The exchange of American POW Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban prisoners in Guantanamo has set off a political firestorm whose flames have been fanned by wild speculation in the absence of clear facts. Brooke wades through the breathless conjecture to ponder what's really behind this controversy.
BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. I’m Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I’m Brooke Gladstone.
BRITTANY GUIDRY, MISS LOUISIANA: I am glad that we got our guy back. However, I do not feel as right that we subject ourselves to these acts of terrorism. I do agree with our guy being back but, however, I do not think we should - should subject ourselves.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Miss Louisiana, in her confusion, is nevertheless more consistent than many of the more practiced critics, now outraged that five Taliban commanders in
Guantánamo have been swapped for US POW Bowe Bergdahl. The Pew Research Center has found that public reactions to the Bergdahl case are deeply partisan. Fully 71% of Republicans think that the prisoner exchange was the wrong thing to do, while just 16% say it was right. Democrats, by more than two to one, 55% to 24, have a positive opinion of the deal. And why wouldn't you form an instant uninformed opinion? After all, Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them.” Why not by their beards?
BRIAN KILMEADE/FOX NEWS: Well, he says he was growing his beard because his son was in captivity. Well, your son’s out now, so if you really don’t – no longer want to look like a member of the Taliban, you don’t have to look like a member of the Taliban. Are you out of razors?
COL. RALPH PETERES: Well, you know, Mr. Bergdahl’s beard is not a tribute to ZZ Top. It’s just sad. And that offended me and it offended every soldier, I’m sure.
BILL O`REILLY/FOX NEWS: My job is to be honest and to – and analyze honestly. The man shows up at the White House lookin’ like a Muslim. He speaks Pashto. He thanks Allah.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But if television has been potent in swaying the public’s view, it’s not just because of its fixation with apparently scary hair but because reporters are obliged to quote elected officials who can collectively change their positions on a dime. In Bergdahl’s case, that dime was dropped, according to the Sunlight Foundation’s Politwhoops website, somewhere between June 2nd and June 4th, when mostly Republican politicians started deleting celebratory tweets about Bergdahl’s release. Senator John McCain, who had earlier said that we should, quote, “seriously consider a prisoner exchange, depending on the details” condemned this trade. And New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who said this just before the trade –
SENATOR KELLY AYOTTE: We also keep Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in our thoughts and prayers and will continue to do everything we can to find him and to bring him safely home.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: - on June 2nd called for a hearing to investigate it.
Now, let me pause for a moment and note that President Obama brought a lot of this upon himself. Lindsey Graham.
LINDSEY GRAHAM: Well, we’ll have to push ‘em open later on. We’ll have closed-door meeting where we’ll learn almost nothing, as we usually do. We’ll learn more from Fox News than we learn from this meeting.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Right. But, in fact, the President didn’t give Congress its mandated notice before taking action. That may be because in this Congress there can be no compromise that enables action. Action on anything, according to the Pew Research Center, is at historic lows. But that's no excuse to evade the checks and balances of the system. While legislators hammered away at the President to do something about Bergdahl during his five years of imprisonment, the President could have conformed to the law, brought them this plan and likely watched it fail. That’s American politics in the third millennium. Meanwhile, Bergdahl's Benghazification is now well underway. Lindsey Graham again.
LINDSEY GRAHAM: This is a very bad deal for America, and this is the same President who embraces never leaving anybody behind but never picked up the phone during the night of the Benghazi attack to call for help in Libya and was virtually AWOL.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And so, apparently, is Bergdahl's Swiftboatification.
WOMAN: He’s not a hero, he's a traitor. He's a deserter.
GAVIN MCINNES: He’s no crown jewel.
MAN: Yeah, yeah.
GAVIN MCINNES: And he was a ballerina when he was a kid.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: At least six soldiers may have died while searching for Bergdahl.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The first two clips are matters of opinion. Bergdahl's writings at the time he walked off base suggest that he was deeply disturbed. That last assertion is, as yet, an unfounded charge. According to recent reporting in the New York Times, it's probably untrue. But it doesn't really matter. This argument is not about those five Taliban commanders, the exchange of whom reportedly had been discussed for years to further the peace process. And it’s not about a troubled man whose past history with the Coast Guard should have prevented his induction into the Army, and who spent much of the last five years locked in a cage.
[MUSIC UP & UNDER]
This is an argument about Obama and the Democrats. Bergdahl is, if you will, just a political beard.
[DAILY SHOW CLIP]:
JESSICA WILLIAMS: If I had been president, I would've gotten Bergdahl back for some second-stringer like Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and whatever's in my pocket - looks like $1.75.
JON STEWART: A dollar 75…
JASON JONES: No – no, no, no, no, that is still way too much. If I was president, I would have gotten Bergdahl back for an 8 gig iPhone 3 and a pack of gum.