Thursday, September 08, 2005

Media Ignorance

Karl Penhaul, a CNN correspondent, just reported from New Orleans on the mayor's order that everyone must be evacuated from the city, by force if necessary. He noted, with a slightly ominous tone, that the Army has said that it will not participate in evacuating people by force. The implication was that this is one more indication of disarray and dissension among American authorities.

His final, grave statement to the anchorman was, "We'll have to keep an eye on this, Jim."

This has been reported by a number of media sources, some of whom explained the situation and some of whom didn't. The fact is, the U.S. Army and other regular military forces, not including the National Guard, are forbidden by federal law to engage in law enforcement activities on U.S. territory except under very limited circumstances.

Penhaul, judging by his accent, is probably British. Not only is he ignorant of this basic fact, he wasn't corrected by the anchorman, Jim Clancy. Clancy, an American, is one of the most biased people on CNN, and he can be counted on to criticize the U.S. at every opportunity. He is either as ignorant as Penhaul, or he just liked the tone of the report.

And the beat goes on.


Anonymous JJR said...


Most Americans, even among the media elite are entirely unaware of the Posse Comitatus Act and probably wouldn't believe you if you told them about it.

It reminds me of the James Garner movie "Tank" (filmed at Ft. Benning) where the active duty general informs the ignorant local sheriff that he can't use his troops to stop the soldier allegedly violating civl law and tells him that it's Posse Comitatus. The sheriff indignantly asks him if he just called him a pussy communist.

That would probably be the response if you mentioned the act to anyone these days. In my experience, the only ones who are totally familiar with the requirements of the law are those who've served on active duty.

1:16 PM, September 08, 2005  
Blogger : JustaDog said...

It's all part of the blame game - blame Bush. I can't wait for the real facts to come out - including the fact that even 10 years ago monies were mis-appropriated that were meant for the levees - yep, during the Clinton years.

3:39 PM, September 08, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

JJR, I'm sure the average American, an "ignorant local sheriff" here and there, and pussy communists in general don't know anything about the Posse Comitatus Act. They really don't have much need to know about it. However, those who would presume to comment or report on public policy issues involving the military have an obligation to know what they're talking about. Assuming, of course, they're interested in accuracy as opposed to advancing some cheap political agenda.

U.S. Northern Command has published a succinct Fact Sheet on the Posse Comitatus Act. It explains what the law says, including the very few specific exceptions. One interesting fact is that anyone who violates the prohibition against military involvement in law enforcement in the U.S. is subject to fine and up to two years in prison.

3:40 PM, September 08, 2005  
Anonymous JJR said...


I completely agree with you, but I've found that the fact that they don't know specifics has not stopped many people (including, perhaps especially media "pundits," reporters, anchors, etc.). Fox News is no better on that front.

And, you've just given me new information. I was not aware what the penalties were for violating the Act. I just remember it being drilled into our heads that the military is not a part of the police force.

Of course, I always wondered how that squared with the drug suppression missions performed by various branches but never really worried enough to find out.

6:42 PM, September 08, 2005  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Senators Collins and Lieberman are on The News Hour right now and Jim Lehrer just asked Senator Collins if "Bicameral" meant "equal numbers of Democrats and of Republicans?"

Sheesh! I learned what Bicameral meant in highschool.

9:28 PM, September 08, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Kevin, that's amazing, especially coming from Jim Lehrer! I learned that in high school, too, along with the fact that Nebraska has the only unicameral state legislature. I guess teaching things in school is one thing, and students learning it is another.

Please tell me Collins and Lieberman knew what it meant....

12:40 AM, September 09, 2005  
Anonymous Kevin said...

LOL it was Sen. Collins who had first used the word "bicameral." That's what led Lehrer to ask what it meant. It was obvious that he didn't know but was trying to figure it out from the context she'd used it in. Which simultaneously revealed his ignorance yet showed that he's pretty sharp.

They'd been talking about proposed investigative committees for the Katrina disaster and Collins had already stated that she supported a bipartisan committee and then as if it was an off-the-cuff after-thought she mentioned that she wouldn't mind if the committee was also bicameral.

Collins concisely explained what the word meant and then a minute later when it was Lieberman's turn to talk, using the driest wit I've ever seen, he proceeded to use the word correctly as if to help Lehrer figure it out.

It was pretty amusing!

9:28 AM, September 09, 2005  

Post a Comment

<< Home