Offending the Defenders
If there is one thing we’ve learned from the John Kerry medal flare-up, its that you don’t screw up when you identify which medals are awarded to whom and for what. Given the prevalence in the news of John Kerry’s exploits in Vietnam, you’d think the press would be extra careful in identifying medals, their recipients, and the reasons for giving them.
You’d be wrong. Both the Sunday Mirror and The Drudge Report screwed up majorly this weekend. They claimed Tony Blair had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
From a Sunday Mirror of London article linked at The Drudge Report:
Blair snubs Bush’s war honour invite
“And he is putting huge pressure on Mr Blair to pick up the Congressional Medal of Honor, awarded by America for his unswerving support in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Here’s the real story, from The UK Mission to the UN: Tony Blair to receive Ellis Island Medal of Honor for International Leadership
Prime Minister Tony Blair will become the first non-American to receive the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.
The medal had previously been presented only to “outstanding Americans” who had distinguished themselves as citizens of the United States. Past winners include former President Ronald Reagan, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, Muhammad Ali and Secretary of State Colin Powell.
So it was a completely different medal, awarded to civilians, for completely different reasons.
The big problem with this is that there is a common disregard in the press for checking the facts of the matter in question. Both Drudge and the Sunday Mirror failed to read the details of the press release, as well as others. The Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest award given to members of the Military. Its criteria are high, and the scrutiny is often so close that what would appear as deserving acts are awarded lesser medals, for the sake of preserving the stature of the Medal of Honor. Here are two examples, as illustration.
In Vietnam, noted Marine sniper Carlos Hathcock was travelling in an armored vehicle with numerous other Marines when they ran over an anti-armor mine. The explosion ripped through the vehicle, incinerating the crew compartment. Carlos was knocked unconscious by the blast, and when he reawoke he realized the danger. He began throwing the burning Marines out of the vehicle, despite being burned severely himself. Flesh was hanging off his arms, yet he still threw the Marines out before tending to his own condition.
On April 12th, 1945, a B-29 fleet was travelling towards Japan for an inciendiary bomb run. A signal flare would routinely be shot from one of the B-29s to signal to the other bombers the assembly point for the bomb run. Henry Erwin was charged with shooting one of the flares. This time the flare malfunctioned just before it was to be shot, and ignited before clearing the plane. It shot back into the belly of the plane, right at Henry. The phosphorous was burning at several thousand degrees and obliterated most of his face. If it was not disposed of, it would blow up the plane. He carried it, by hand, to the cockpit and threw it out an opened window.
Henry Erwin received the Medal of Honor. Carlos Hathcock did not, despite several, repeated pleas from his superiors.
When the Sunday Mirror commits an error like this (by not even reading the press release from their own State Department) they offend a great many men who have earned, rightfully so, the right to wear the light-blue necklace with 13 stars. They imply that George Bush is cheapening the Medal. They suggest that it is a political, not a strictly military, award, given for political and not actual heroism. Drudge, by repeating the claim of the award being a Congressional Medal of Honor, reinforces his reputation in some circles as a agenda-pushing hack. When others simply parrot the headline in their own blogs and ignore the facts of the matter they identify themselves as mere repeaters of talking points and not thinkers who contribute to the political discourse of the land.
Medal errors are not completely unheard of. In September 2003 I sent a correction to MSNBC on an article they had posted about generals and the presidency (since Wesley Clark was so popular at the time). The article, since lost to the Internet, had claimed that John F. Kennedy had won the Medal of Honor for his actions in the loss of PT 109. He had only received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal and when the error was noted the article was quickly corrected, to the credit of Mr. Moran (the author). Unfortunately the trend does not seem to have any legs to it.
That this story of Blair and his medal has been circulating for more than a year in error is a disgraceful indictment of the state of current-day journalism. As a courtesy and apology to the men who have (mostly postumously) received the Medal of Honor both the Sunday Mirror and Drudge should issue a retraction and correction immediately.