Following an announcement that Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl would be formally charged with desertion and endangering his fellow soldiers, on Thursday morning, ABC and CBS continued to omit the fact that at least one member of Bergdahl’s military unit died while searching for him in Afghanistan.
In addition, the “big three” (ABC, CBS, and NBC) networks once again ignored a June 2014 clip of National Security Advisor Susan Rice praising Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl as “serving with honor and distinction.”
On CBS This Morning, reporter David Martin began by sympathetically insisting that “Bowe Bergdahl was the only U.S. soldier missing in Afghanistan so bringing him home was an important part of ending that war.”
The CBS reporter went on to detail how he was charged with “desertion which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and with misbehavior before the enemy which carries a much stiffer penalty” but ignored the fact that at least one soldier died while trying to find him and instead just "had to go looking for him."
Instead of mentioning this important fact, Martin gave Bergdahl’s lawyer significant air time to criticize the charges against his client:
Bergdahl’s attorney released a statement in which the army sergeant described the conditions of his captivity. “Kept in isolation, blindfolded, chained to a bed, beaten with a copper table, open wounds on his wrists from handcuffs.”...Eugene Fidell questioned whether his client could get a fair trial after what he called a “deluge of vilification.”
On ABC’s Good Morning America, reporter Martha Raddatz did acknowledge that Bergdahl was charged with “endangering his fellow soldiers” but failed to explain that at least one soldier died while looking for him. After detailing the charges against him, the ABC reporter concluded by promoting Bergdahl’s lawyer’s defense of him:
Bergdahl's lawyer told us there have not been plea negotiations yet, but in his letters to officials, he said that a trial would add to the stress Bergdahl has experienced and from which he is far from recovered. He does continue to undergo psychological help, as well as physical therapy.
For their part, ABC and CBS did both play clips of soldiers who served alongside Bergdahl and stressed that he was i deserter who deserved a harsh punishment for his actions.
In contrast, on NBC’s Today, Jim Miklaszewski introduced the network’s coverage by spotlighting how “Sandra Andrews welcomed the news that Bergdahl had been charged...Her son Darren was in Bergdahl’s unit, later killed in search operations. She believes that Bergdahl’s actions contributed to her son’s death.”
The NBC reporter then played clips of two soldiers who served with Bergdahl and maintained that “there was no doubt Bergdahl deserted” but Miklaszewski concluded by making sure to stress that one official insisted Bergdahl just made a "mistake":
But one official familiar with the investigation tells NBC News there was no indication that Bergdahl posed any kind of threat, held any kind of malice towards the U.S., but he's instead described as just one really mixed up kid who made a very bad mistake.
See relevant transcripts below.
CBS This Morning
March 26, 2015
VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: Charges against Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl this morning could lead to a life prison sentence. The military accuses Bergdahl of deserting his post in Afghanistan nearly six years ago. The Taliban captured him; that led to a controversial prisoner exchange. David Martin is at the Pentagon with reaction from Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers. David good morning.
DAVID MARTIN: Good morning. Bowe Bergdahl was the only U.S. soldier missing in Afghanistan so bringing him home was an important part of ending that war. Well, the war is winding down but the legal battle over Bergdahl is just beginning. The Army threw the book at Bergdahl, charging him with desertion which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and with misbehavior before the enemy which carries a much stiffer penalty.
COL. DANIEL KING: The maximum potential penalty of a dishonorable discharge, reduction to the rank of e-1, total forfeiture of all pain allowances and possible confinement for life.
MARTIN: Bergdahl was held by the enemy for five years until his captors freed him last may in exchange for five senior members of the Taliban held at Guantanamo. Bergdahl’s attorney released a statement in which the army sergeant described the conditions of his captivity. “Kept in isolation, blindfolded, chained to a bed, beaten with a copper table, open wounds on his wrists from handcuffs.”
EUGENE FIDELL: You wouldn't want your worst enemy to be treated the way the Taliban treated Sergeant Bergdahl. And I might add, by the way, during those nearly five years he made something like a dozen escape attempts which it was his due to do as a soldier.
MARTIN: Eugene Fidell questioned whether his client could get a fair trial after what he called a “deluge of vilification.”
FIDELL: You know, basically calling my client every name in the book suggesting that he should be hanged, shot.
MARTIN: Former soldiers who served with Bergdahl and had to go looking for him after he disappeared felt the charges were justified.
NATHAN BRADLEY-BETHEA: What I see is that he deserted and there's no way around it.
UNKNOWN PERSON: Life imprisonment would be the best thing. Anything less than that, and I feel like it would be cheating.
MARTIN: The Army will now convene the military equivalent of a grand jury to hear the evidence against Bergdahl and determine if it merits a court-martial. That will almost certainly take months since there are thousands of pages of evidence which the defense has not yet seen.
ABC’s Good Morning America
March 26, 2015
ROBIN ROBERTS: Now to Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, charged with desertion and possibly facing life in prison. He was captured by the Taliban after leaving his post in 2009. Now he’s speaking out about his years in captivity. ABC's Martha Raddatz has that story.
MARTHA RADDATZ: The charges could mean life in prison. Desertion and misbehavior for endangering his fellow soldiers left to face the enemy without him. The second charge, the more serious.
EUGENE FIDELL: The charge of misbehavior before the enemy was an unpleasant surprise, I think it was unnecessary.
RADDATZ: Bergdahl walked away from his remote outpost in June of 2009, but within hours was captured by the Taliban. In a statement released by his lawyer, describing for the first time in his own words the brutal conditions he endured.
Saying he was “kept in isolation” for the entire five years, “shackled spread eagle on a bed” “caged, beaten” and threatened constantly with execution after repeatedly trying to escape. When he was freed in a Taliban prisoner exchange last year blinking after being in darkness, he wept with gratitude when he was told he was going home. And at the White House, the president celebrated with Bergdahl's parents.
BARACK OBAMA: He wasn't forgotten by his community in Idaho or the military which rallied to support the Bergdahls through thick and thin.
RADDATZ: But Bergdahl did not want to see his parents and those platoon mates he left behind began publicly criticizing him and are telling us now the charges are not harsh enough.
JOSH KORDER: There should be more consequences there in my opinion and death is certainly something that should have been considered.
RADDATZ: Bergdahl's lawyer told us there have not been plea negotiations yet, but in his letters to officials, he said that a trial would add to the stress Bergdahl has experienced and from which he is far from recovered. He does continue to undergo psychological help, as well as physical therapy.
March 26, 2015
MATT LAUER: Other news, meantime, U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is facing the possibility of life in prison. He abandoned his post in Afghanistan and was held captive by the Taliban for five years. Well now Bergdahl is being charged with desertion. NBC's Jim Miklaszewski is at the Pentagon. Mik, good morning to you.
JIM MIKLASZEWSKI: Good morning, Matt. An Army general has pretty much thrown the book at Bowe Bergdahl, a stark reminder of just how serious it is to abandon your post under any circumstances in the middle of a war zone. After five years in Taliban captivity, Sergeant Bowe Bergdah'sl future is again in question. He's been charged with desertion, for leaving his post in Afghanistan. A second more serious charge of endangering his fellow soldiers could lead to life imprisonment. Sandra Andrews welcomed the news that Bergdahl had been charged.
SANDRA ANDREWS: I'm elated actually. I wasn't sure we would ever get to this point.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Her son Darren was in Bergdahl's unit, later killed in search operations. She believes that Bergdahl's actions contributed to her son's death.
ANDREWS: I don't think he should have anything less than life in federal prison.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Fellow soldier Josh Korder said there was no doubt Bergdahl deserted.
JOSH KORDER: He left is body armor behind, his weapon behind. It was very clear that he was gone and he wasn't coming back.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Bergdahl was held captive for five years, appearing under duress in a series of hostage videos, an American soldier and propaganda tool for the Taliban.
BOWE BERGDAHL: This war isn't worth the waste of human life.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Even his release kicked up a political firestorm. In a controversial prisoner swap, the Obama administration released five high-valued Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Bergdahl. Republicans again accused the president of negotiating with terrorists.
TED POE: They were traded for Bergdahl, who deserted his men while these individuals were traded. I think this was a bad decision. And it was also in my opinion a violation of the law.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Bergdahl's lawyer Eugene Fidell is eager to have Bergdahl tell his side of the story in military court.
EUGENE FIDELL: People will learn many things that they have not yet been privy to about Sergeant Bergdahl's conduct, his motivation, his intentions as well as the details of his captivity at the hands of the Taliban for nearly five years.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Now, Bergdahl could be offered a plea deal to avoid any jail time. But one official familiar with the investigation tells NBC News there was no indication that Bergdahl posed any kind of threat, held any kind of malice towards the U.S., but he's instead described as just one really mixed up kid who made a very bad mistake.