IAVA Founder Calls Out Media for Stereotyping in Bales’ Case

Paul Rieckhoff (Photo courtesy of Charlie Rose Show)

My thanks to Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association, for his insightful and straight talk about some media reports surrounding the Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, suspected of killing 16 Afghan civilians.

Here’s a taste of what he wrote for The Huffington Post – The Blog – about coverage on HLN:

For 20 minutes, Dr. Drew continued to push the narrative of Bales as a victim, a baseless one that many in the media have latched onto this past week. This does Bales a ton of good for his defense, but it does 2.4 million troops who have served honorably, and not gone on murderous rampages, a total disservice. It’s also pretty damn dismissive of the real victims, the 16 Afghan civilians killed.

Of course, the segment got worse. Next, Dr. Drew brought on Dr. Paul Ragan. Ragan, an associate professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, suggested “a combination of Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD” was responsible for the Kandahar shooting.

You sure about that one, Doc? Were you there?

His ignorant, irresponsible comment reveals the scary underbelly of raising awareness of invisible wounds. Because as former Army officer and current national security consultant Jason Fritz recently wrote for Ink Spots, “Between 1 and 2 million service members have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, well over 100,000 of them have deployed three or more times, and 300,000 to 600,000 are suffering from PTSD. So far only one person in that large population went out and killed 16 civilians.”

Veterans continue to fight media stereotypes and the stigma linked to “invisible injuries” such as TBI and PTSD.

As a Rosalynn Carter Fellow for Mental Health Journalism 2010-2011, I learned a lot about mental health reporting and now work to counter stereotypes and eliminate the stigma with every story I produce. However, I’m realizing it’s a long process and I feel a need to renew my efforts in the journalism community after reading Rieckhoff’s observations.

Here’s his direct plea to reporters, producers and news media, again from his Huffington Post blog entry:

So folks in the media, please take notes. Do your homework. Kandahar and TBIs are issues too damn important for you to cut corners or fail to ask the hard questions. You owe it to our troops, to the Afghan people, to your profession and to the American public to do a better job reporting the facts as this story evolves.

You can read Rieckhoff’s full blog entry HERE.


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