Back when the Abu Ghraib scandal first broke in 2004, I was horrified to learn that the reservists who had engaged in the tawdry, sadistic behavior captured in those now infamous photos were part of a unit that is stationed near my beloved hometown, Cumberland, MD.
As the rest of the world learned this, they began to wonder, “What is it about Cumberland that would breed such perverse, twisted, abusive soldiers?” Then, reporters from the rest of the world flocked to Cumberland to investigate, convinced that the barbarism of a handful of reservists would be clearly reflected in the community at large.
I wrote a blog post in May of that year as a rebuttal to such ridiculous, ill-formed generalizations. It’s an unfortunate truth of life that it only takes a few bad eggs to besmirch the reputation of many. As axiomatic as that is, I had hoped that intelligent journalists would find a way to paint a balanced picture of the city I was born and grew up in. I was wrong then, and the media continues to prove me wrong.
Last Sunday, 60 Minutes aired a report on Joe Darby, the reservist who accidentally uncovered the abuses at Abu Ghraib and blew the whistle on them. Joe had been a resident of the Cumberland area; when the time came for him to return home from Iraq, the Army told him it was simply too dangerous to go back to Cumberland. A security assessment conducted by the Army showed that resentment toward Darby for his role in exposing the scandal was so intense that it represented a genuine threat to his life.
Understand, friends, that I do not doubt the Army’s conclusions about the danger posed to Darby and his family. Nor do I dispute Anderson Cooper’s right to report it. But I strenuously object to the scurrilous manner in which Cooper and CBS suggested that the entire city of Cumberland was united in monolithic, snarling hatred for Joe Darby and his actions.
The report’s inaccuracies:
- Anderson Cooper referred to Cumberland as “a military town” in the report, which is a gross mischaracterization. I currently live in Virginia Beach, which is home to the Oceana Naval Air Station. Virginia Beach is part of the broader Tidewater area, where the Navy has a significant presence with at least two bases. Navy battle groups are stationed here, and their vessels are repaired in local shipyards. This, friends, is a military town. From what I’ve read, Cumberland is home to a small reserve unit of around 250 soldiers and a tiny VFW post. That is not a military town. Besides, I grew up there. I lived there for over twenty years. Not once did I ever hear someone refer to Cumberland as “a military town.” But painting it that way may have served the intended rhetorical bent of Cooper’s piece. Cumberland was neatly transformed into an ideological foil — a fabricated example of “a military town” whose sympathies were with criminals rather than a courageous whistle-blower. This calumniates the very mindset of the armed forces, suggesting that Abu Ghraib was the natural outflow of our military’s character and surrounding culture. Such assertions are not without precedent. Pulitzer prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh recently stated that the American military has never been more murderous or wantonly destructive as it has been in Iraq. I have no doubt that many in the mainstream media are sympathetic to his view. I wonder where Mr. Cooper stands? Or is his apparent hit-piece on Cumberland indicative of some agreement with Hersh’s vitriolic and unfounded prejudice against the military?
- In any case, identifying Cumberland as a military town laid the groundwork for Cooper’s report to move from the particular to the general in an unwarranted fashion by extrapolating the views of some Cumberland residents to all of them. At about five and a half minutes into the report, Cooper describes Cumberland as “a military town that felt Darby had betrayed his fellow soldiers.” Cooper explicitly states here that the entire city was collectively and uniformly hostile to Darby. Not once during the 11-minute piece did Cooper interview a Cumberland resident who supported Darby or applauded his actions. This, I presume, was to suggest such people don’t exist in Cumberland, but they incontrovertibly do. Mere logic indicates that this would be the case, but a simple visit to the editorial page of the Cumberland Times-News or a Cumberland message board confirms it. I cannot fathom why Mr. Cooper, a supposedly accomplished journalist, failed to do this.
The bottom line, beloved readers, is that I wept to see my home town — a city that has struggled to overcome economic hardship and adversity for decades — portrayed in such a negative light in the national media. The fact that this was unnecessary and unfair adds insult to injury. It seems that Cooper and his ilk were unable to find a way to lionize Joe Darby without demonizing Cumberland. Something tells me they didn’t try very hard.
The drumbeat of media bias rolls on. Cumberland is just one of its latest victims.
aka The MonT-SteR