There has been some coverage in recent weeks of the wrangling between Presidents Obama and Karzai over the terms that surround the exit of American combat forces from Afghanistan next year, but the details are lost on the average American because the media by-in-large stopped paying attention to the war about the time SEAL Team 6 took out Osama Bin Laden. And a second order consequence of the media going tone deaf at that point is that a populace with limited if any personal involvement in carrying out the conflict collectively moved on.
This bodes ill for those who answered the call to serve in the wake of 9-11. The dire budget situation in DC has made the fight for resources keener, and the Pentagon -- once protected by lawmakers from sweeping cuts -- has found itself the target of an unprecedented savings strategy that threatens to make a lie out of the promise made to our troops that the nation would always support them when they got back from serving overseas.
This broken promise is manifesting itself in myriad ways: Fewer benefits, less educational opportunities, reduced chances for promotion, and lower pay. And the cost for wounded vets is potentially higher as treatment facilities and associated programs watch their budgets dwindle.
A polarized political landscape doesn't help veterans with their needs, nor does an associated news media environment that believes that the way to ratings and ad dollars is through narratives at the far ends of the spectrum, where the troops are painted as either two-dimensional heroes or victims of their own limited options. Via these prisms it's impossible for well-meaning citizens, not to mention the blissfully ignorant, to know what the real veteran issues are or how they might help solve them.
Fortunately credible voices are emerging that could keep the nation's attention where it needs to be with respect to doing right by those who served. Even more promising is these voices have platforms that can reach large audiences.
Among these voices is that of Patrick Murphy, a decorated Iraq Vet who served in the 82nd Airborne Division and became America's first Iraq Vet elected to the U.S. Congress. He served two terms, leading the fight for the Post-9/11 GI Bill (a signature benefit used by 1 million vets and counting) as well as the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell.
Murphy is now hosting "Taking the Hill" on MSNBC, the only show on national TV that is anchored by a veteran. "Taking the Hill" may be a game-changer when it comes to breaking down the civil-military divide in this country, a function of the fact that less than 1 percent of the nation served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
For the first series of episodes "Taking the Hill" has collaborated with the Wounded Warrior Project to highlight compelling stories of vets who've returned from combat and succeeded -- an apt tribute to those who put country before self as well as a complete look at the military experience beyond the clichés and misconceptions.
Murphy intends to grow the show in a way that will be detailed enough for insiders but accessible for a broader audience.
"We'll deal with real issues," Murphy said. "There are substantial challenges facing the veteran community -- homelessness, unemployment, mental health issues. The difference with 'Taking the Hill' is we intend for the show's dialog to be more complete. We're not just going to flag problems. We're going to offer solutions too."
Here's hoping the network execs let Murphy realize that vision. IF they're smart, MSNBC will leverage the same judgment that served him in combat and on the Hill. And while the network has morphed into the polar opposite of Fox News in terms of political leanings, Murphy is not a progressive poster child. He is a Blue Dog democrat whose track record shows a willingness to hear all sides of a story and a talent for reaching outcomes.
"Taking the Hill" is a refreshing approach in a world that has too often rolled out one retired general after another for their so-called expertise. And in choosing Murphy as the show's host, MSNBC has shown a desire to get it right, which in turn will serve veterans and the public that should understand and appreciate them for the right reasons.
(The second installment of 'Taking the Hill' airs Sunday, December 15 at 1 PM ET. More detail about the show can be found here.)
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