One of the first things they impart on you at Marine Corps recruit training is that, from the point you step on the yellow footprints at MCRD Parris Island or San Diego, until the day you’re buried in the ground, you’ll represent the Corps. Your behavior, good or bad, will be perceived as the behavior of United States Marines, and, as we’re reminded time and time again, if we ever commit a crime heinous enough to make the papers, you’d better believe the headline will bear the name of our branch.
In recent years, more and more Marines have come out against the old, “once a Marine, always a Marine” adage, often times because it sounds a bit confusing to say, “I’m a Marine,” when you haven’t been on active duty for more than a decade – but what many of these folks don’t understand is that the adage has nothing to do with your perceptions of yourself.
“Once a Marine, always a Marine” is about how the world sees you.
Being in the military means having an inside knowledge into one of the most misunderstood professions of the modern-day, and as Marines, we grow accustomed to explaining away a fair amount of confusion whenever our service is brought up in friendly conversation.
“No mom, Marines are not soldiers. Soldiers are soldiers.”
“Yes, there are ranks other than Private, Sergeant, Captain, and General.”
“No, we don’t all sleep in tents… I’m married, where do you think my wife lives?”
These misconceptions are a necessary byproduct of the different world service members inhabit during their time in uniform – and although they can sometimes be annoying (my mom really should know the difference between Soldiers and Marines by now), I can’t gripe about the culture clash: a fair portion of my job is helping to translate those differences in the context of today’s news. For the most part, getting upset about a civilian’s understanding of your service is like a mechanic getting upset at a customer for not knowing how an engine works: it’s not their job to get it… that’s why they have you.
I do take issue, however, when large media entities – organizations that undoubtedly have a veteran or two in their ranks – intentionally take advantage of these misconceptions to make stories about veterans more sensational.
McKinney said Jameson attended Marine basic training ‘in or about’ June 2009 and ‘graduated several months later.’ Jameson trained as a sharpshooter, but was later discharged for failing to disclose a history of asthma.”
That excerpt is from Fox News’ coverage of a foiled terror plot set to happen on Christmas Day, and in particular, it seeks to relate information regarding the suspect’s military service, as provided by the FBI affidavit. The thing is, the way in which it relates that information isn’t factually inaccurate, it’s just contextually dishonest.
Here’s another way to relate the same information included in the FBI documents, without trying to make this wannabe terrorist seem like anything he isn’t and, of course, correcting to reflect accurate terminology:
McKinney said Jameson attended Marine recruit training ‘in our about’ June 2009 and ‘graduated several months later.’ Jameson qualified as a ‘sharpshooter,’ which means he achieved higher than the minimal level of proficiency with his service rifle, but did not score high enough to be considered an ‘expert.’ Jameson was later discharged for failing to disclose a history of asthma.”
See how a little bit of context sucks the sensationalism right out of this story? Jameson wasn’t a “trained sharpshooter,” as he’s being called by numerous MSM outlets this weekend, he was a middle of the road shooter. The Marine Corps shooting qualification standards just happen to use the titles “Marksman,” “Sharpshooter,” and “Expert” to differentiate between the ranges in scores one can achieve.
Saying Jameson proved moderately proficient during a two-week static-fire course that’s required to graduate recruit training doesn’t have the same ring to it as calling him a former Marine that “trained as a sharpshooter,” and either Fox (and countless other outlets) couldn’t be bothered to ask a single Marine (or just… google it) or they opted to choose language that makes Jameson seem like a highly-trained combatant on purpose.
Further, the fact that Jameson was eventually separated for failing to disclose a pre-existing medical condition (something we used to call a “fraudulent enlistment”) is glossed over, despite the fact that he likely never reached a fleet unit, served on a deployment, or potentially even completed Marine Combat Training or the School of Infantry – depending on his occupational specialty. You may be a Marine the minute you’re presented an Eagle, Globe, and Anchor at recruit training, but you’re not a war fighter until you make it all the way through the training pipeline and reach a deployable unit. Up until then, you’re a guy with a job application in your hand – noble, perhaps, trained in some regards, but certainly not a hardened Marine like the tone and headlines associated with these articles would lead you to believe.
Jameson was indeed a Marine, and in my own coverage of this story, I included that bit of information because it does directly relate to whom the suspect is, his background, and how successful he could have been if his attack hadn’t been foiled – but misrepresenting the facts of his service benefits no one but traffic analytics. People click and skim, they chime in on Facebook, and for outlets like Fox, the world keeps spinning.
The thing is, these subtle choices inform the way Marines, and veterans in general, or perceived throughout the nation. With Air Force veterans shooting up churches and Marine Corps veterans attempting to shoot up tourist spots, the veteran community isn’t enjoying a deluge of positive press lately. Monsters within our ranks do a great job of making us all look bad, without media conglomerates misrepresenting the facts of these cases to draw traffic.
As Marines, we all know that our branch will be held accountable for our actions from here on out, and for most of us, that’s not a big deal. I take pride in my service, and I also take pride in the way I carry myself as a veteran, but there are millions of us out there; some are bound to be bad apples. If we can’t change the way the media is going to report on what Marines do (and I’m even a little hesitant to call this ass-hat a Marine, per my definition of the title) we should at least demand legitimacy in their coverage. Sure, this kid got to say he was a Marine for a few months in 2009… before the Corps threw him out for being a liar. He’s spent the eight or so years since just being a loser, but that part doesn’t draw much in the way of traffic.
So, just remember Fox, CNN, MSNBC and company: Sensationalizing these things might get your hashtag trending, but it’s veterans who will have to live with the repercussions.
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