03. February 2005 · Comments Off on Dances with the Media – Or Bend Over, Here It Comes Again · Categories: General, Media Matters Not

When I worked in the Mather AFB Public Affairs office, I used to marvel at how resolute the Media Relations people were able to be, in the face of always imminent disaster when it came to dealing with the press, especially the Sacramento Bee reporter who specialized in military affairs, and was naturally convinced that he was the next Woodward and Bernstein. This gentleman or �Mr. T-B� seemed to believe that Mather AFB somehow harbored his very own Watergate scoop, which would bring him everlasting renown and showers of journalistic glory�if only he could hector the Public Affairs staff into admitting it. Or, failing that, leaping to the conclusion in print which put the base and the Air Force in as bad a light as possible.

Nothing the Major told � Mr. T-B� ever seemed to make a difference when the final story was published, no matter how polite, prompt and thoroughly his almost always preemptory queries were answered, Public Affairs was screwed, from the moment the phone rang. Just answering the insistently ringing phone, and telling the Major, or his second-in-command, Captain F— that �Mr. T-B� was on the line to speak to them was to see that either of them already had a rotten day, to know they were already thinking �Bend over, here it comes again!� while their lips formed the silent words �Aww�f**k!�� As they picked up the extension to actually say, �Good morning� what can we do for you today?� in a cheerful and professional voice, we all knew we were already lost.

Even Captain F—, a statuesque blond who looked like one of the minor Valkyries had only slightly better luck with �Mr. T-B�— and she was especially adept at the fine art of media handling. Watching her cope with a hostile media inquiry was like watching someone tap-dancing on a high-wire while juggling two flaming torches and a hand grenade— a dazzling display of dexterity, control and grace under pressure. Mr. T-B was probably not insensitive to the fact that his telephone calls were about as welcome to us as a case of the intestinal flu. He accused me of lying about the Major being at lunch; when he called one day, and everyone was out, save for myself and the senior civilian.
�He told you to say that, didn�t he?� Mr. T-B snarled, �You�re covering for him, aren�t you?�
�It�s eleven-thirty,� I said, rather stunned about being accused of lying over such a little matter. �Everyone�s at lunch.� Out of desperation, I gave the call to the senior civilian, a retired Army WO� and of course the first thing Mr. T-B wanted to verify was that the Major really was at lunch.

No, he was hands-down our most un-favorite person in the locality, especially after the front page story in the Sac Bee about the two little old ladies in an orange coupe. Owing to an unfortunate confluence of events, initiated when they blundered in the back gate, the two old ladies in coupe managed to get thoroughly got lost on base. In panic, disorientation and hysteria, they wound up speeding down the runway towards the SAC alert ramp, hotly pursued by a posse of armed Security Police troops, as they were heading into� umm� one of the places on base that was defended by deadly force and then some. The SPS had realized immediately what was happening; their commander later applauded them for good sense and restraint, but the ladies damn-near had heart attacks.

It made a very funny story and it percolated around the base for a month or two, by the time Mr. T-B snooped it out, and called the Public Affairs office to verify� which we did. The cartoon comic sketch of the whole scene that ran with the story was a low blow� but heck. It was a funny story, and we lived it down. The following year when a Buff crashed on takeoff in a muddy field nearby, and a senior officer at a tenant unit was accused of molesting children, I imagine the Public Affairs staff looked back nostalgically on the little old ladies in the orange coupe, barreling down the alert-area ramp.
It put things into perspective, though— the press had their job, and we had ours� and no matter how hard we worked to put a favorable image of the Air Force into it, the reporter was perfectly free to blow us off. To his credit, Mr. �T-B� did apologize, sort of, for the cartoon sketch. It was, he claimed, his editor�s idea. Just doing his job— and it was true. It really did happen.

I googled Mr. �T-B� before I wrote this, and he had a byline a couple of years ago, writing up an obit for the Sacramento Bee, so I don�t suppose he ever hit the pay dirt, his Watergate scoop, his entr�e into the big leagues. He just might have been too much of an old-fashioned gentleman for the so-called big leagues of journalism. Whatever else we might have thought of him in the Public Affairs office, he didn�t make s**t up, and he always called to verify facts. And if the facts were against him, he dropped the story. All this would seem to disqualify �Mr. T-B� for the practice of journalism in the style of Dan Rather, of Sy Hersh, and Eason Jordan, where bearing false witness, in promoting blatant and absolutely debunkable falsehoods is the order of the day.

They seem to have sold their souls for a byline, for a bit of fame and limelight, to stand in front of an appreciative crowd, telling that crowd what they want to hear. It must be a heady thing to stand before an approving audience, not realizing how stories of massacres, and targeting of journalists in Iraq by American military is taken as an offence, an offence against the honor of those Jacksonians who hold the values of �Duty, Honor, Country� in high regard, who may not be in the audience, but are listening now. Such people do not take well to being slandered, most especially by the press. We hear you, Eason Jordan. We hear you very well, and we know what you are. Writing obits for the Sacramento Bee might start to look very good to you as a career move by the time you have finished hearing from us.

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