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The Human Factor


Today’s Impromptus begins with an item having to do with media bias. I know this will shock regular readers: When have I ever addressed the subject before? I’d like to add something here in the Corner, because it has been on my mind the last few days, with the Bergdahl affair.

Before the Iran-contra scandal broke, the media depicted President Reagan as cold and heartless for his (apparent) refusal to negotiate with terrorists. (“He’s got ice water for blood,” said House speaker Tip O’Neill, about the president in general.) We had hostages in Lebanon. And Reagan was letting them languish there. (That was the big word, “languish.”)

One of the hostages was an AP reporter named Terry Anderson. His sister, Peggy Say, made his captivity her cause. She was a bulldog in his behalf, trying to make sure her brother wasn’t forgotten. I remember her standing in front of the White House, socking it to President Reagan, for his callousness and indifference. The media soaked it up like milk.

Then, lo, it transpired that Reagan was indeed dealing. That he was being “flexible.” That he was so moved and troubled by the hostages’ fate, he was bending principle, even taking an ax to it.

And what was the media’s reaction? (I’m speaking in general terms here, of course.) Did they say, “Oops, we apologize, Reagan has a heart after all. We applaud his willingness to explore options for bringing about the hostages’ release”? No! Quite the contrary: They turned on a dime, blasting Reagan for being an unprincipled, terror-coddling rat.

This was one of the starkest examples of media bias, or media partisanship, I have ever seen. Peggy Say, however, thanked and praised Reagan for his maneuvers. I thought that was big of her. She was just about the only one. And she was no longer a heroine of the media.

I feel for a president when there is an American in captivity. The burden must be tremendous. It’s all well and good for Henry Kissinger to say, as he did many years ago, “If I’m ever taken hostage, don’t you dare negotiate for me. Stick to principle, for the broader good. Let them torture me to death.” But when the situation actually arises, it’s on the president’s conscience. There is always what some author called, in a title, the “human factor.”

(Note to e-mailers, whose fingers itch: I know that Bowe Bergdahl is a problematic case. Whose side was he on? Do we know that? Does he? I’m speaking broadly here.)


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