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Peter Van Buren

The Seduction of Brian Williams: Embedded with the Military

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Brian Williams was seduced.

He is a liar of course, someone who did not tell the truth no matter the reason or excuse, a bad trait for a journalist. Williams lied about being RPG’ed in a helicopter over Iraq; he did not see any variant of what you can see in this photo. And that’s not a hard thing to “misremember.”

But if there is any reason to forgive Williams, it was that he was seduced by both his own conflation of his sad little life as a talking head and the “brave troops,” and, more clearly, by the process of embedding with the military. I know. I saw it.

Journalists into Liars

What is it about the military that turns many normally thoughtful journalists into liars? A reporter who would otherwise make it through the day sober spends a little time with some unit of the US military and promptly loses himself in ever more dramatic language about bravery and sacrifice, stolen in equal parts from Thucydides, Henry V, and Sergeant Rock comics.

I’m neither a soldier nor a journalist. I was a diplomat who spent 12 months as a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) leader, embedded with the military in Iraq, and let me tell you that nobody laughed harder at the turgid prose reporters used to describe their lives than the soldiers themselves. They knew they were trading hours of boredom for maybe minutes of craziness that only in retrospect seemed “exciting,” as opposed to scary, confusing, and chaotic. That said, the laziest private knew from growing up watching TV exactly what flavor to feed a visiting reporter.
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Supreme Court Rules in Favor of TSA Whistleblower Robert MacLean

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Whistleblower laws exist because government officials do not always act in the nation’s best interests.

The Obama administration, in its war on whistleblowers, just lost a major battle. Major in its venue — the Supreme Court — and major in its implications for future whistleblower cases.

The Court’s decision in Department of Homeland Security v. Robert MacLean curtails the government’s manipulation of pseudo-classified information to punish whistleblowers, and strengthens the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA).

The Facts

In July 2003, TSA alerted all marshals of a possible hijacking plot. Soon after, TSA sent an unclassified, open-air text message to marshals’ cell phones canceling several months of missions to save on hotel costs. Fearing such cancellations in the midst of a hijacking alert created a danger to the flying public, veteran Air Marshal Robert MacLean tried to get TSA to change its decision.

After hitting a dead end, MacLean spoke anonymously to MSNBC, who published a critical story. Only 24 hours later, and after 11 members of Congress voiced concern, TSA reversed itself, putting marshals back on the flights. A year later, MacLean appeared on TV in disguise to criticize agency policies he felt made it easier for passengers to recognize undercover marshals. The TSA recognized MacLean’s voice and discovered he had also released the unclassified 2003 text message. He was fired in April 2006.
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