Manhattan Project #32 Jed Berman goes to War

(wherein news director Fred DeMarco sets TV journalist Jed Berman up to do some direct observing of why we kill)

Chapter Eleven

On the way in to work the next day I thought back over the things Doris and I talked about. I wanted to read more about Richard Leakey; I was definitely more interested in his explanation for how all of this happened, and his theory of human nature than those other guys. But I had to admit Doris made a pretty good argument for that natural aggression theory.

The things he suggested about my mom being like that rattled me more than I admitted to him. But being Doris he probably saw it on my face anyway. I was still kicking it around in my head when I walked into the newsroom. The police scanners were squawking and somebody was laughing loudly back in the editing bays. As I walked by the assignment editor’s desk, she looked up and said hello and told me DeMarco wanted to see me as soon as I got in. I slid my bag into my cubicle and walked over to Fred’s doorway and knocked a couple of times on the open door.

“You want to see me, Fred?”

He looked up from the script he was checking and motioned to the now familiar chair in front of his desk. I sat down and waited while he continued reading and marking up the copy. When he finished he looked toward the doorway.

“Brown, get the fuck in here and take this script.”

Andy Brown had been waiting right outside the door and hustled in and took the script from DeMarco’s hand.
“Thanks, skipper. I’ll voice it and get busy editing.”

DeMarco always had something to add.
“You damn well better thank me, young man. Every mark I make on those pages makes that story even better. Think kindly of me when you win the Murrow.”

Andy disappeared out the door and DeMarco focused on me.

“Jed, did you hear we’re sending another thirty thousand troops into Afghanistan?”

“Sure, we had a brief story on it last night at eleven.”

DeMarco continued almost as though I hadn’t said anything.

“Yeh, another thirty thousand. Seems Bush left quite a mess there, as well as in Iraq. In fact, it sounds like this Taliban-Al Qaeda problem is pretty damn bad.”

I wasn’t sure why he was bringing this up, so I just waited for him to go on.

“Damned if it won’t mean more of our Maine soldiers get to put their asses on the line again in a place that’s not worth dying for.”
He rubbed his hand over his shiny head and looked hard at me.
“You know what I mean, Jed?”

“Gee, Fred, I guess I haven’t taken the liberty of expressing a personal opinion on any of this. I sure agree that our soldiers shouldn’t have to die for an unworthy cause.”

Fred slammed his fist down on the desk.
“Exactly, Jed. And the problem right now is we don’t fucking know if what they’re being sent to do in Afghanistan is a worthy cause or not, and people here in Maine have a right to know that, don’t you think?”

“Of course, Fred.”

“Good, I’m glad you see it that way because we’re gonna’ get them an answer. You know how?”

I have long respected Fred DeMarco as a truly dedicated, competent journalist, but for the life of me in that instant I didn’t have a clue what he had in mind. Then he told me.

“Jed, do you know how many American journalists are currently embedded with American troops in Afghanistan?”

“I don’t have any idea. How many?”

“I don’t know, either. I know there were seven or eight hundred embedded reporters when the Iraq War started and that’s pretty much dwindled to a few, even though that war is still dragging along. In any case, I’m pretty sure the number is going to go back up if we ship all those extra troops into Afghanistan. It’ll be the new new thing for a while, like Iraq was. And I predict a spike in interest among the folks here at home, especially if our reserve and regular Army units get picked for another go-round. And, media whore that I am, I want our station to own that story, so we need to send somebody in there to cover it.”

“Sounds good, Fred. Who are we gonna’ send?”

DeMarco looked at me and beamed. I couldn’t believe it.

“Wait a minute, Fred. You can’t think I’m the best guy for this. I mean, don’t most stations send their good looking, younger guys so they can do their Arthur Kent thing, and make young women and parents happy at the same time? I’m not a vet, why would you want to send me?”

“It’s simple, Jed. We need someone in there who can keep his bearings when the shit starts to fly and you find your life resting in the palm of some eighteen year old’s hands. A lot of the stuff I’ve seen from reporters embedded earlier in the game sounded like they drank the kool-aid, which is exactly what the military wanted when they proposed this whole in-bed with them idea. I want to see some reporting by a seasoned journalist who can tell us what’s really going on. If that ends up pissing off the Army honchos and they send you home, so be it. But until that happens, we’re gonna’ get the straight stuff from Jed Berman. Hell, you took a bullet for the folks at home when we were both working out in the Midwest. Surely you’re willing to take one for the people of the Pine Tree State now, when their sons and daughters are dying for their country.”

“Do I have any choice about this? Sounds like you’ve pretty much carved this in stone already.”

“No, you don’t have much choice. We’ve already made the initial contacts. If all goes well, you’ll be headed for reporter basic training in a couple of weeks.”

There was obviously no reason to argue with him. The die was cast. And once again the newsroom closet liberal was about to ship out to cover a war, only this time I’d actually be on the front lines, a place I really had no desire to go. But I had learned a long time ago in this business that if you want to keep your job, you have to do your job, and the company will tell you exactly what that is.

I called Jane and told her about it before the six o’clock show, but we didn’t have time to really talk until breakfast the next day. I expected her to protest loudly, but she didn’t. Instead, as she does about so many things that happen in our life, she tried to focus on the positives of covering combat.

“Think of it this way, Jed. You’re a mature, experienced person who’s been through a lot of stuff over the years. That time you got shot was pretty bad. And I remember how you felt when poor Robbie drove into the line of fire that day when you were at your old station. If I were you, I’d be scared out there, but I’m not sure you will be. You’re always a pretty together guy. That’s part of what makes you such a solid anchor man. I think those young soldiers driving the tanks and hummers and whatever might be glad to have you around, especially if they’re from Maine and they know you from TV.”

So, after all those years of thinking about the business of killing and the terrible suffering it’s brought to people all over the world, I went to war. And, no, in case it’s what you’re thinking, I didn’t bury the lead here. I thought you needed to know the rest of the story so you could understand what a jolt it was to have DeMarco make that decision. And there’d be no deflecting this time, no skating by hoping nobody would detect my lack of commitment to the cause. This time I’d be right there where the deed was being done. I thought about my mom and my dad. They probably would have been proud to see me go, since, in my dad’s view, I’d shirked my duty back in the day during Vietnam.

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