Have you ever had a cavity in a tooth? Did the dentist drill it out and put in a filling, or did he chop off your head? And if you ever got a splinter in your hand, did you work it out carefully with tweezers or just remove your arm? Unless you were insane, you did only what you needed to fix the situation, but this wisdom doesn’t seem to apply when the media reports on the military.

If you haven’t heard the news already, some Marines in Iraq have been accused of killing 24 Iraqi civilians in the city of Haditha. Here are the first two paragraphs from this week’s Time magazine cover story:

The killings of 24 Iraqis one morning last November may mark a terrible turning point in America’s already shaky presence in Iraq

Like the Abu Ghraib prison scandal before it, what happened at Haditha threatens to become one of the war’s signature debacles, an alleged atrocity committed by a small group of service members that comes to symbolize the enterprise’s larger costs.

Notice how this story begins by painting the entire nation’s military personnel, based on the actions of a few. It’s like taking an axe to your leg to be rid of a hangnail. Assuming for the nonce that the Marines in question are actually guilty of intentionally murdering Iraqi civilians just for the thrill of it, the military investigation currently underway will uncover any wrongdoing and punish the guilty. It is not the media’s place to pre-judge the Marines as guilty, but they are doing exactly that. (Shouldn’t be all that surprising, really, since the people currently in the mainstream media are the same generation who spent the late ’60s and early ’70s spitting on returning soldiers and calling them “baby-killers.” They’ve had years of practice pre-judging the U.S. military.)

Now, assuming the Marines are completely innocent of the charges, what has the media done by dragging their story through the mud and pre-judging them as guilty? The media has successfully provided aid and comfort to the enemy, just like they did with their hyping of Abu Ghraib. Like throwing gas on a fire, these speculative news stories server to inflame the ire of those who hate America. Unlike the Marines, however, the media need never fear a court martial or other tribunal convened to punish their heedless actions.

I suggest patience, as I have done before. The truth will out. If there are guilty Marines, they will be punished. If they are innocent, they can return to their lives without having their good names dragged through mud and filth by an overzealous, anti-military media.

And that’s the appropriate response to these news reports.

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