Archives About Staff BagNews is dedicated to visual politics, media literacy and the analysis of news images.
January 13, 2012

Still More Disturbing Pictures from the Afghan War: Obama and the Too-Shiny Marine

The approval of Meyer’s medal — in an unusually short time — came as lawmakers and serving and former officers pressed the military services and the Pentagon to award more Medals of Honor because of the relatively few conferred in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

… As the Afghan and Iraq wars wind down, senior Marine Corps officials conceded the pressure to award more medals, and to do it quickly. One senior Marine official told McClatchy that the service felt that it deserved the decoration after having served in the toughest, most violent areas of Afghanistan and Iraq.

… While there’s no indication that the White House knew that Obama was narrating an embellished story — to an audience of several hundred Meyer family members, top officials, lawmakers and service members — the revelations could tarnish one of the signature moments of his time as commander in chief.

– Quotes from “Marines promoted inflated story for Medal of Honor recipient,” Wednesday, December 14, 2011. Jonathan S. Landay | McClatchy Newspapers

After focusing yesterday on the image of Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters, I wanted to call out a couple other visuals that also put a different visual spin on the Afghan War. You will probably remember photos from last September of Obama awarding Marine Dakota Meyer the Medal of Honor — the third living honoree since the Vietnam, and the first living Marine in 38 years to receive the medal.

Of course, the White House took maximum advantage of the recognition which not only included rafts of photos from the ceremony, but also a coveted beer with the President on the private Oval Office patio back in mid-September.

The only trouble is, the account of the battle that Meyer’s award was based on — an account Obama himself recited in detail during the medal ceremony at the White House — turned out to be heavily embellished. That development might have caused more of a stir except for the fact the extensively researched story surfaced just before Christmas, and was reported by McClatchy, a news organization less in sync with the media establishment than known for its independence and assuredness in speaking truth to power.

For the full McClatchy story, you can find it here.

For our purposes here, though, I’m as much interested in the visuals as they serve the interests of the propaganda machine, the selling of a decade-long Neocon vision andwar on Islam, and the attendant need to almost manically make heros and saints of our troops. Whether we’re looking at photos of Dakota Meyer or screenshots of those Marines in the video yesterday, perhaps what we’re really looking at are cultural victims whose primary failing is to stand for the Grand Canyon-size gap between a war off its rails and the deep-rooted propaganda effort that’s still in place to sell it.

(photos: Pete Souza caption 2: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama wait with Dakota Meyer in the Blue Room of the White House before the start of the Medal of Honor presentation ceremony in the East Room, Sept. 15, 2011. Meyer, then a Marine Corps Corporal, received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Sept. 8, 2009, while serving in the Kunar Province, Afghanistan.)

  • Anonymous

    From TFA:

    What’s most striking is that all this probably was unnecessary. Meyer, the 296th Marine to earn the medal, by all accounts deserved his nomination. At least seven witnesses attested to him performing heroic deeds “in the face of almost certain death.” 

    Reads like a story of bumbling bureaucracies trying to “sex up” a story to meet arbitrary production goals and deadlines. Well, bureaucracies bumble — always have and always will. Thankfully, missing from this story is any hint of the involvement of the current administration’s “Karl Rove”. Remember Pat Tillman?

    One of the benefits of a working free press is their presence makes it easier for the powers that be to tell the truth than it is to try to construct and disseminate believable lies. Wish we still had a working free press.

    • Ralfast

      It’s call “medal inflation” and its as old as time itself (or shiny pieces of tin with ribbons and safety pins attached to them).

  • Linda

    Well said, Black dog…I’m interested in the way Obama has his head held higher than the actual medal winner. Very assertive “commander in chief” with a body language of “look what I did, no really, look at ME!” Obama loves loves loves war. So disappointing on so many levels.

    • http://www.bagnewsnotes.com Michael Shaw

      I don’t think Obama loves war, not at all — but I do think he’d love to keep his job, and as the war’s salesman-in-chief (he, and even more so, Michelle, the way she’s gotten out front with troop families), it’s: get that chin up in the air.

  • T Perky

    If the young man’s story didn’t need embellishment and he was already worthy of the MoH, what purpose does this investigation serve other than to diminish the Marine’s award, and by extension (or perhaps design), the Obamas’ motivations in honoring him? I remember watching this ceremony with my best friend; we were proud, and there were tears, as well as grateful acknowledgement of Michelle’s involvement with military families. It is not easy to be a military wife, believe me; having anyone advocating for us is welcome. We know these ceremonies are fluff, and the details are sometimes exaggerated, but they are needed as well. People who save lives should be honored, I believe. That’s why I was incensed by the invocation of Pat Tillman and the call to juxtapose the image of the urinating soldiers when viewing these photos. In essence, you’re pissing on Mr. Meyer’s glory. Why?  In your attempt to make a point about the president’s “love of war” or rather “love of his job,” not only do you take a jab at the good work done by the Obamas for military people in general, you step over this obviously brave young man to do. We can all agree war is bad; do we need to take this kid down to prove it?

    • http://www.bagnewsnotes.com Michael Shaw

      I empathize with your opinion. Certainly, I have no idea what it’s like to be a military spouse. At the same time, however, I can’t help feeling that the world is much more nuanced and a lot less glorious than you would like to believe. I don’t think my critique of Dakota Meyer or the President or the Marines for the politicizing and selling of the war is that unusual at all, especially as Meyer uses his medal, and even the medal ceremony, as campaign fodder (appearing here, in this commercial) on behalf of Rick Perry. 

  • Pingback: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War (Dakota Meyer, MOH) « AMERICAN BLOGGER: GUNNY.G ~ WEBLOG & EMAIL

  • T Perky

    Certainly, your critique isn’t unusual; juxtaposing a bad feeling with a good one to minimize the good thing is standard political procedure. I’m objecting here because I have skin in this particular game, obviously.  I’m not being snarky when I say it’s good that you’ve provided a place to discuss this kind of image management in more detail. It’s why I keep coming back.

    But really, “I can’t help feeling that the world is much more nuanced and a lot less glorious than you would like to believe?” That’s got to be the nicest “Jane, you ignorant, misguided slut” anyone’s ever said to me. I LOLed. I’m a big dummy because the kid I’m defending went off with his medal and is campaigning for Perry? We should piss on his award because he’s a muttonhead and the guy who pinned the thing on his chest is a war lover? My ex is a fundie Santorum type, but he saved a helicopter full of airmen from dropping like a rock in the Sea of Japan and like the people in that plane, I’ll never believe he wasn’t a hero that day. Of course, he got no medals, and he thinks it was god what saved them, but that’s beside the point.

    My thing is, there are real people behind all these cynical political tactics. From the outside, it looks like, and probably is, a cheap political trick; from the inside, it’s a point of pride with an attending recognition for the fallen. Hokey, sure, but Meyer’s not going to be the next Joe the Plumber. Why tarnish his 15 minutes with a non-story and pile one like this? Of all the really good military stories that could be investigated, it seems weird that this is what the original authors looked into. Was someone hoping to find the next Pat Tillman? If that’s not cynical, I don’t know what is!

Refresh Archives

Random Notes