So is Bowe Bergdahl a sinner or a saint? A deserter or a victim? A naive idiot or an active enemy of the United States?
Here’s the one thing: I don’t know.
Here’s the other thing: neither do you.
Oh, lots of you THINK you know. You’ve “heard” things. You’ve “seen” things. In most cases, if you are conservative in your mind set the things you’ve said and heard suggest convincingly that Bergdahl was a bad soldier and a bad American. If you’re somewhat more liberal in your politics, you’ve wiling to attribute any errors to complex times and the failed policies of the Bush administration.
The Bergdahl flare up is a classic case of what E.E. Schattsneider referred to as the “mobilization of bias.” What Schattsneider realized was that persons and institutions with power can mobilize that power in an array of direct and indirect means to achieve their goals. One indirect way is to drum up public opinion or social pressure against someone.
Think about it.
Almost no one in America knew anything about Bowe Bergdahl before his release. They might — MIGHT! — have known there was an American soldier in Taliban captivity, but they probably didn’t even know that. Then, suddenly, just a few hours after he was released, millions of Americans “knew” so much about Bergdahl they could cite chapter and verse about his military record, his political ideas, and his identity as a “bad” soldier.
This doesn’t just “happen,” folks. Lots of people had to coordinate their activities to construct this image of Bergdahl. Sources had to be found and made available to the media; media sources had to cooperate (not hard in the age of FOX, talk radio and the internet.) Into the void of NOT information poured the vitriol of biased information. And suddenly everyone “knew” what Bergdahl’s story is … and he hasn’t opened his mouth to talk to anyone other than military officials that we know of.
One needs to be on guard for the mobilization of bias at all times. Whether it’s the Dixie Chicks facing a “spontaneous” boycott of their music (all on Clear Channel Communications radio stations, mind you), or the “surprise” of being accused of a crime you did not commit (the “we’re sorry” coverage never seems to fix what the “this person is guilty!” coverage caused), powerful people and institutions have powerful incentives to use their power to make their enemies and opponents look bad.
I don’t know Bowe Bergdahl’s story. Then again: neither do you.