Whatever happened to Bowe Bergdahl?

bergdahlRemember him?  The man who either deserted or was captured and held captive in Afghanistan for nearly five years and was released last spring?  Richard Benedetto wonders why the U.S. news media have completely dropped the Bowe Bergdahl story, and so do I because I want to see how the story ends!  Regular readers will recall that I wrote about him here twice last summer because of the intriguing possible links between his experience and the experience of former child captives I’ve written about in both my first and second books.

Media interest in the Bergdahl affair dried up once he ceased to be a political football in Washington.  Benedetto explains that “Bergdahl, who after extensive medical and psychiatric testing quietly returned in July to active duty at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, has pretty much disappeared from the mainstream media radar screen. Few seem interested in following up.”  Few” seems to be an understatement.  After noting that it’s only the right-wing media who have continued to pursue the story, and only in a half-hearted fashion, Benedetto writes:

The only other recent news story on the matter came Nov. 6 in The Hill, not considered a conservative news source. It reported that Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican, said unnamed sources told him the U.S. military unsuccessfully tried to pay a ransom for Bergdahl’s release.

In a Nov. 5 letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, The Hill said that Hunter wrote, “It has been brought to my attention that a payment was made to an Afghan intermediary who ‘disappeared’ with the money and failed to facilitate Bergdahl’s release in return.”

“Hunter said ‘according to sources’ that the payment was made between January and February 2014 through Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), whose activities are mostly classified.”  

That story also disappeared into the ether with little to no news media follow-up.  Hotshot investigative reporters who once might have jumped at the chance to sink their teeth into this kind of story mostly sat back and yawned. 

(N.B. Fox news reports that the Pentagon has denied that they tried to pay ransom for Bergdahl, but “[Rear Admiral John] Kirby [the Pentagon spokesperson] was less adamant, however, on whether money was provided to an alleged informant who claimed to have knowledge of where the soldier was being held.”  That happens, I guess!)

Why the lack of curiosity about Bergdahl’s life on base now?  Because ebola, I guess?  Or whatever was the Shiny Metal Object of the moment distracting the kitty-cats of the press corps? Once upon a time, the allegation that the U.S. Military had engaged in some shady back-door scheme to send money to our putative enemies to achieve a political goal (coughIranContracoughArmsforHostagescough) would have attracted the attention of the news media.  Not any more, I guess!  Benedetto explains:

There was a time not so long ago when news editors kept what was known as a “tickler” file.  In it were reminders of certain issues, stories or personalities that needed to be updated and re-examined. In those days, Bergdahl’s name would have been high on the list.  With him out of the news since July, an editor might have said to a reporter, “Let’s find out what Bergdahl’s been doing down there in Texas for the past four months. What is his job? What does he do all day?  How do his fellow soldiers treat him?  Does he have friends?  Does he date?  Does he get any leave? Has he been home to visit his parents?”

The American public, and not just conservatives, would jump at a chance to read a story like that. How does a reporter go about getting that story?  It’s not easy, but it is doable. It takes time, patience and a lot of shoe leather trying to find people who will talk and provide the information. That kind of reporting seems to be in dwindling supply in this New Media era where talking heads, bloggers and social media tweeters take precedence over the work of on-the-ground reporters. And the American public is all the poorer for it.

What did ever happen to Bowe Bergdahl?

My guess?  I assume that some reporters have tried to track him down, but at least right now Bowe Bergdahl doesn’t fit neatly into any narrative that has been spun about him.  So while some may want to see him as a kind of Stockholm Syndrome-sufferer or even as a more menacing “Manchurian Candidate”/Homeland-type convert, he’s not living up to that expectation and can’t be shoehorned into that story.  Similarly, he’s probably not purely a victim of the Taliban, and so can’t be spun as the Louis Zamperini of the last thirteen years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The truth is probably a lot more boring than a Hollywood movie or premium cable drama would be. 

Based on reporting about his interests and his rationale for volunteering, Bergdahl wasn’t an overtly political teenager or young adult.  He was a dreamy, unrealistic home-schooled kid who seemed to have no sense of direction and little appetite for following through with his youthful schemes.  He’s probably neither an “American Taliban” nor super-thrilled about being back in the U.S., and so probably isn’t a very good interview right now.  He might still be a rather confused person, and because of that, he’s a much less interesting story to the political press, if not all of the U.S. media as well.

7 thoughts on “Whatever happened to Bowe Bergdahl?

  1. I get it that the “right to privacy” is a chimera but that doesn’t mean I have a “right to know” about this young man. Is whatever information that might be derived from exposing him to renewed scrutiny worth the damage it could do to him? I would imagine that he’s just trying to get on with his life, the same way most of us would be, after a complicated and unpleasant experience.


  2. I made a rather weak cultural allusion to Berghdahl in a draft of a book review, or essay review, a few months back, and was advised to leave it out, not because it was a rather weak cultural allusion, or irrelevant to the topic (which it arguably may have been), but based on the assumption that the time the thing would hit print (pretty well down the road), nobody would have any idea who the reference was to. So I guess the presumption of amnesia is out there. That would be true of almost anyone, though.

    Glad to be back on the side of the mountains where Historiann-on-demand is again a keystroke away on my laptop!


  3. Excellent question. What puzzles me is that Benedetto, instead of filling the gap, just writes about the gap. He uses it to lament the decline of journalism, not to DO journalism. (And, of course, the story doesn’t serve the right wing press if he’s a pretty ordinary guy doing his job.)


  4. it infuriates me that the five people prisoners criminals that would trade it for this loser are now part of Isis and no one even speaks of it. And it was only days after this ridiculous trade all of this uprising came to the surface and became a media frenzy. I know I deserve an explanation of what happened. Of what this person that was supposed to be defending my country did to my country instead of for my country. And this silent treatment doesn’t bode well with me. And the fact that Obama is letting him slide is very suspicious. And that makes Obama not bode well with me. I wish something could be done. But as we the people are insignificant we have no power. This makes for a very sad situation. It’s a shame that the media only defendo the guilty and supports blindly the racial criminal of the day . Ergo Michael Brown. Perfect example of a criminal defended by media when evident he tried to kill a police officer and media proceeded to help ruin officer life. Why doesn’t media look into Bergdahl traitor.


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