22 August 2004

End of the World News

I wrote about plagiarism yesterday. Today, an editor's resignation from a mid-major newspaper on plagiarism grounds was announced in that paper. My hometown rag was never known as a paragon of journalistic integrity when I was growing up; its crosstown rival was worse; but this is ridiculous. Contrary to the spin put on things in the story, this was probably not an isolated incident. It betrays a little bit of management smoke-and-mirrors, too; the jumped-before-he-was-pushed editor "cited the pressure of writing stories in addition to five columns a week" as an explanation for his intellectual dishonesty. Sorry, but laziness and time pressure do not explain a pattern of cut-and-paste jobs that is no doubt far more extensive than has been acknowledged.

The Swift Boat Veteran controversy still generates oodles of meaningless verbiage; today's Observer offers a rather credulous UK viewpoint, the NYT covers another newspaper's coverage, and nobody is any closer to the "truth."

The entire argument is more of an insult to veterans than was any purported "disloyalty" that Kerry showed after Vietnam with his opposition to continued US presence. That goes for everyone involved on all sides of the issue. If nothing else, what it demonstrates more than anything else is that a lot of people who should know better about civilian control of the military, and about the award process, and about differing perceptions of traumatic events, neither know nor care. Are the specific-event-based decorations I earned now somehow devalued due to the Byzantine process and unreliable recollections (not to mention security)? Or, instead, aren't decorations as much about perception of value by people who weren't there as anything else? The system is inherently flawed and biased; one cannot blame an award nominee for the award system itself, particularly in the ticket-punching officer corps of the Vietnam era—which was largely forced on the officer corps from outside, and only became possible to fix after DOPMA reformed officer promotion practices. And it still didn't work all that well; as a squadron commander in the 1980s and 1990s, I had an up-close-and-personal look at the system; it still didn't, and so far as I can tell to this day doesn't, work. But just as we don't blame past-their-prime players for getting on all-star teams based on their "glorious pasts," we can't really blame people whose award recommendations came from others.

After all, the SBVs had almost the same opportunity to get awards. Should we not look at everything they earned with the same level of scrutiny that they're demanding for others? And, perhaps, at their officer (and NCO) evaluations for that time period? That's the silence that disturbs me the most. We've seen lots of attacks and defenses of Kerry's awards; we're never going to get an objectively verifiable "truth" a third of a century after the events. I've seen not one public examination of the records of those around Kerry at the time—an examination that should be the first step, not the last one, in determining whether any controversy is best explained by problems with the system or with a particular recommendation. Dollars to donuts—or, perhaps, to nuoc mam—that one will find comparable "questionable" aspects in the records of most of the SBVs.

And, in the meantime, we're paying attention to warfare in the jungle of Vietnam instead of the jungle inside the Beltway.