ISIS Wants You To Watch US Troops Dying. Is That News? I Don't Think So

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The U.S. Army Honor Guard, The 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) Caisson Platoon, and The U.S. Army Band, “Pershing’s Own”, conduct the funeral of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Bryan Black in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, Oct. 30, 2017. Black, a native of Puyallup, Washington, was assigned to Company A, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) on Fort Bragg, North Carolina when he died from wounds sustained during enemy contact in the country of Niger in West Africa, Oct. 4, 2017.
U.S. Army/Elizabeth Fraser

Last night, scrolling through my Facebook feed, I came across a Change.org petition many of my military buddies had signed and were sharing. The petition called for SOFREP to remove from YouTube the video they posted of the Niger ambush and the deaths of Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, and Sgt. La David Johnson from YouTube.


Our newsroom debated whether we should run a story or opinion piece about this. Should we kick another publication while they are down? Should we cover this at all, and give that video even more publicity?  

Related: The Pentagon Says Everyone Who Watches Or Just Mentions A Disturbing Video Is Helping ISIS »

Shortly after returning home from Fallujah in 2004, a book came out, written by an older Marine combat veteran, that mentioned the death of one of my unit’s Marines in graphic detail. We were livid; to us, it was an unforgivable sin.

That was a single sentence, and not helmet-cam footage that graphically portrays the death of American servicemen. Watching the video, I was even more incensed and heartbroken for the families of the fallen than I'd been a decade and a half ago.

Related: Pics Or It Didn’t Happen: Warfighting In The Age Of Videotaped Atrocities »

I pondered whether I should sign the Change.org petition, but a few lines caught my attention that I don’t agree with: “We don’t need this kind of graphic, visual reminder of the inhumanities of war. The only people who need to be ‘educated’ on what happened are the people who are in a position to make changes so that this doesn’t happen again. Not the general public.”

When the Task & Purpose team first learned of the video last month, we didn’t even consider posting or sharing it. But as the CEO of a media company, I wonder where the line is between showing the American public the reality of these wars and safeguarding our Gold Star families, the most sacred and rightfully honored members of our community.

While discussing this issue on our company chat, one of our writers, a fellow former Marine and Afghanistan veteran, wrote:

I don’t agree that showing the costs of war — to include mortal injuries — is always over the line. I think it pushes the boundaries of what we’re used to seeing, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a value to showing it, at times. And I’d make the argument that we as a country are too comfortable with a sanitized view of war and its costs. That said, I don’t think the SOFREP video does that well at all, meaning [it doesn’t] provide context and analysis based on their extensive military experience and include audio clips and short video where appropriate.

By simply posting a piece of enemy propaganda without context or analysis, SOFREP acted more like Faces of Death, the controversial, voyeuristic horror film showing people dying, than a journalistic endeavor. But when does documentation of death or suffering become journalistic, in the public interest?  

Personally, I want the American public to have to confront the reality of today’s wars. At the same time, the families of the fallen have suffered enough.

As I said, I don’t have the answer, but I want to know what you think — and how you believe a media company should navigate this difficult terrain and balance our sacred duty to Gold Star families and our responsibility to ensure the American public isn’t kept in the dark.  

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But the folks at OSD (formerly called Operation Supply Drop), a non-profit veteran service organization that aims to help troops and vets connect with each other through free video games, service programs and other activities, recently found that most of the gamers they've served actually prefer less military-centric fare like sports games and fantasy RPGs.

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Dawn Brys got an early taste of the crisis unfolding at the largest Veterans Affairs hospital in the Southeast.

The Air Force vet said she went to the Atlanta VA Medical Center in Decatur last year for surgery on a broken foot. But the doctor called it off because the surgical instruments hadn't been properly sterilized.

"The tools had condensation on them," recalled Brys, a 50-year-old Marietta resident. The doctor rescheduled it for the next day.

Now the 400-plus-bed hospital on Clairmont Road that serves about 120,000 military veterans is in a state of emergency. It suspended routine surgeries in late September after a string of incidents that exposed mismanagement and dangerous practices. It hopes to resume normal operations by early November as it struggles to retrain staff and hire new nurses.

The partial shutdown came about two weeks after Joel Marrable, a cancer patient in the same VA complex, was found covered with more than 100 ant bites by his daughter. Also in September, the hospital's canteen was temporarily closed for a pest investigation.

The mounting problems triggered a leadership shakeup Sept. 17, when regional director Leslie Wiggins was put on administrative leave. Dr. Arjay K. Dhawan, the regional medical director, was moved to administrative duties pending an investigation. Seven staff members were reassigned to non-patient care.

The only question for some military veterans and staff is why the VA waited so long. They say problems existed for years under Wiggins' leadership, but little was done.

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Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney takes questions during a news briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 17, 2019. (Reuters/Leah Millis)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump's withholding of $391 million in military aid to Ukraine was linked to his request that the Ukrainians look into a claim — debunked as a conspiracy theory — about the 2016 U.S. election, a senior presidential aide said on Thursday, the first time the White House acknowledged such a connection.

Trump and administration officials had denied for weeks that they had demanded a "quid pro quo" - a Latin phrase meaning a favor for a favor - for delivering the U.S. aid, a key part of a controversy that has triggered an impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives against the Republican president.

But Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff, acknowledged in a briefing with reporters that the U.S. aid — already approved by Congress — was held up partly over Trump's concerns about a Democratic National Committee (DNC) computer server alleged to be in Ukraine.

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