"Worth the risk?": How the media chooses between sponsorship and the truth

May 29, 2007 by Philip Barron · 3 Comments 

The Bullpen of New York University’s Department of Journalism provides an illustrative tale for anyone wondering about the lack of coverage of the LaVena Johnson case in the mainstream media. Alexandra Zendrian recounts a sobering story told by Vanessa Bush, executive editor of Essence:

Sometimes conflicts of interest arise when editors plan to run a story that involves an advertiser. Bush shared one such situation with students. The story in question was a wrongful death case involving the U.S. Army. Essence wanted to run an article in their February 2006 issue about Private First Class LaVena Johnson, who the Army said had shot and killed herself. But Johnson

"Flags of our daughters"

May 27, 2007 by Philip Barron · Leave a Comment 

Ann McGlynn of the Quad-City Times takes note of LaVena Johnson in a group of profiles of the nine American women soldiers under the age of 20 who have died in Iraq. The material on LaVena is based on an interview with LaVena’s parents, John and Linda.

LaVena had been in Iraq for eight weeks when she called and talked to her mother July 17, 2005. They talked for an hour about plans for Christmas and the new job she was going to be starting in Iraq.

New template for petition site

May 27, 2007 by Philip Barron · 1 Comment 

The layout of this website has been changed for enhanced readability and flexibility. Credit for the new design is posted at the bottom of the page.

Further modifications and additions are in the making and will be announced in due course.

Remember this

May 25, 2007 by Philip Barron · Leave a Comment 

What do you say to the war dead on Memorial Day?

Private First Class LaVena Johnson

You tell them, perhaps, that you are sorry you never got the chance to know them. Who they were, what they loved and feared, what they hoped for. That opportunity is gone, replaced by mute stone and silent earth.

Private First Class LaVena Johnson

You tell them that you honor the choice they made in serving, even though that sacrifice goes unhonored by an army unwilling to answer families who want only to know how their loved ones died so far from home.

Private First Class LaVena Johnson

You vow to keep the unfulfilled promise of the dead in your heart. What they would have valued. What they might have accomplished. Who they would have been, if only.

On Memorial Day, you tell the war dead – you swear to them – that you will not forget.

Radio interviews re: LaVena Johnson

May 17, 2007 by Philip Barron · Leave a Comment 

I will be doing two radio interviews regarding the LaVena Johnson story:

Today, Thursday, May 17, at 5:35 pm Central Time with host Lloyd Sloan on The Sloan Ranger Show. This will air on St. Louis, MO area station WGNU, AM 920. This is a follow-up to my March 9 interview there and will touch on more recent developments in the fight to compel the Army to reopen the investigation into LaVena’s death. The show can be heard live over the Web (Windows Media Player); click the “Listen Live” link on the show’s homepage.

Friday, May 18, at 5:05 pm Central Time with host Christiane Brown on The Solution Zone. This will air on Reno, NV area station KJFK, AM 1230, an Air America affiliate. The show will also feature Diane Farsetta, senior researcher for the Center on Media and Democracy, who wrote the recent report “War vs. Democracy: Untold Stories from the Lynch / Tillman Hearing.” This broadcast cannot be heard over the Web, but I will try to make the interview available in a streaming or podcast format later.

Both of these events came up rather suddenly, so apologies for the rather short lead time.

Center for Media and Democracy notes LaVena Johnson story

May 11, 2007 by Philip Barron · 1 Comment 

Diane Farsetta, senior researcher for the Center for Media and Democracy, examines the subtexts of the April 24 House Oversight Committee hearing. In today’s CMD Report titled “War vs. Democracy: Untold Stories from the Lynch / Tillman Hearing,” Farsetta looks beyond the cases of Cpl. Pat Tillman and Pfc. Jessica Lynch to explore the rights and responsibilities of citizens during wartime when faced with military misinformation, embellishment, and deception.

A few things are clear. One is that the secrecy, deception and constraints sought by wartime administrations are anathema to the transparency, accountability and freedom necessary to democracy. As James Madison warned, “Of all the enemies of public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.”

Another truism is that citizens retain the right to receive information and provide guidance to their government during wartime. The last is that, while security concerns may legitimately restrict what information can be shared when, maintaining civilian oversight of war operations helps ensure that human rights standards are upheld.

Farsetta takes special note of Pfc. LaVena Johnson and other soldiers who died or were wounded under unexplained circumstances in Iraq and elsewhere. The report goes on to focus on the many aspects of the committee hearing that were glossed over or ignored altogether by mainstream press coverage.

Farsetta’s report is well worth reading. It is welcome not only for its recognition of LaVena Johnson and other fallen soldiers, but its exposure of a negligent media and its insights into the broader costs to democracy brought about by the war.

(As before, I ask you to sign the LaVena Johnson petition to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, and to contact your legislator on those committees. Thanks.)

LaVena Johnson autopsy results: "inconclusive"

May 4, 2007 by Philip Barron · 5 Comments 

Last night’s KMOV-TV story (including video) on the case of Pfc. LaVena Johnson – an account of her body’s exhumation and autopsy – provided little progress in the attempt to clarify the cause of her death in Iraq in 2005. The autopsy team, which included St. Louis chief medical examiner Dr. Michael Graham and St. Louis County medical examiner Dr. Mary Case, reported inconclusive findings after a three-hour examination. The process will now move to include the weapon – an M-16 rifle – which may have fatally wounded LaVena. More findings will be posted as they are made available.

The KMOV report was made notable by the inclusion of a comment by Senator Claire McCaskill:

We’ve gotta find the truth about what happened to this young lady. Her family deserves that at a minimum, and we need to know in terms of keeping the armed services accountable.

McCaskill’s comment marks the first time that the freshman senator from Missouri, and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has spoken publicly on the LaVena Johnson story.

As the autopsy process moves forward, it is more important than ever that citizens continue to encourage Congress to bring its official attention to Lavena’s story, and to compel the Army to revisit the investigation of her death. You can help by signing the petition to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, then directly contacting your legislator on those committees.

LaVena Johnson autopsy findings to air on KMOV

May 3, 2007 by Philip Barron · 4 Comments 

The Army claimed that Pfc. LaVena Johnson killed herself in Iraq in 2005; LaVena’s parents maintain that their daughter was murdered. Last week, the Johnsons had LaVena’s body exhumed for autopsy. St. Louis CBS affiliate KMOV-TV (channel 4) will air a report on the autopsy findings tonight at 10 pm Central. The promo for the report is available on the station’s website. The full report will likely be posted there after the broadcast.

KMOV was the news station whose report on the LaVena Johnson story in February sparked renewed attention to the case.