties" in connection with our spouse's area of operation or unit we can make the connection.  We understand that someone we know has gotten injured or killed.

And then the death watch begins.

Rumors fly.  People talk when they are not supposed to.  And isn't that human nature?  We're scared, dammit!  TERRIFIED!  It might be us!  It might be our friend!  Who is it?  We know it is someone!  It becomes a game of "Would You Rather..."  Which is worse, knowing or waiting?  My friend told me something I had experienced myself, "I'm afraid to even pray for him, because if it is not him, it's someone else's husband."

When we are waiting we can do nothing else.  We understand that even if it is not our baby, our beloved, our life partner, even if it is someone else our spouse is hurting bad.  And there's not a damn thing we can do about it except stew.  And wait.  And wonder.

I would like to ask those news reporters and those news bureaus who rush to get out all those identifying facts, with the names neatly covered by a tiny black bar that doesn't really hide anything, what have you gained?  Has it helped your rush for readers and ratings to reduce this person and this family waiting at home to a hopeless quivering mound of jello?  Has it made you feel on top of things?  Do you think that your "right" to report the news has made you some kind of hero?   Do you hide behind the phrase "We're only getting the information out"?

One of the lessons I learned in Catechism growing up - in those days when they still used the Baltimore Catechism Reader - was (paraphrased), "With great rights come great responsibilities."

You have the right to report what is going on.  The American public needs to hear it.  You have the responsibility to do so in a way that does not create further victims when it is within your control.  You have the responsibility to see that behind those casualty statistics which you fling around with such wild abandon to prop up every argument on every side of the political spectrum, there are families.  Families that hurt, families that hold on with every ounce of strength they have just to make it through today, tomorrow, this week; families that wait.

During my husband's first deployment to Iraq in 2003, there came a time when I hadn't heard from him in nearly a week.  That day I happened to see Aaron Brown's news program on CNN.  Mr. Brown chose to exhibit a photograph of an American soldier, dead in a Baghdad gutter.  The story was about casualties that had been suffered that day.

My anger was white hot.   I could not see straight.  How DARE he?  How dare he show this picture for ratings?  How dare he flash this picture around so that the next morning someone would wake up to the chaplain on their doorstep and wail, "Oh my GOD!  That was my beloved I saw dead on TV last night!"  What if that person the chaplain visited was me?  I didn't sleep at all that night, and was downstairs at 5:30 am, sick to my stomach that there would be  a knock on the door at 6.

I even wrote Mr. Brown about the situation.  His response to me?  "With all due respect, I didn't think it was that bad."

Of course you didn't, sir.  Because it is our family, our loved ones, and not yours.  To you it is just a story.  To us, it is our life.

What was that again about responsibilities?  And is it any wonder that I, as a military spouse, quite often hate the media almost as much (if not quite nearly as much) as the terrorists my husband deploys to fight?

What will it take to make you listen, Media?  Our spouses deploy to fight and risk their lives for the very freedoms you use to hurt us, those "rights" which you use to hurt us and we do not have.    Freedom of speech is for you, Media, military members do not have that right - not until we separate.

So I ask for just a few days.  Just for the time it takes to notify the families of those who have fallen; Media, can you please just shut up?

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