April 5, 2004
An Open Letter to Dan Rather and CBS NewsBy Douglas Hanson
Dear Mr. Rather:
I was stunned when I read some of the language concerning civilian contractors who risk death in Iraq, which you reportedly used in a segment on your CBS Evening News March 31st. Like many other Americans, I stopped watching your broadcast some time ago, so I am relying on published reports of what you said, after reporting the murder and desecration of the bodies of four American civilian contractors in Fallujah.
If these are reports are accurate, Mr. Rather, I demand an apology on behalf of myself, the many other patriotic Americans who are working, or have worked as civilian contractors in Iraq and other danger zones, and especially on behalf of those contractors who have, as you put it, paid 'the ultimate price.'
You reportedly said, 'What drives American civilians to risk death in Iraq? In this economy, it may be, for some, the only job they can find,' while the screen displayed the heading 'Risking Death' over a video of people standing in a job application line.
The so—called news segment which followed painted contractors in Iraq as perennial losers who are so desperate that they would 'risk anything for a decent paycheck,' as your colleague Bob McNamara put it. You, Managing Editor Dan Rather, have slandered all Americans who voluntarily contribute their skills to dangerous missions around the world, be they in or out of uniform.
I'll leave the facts and figures of the true employment picture in the US to others. They have already debunked your theories about risk—taking and unemployment. I will simply state that the true nature of these contractors puts them head and shoulders over news anchors.
Mr. Rather, these men and women are all volunteers who have a strong desire to contribute their professional skills, learned over many years, to a noble mission of liberating people from tyranny, and securing a future of freedom and democracy, while protecting America from terrorism.
For example, there is Scott Helvenston, a former Navy SEAL, who was among the four security guard contractors killed in Fallujah. After service in his elite branch of the Navy, Scott started a career as a fitness instructor. Once again, he rose to the pinnacle of his profession, as a trainer to Hollywood stars, and also as a stunt man. He personally trained Demi Moore for her role in the film G.I. Jane. Many critics were astonished at the extent to which she was able to develop her physique, under the training regimen Scott developed for her. I would hardly call him 'desperate.'
Or, take the case of Mr. Art Linderman, the supply truck driver noted in your news segment. I never worked with him, but I have known other heavy equipment operators, skilled and experienced professionals, who could have at any time worked in the United States, who nevertheless made the decision to go and drive relief trucks in Somalia. They knew the risks. Some of the men I knew were beaten severely while in theatre in Somalia. But their sense of mission and purpose never faltered.
I have personally worked with upper level managers of substantial civilian companies, who took unpaid leaves of absence in order to help train soldiers prior to deployment overseas. They were not desperate, Mr. Rather. Some took substantial cuts in pay. They did this out of patriotism.
I have had the honor of meeting civilian contractors who virtually rode the coattails of the first US combat brigade into Bosnia. Their mission was to establish and run the logistics operation at the abandoned Yugoslav airbase at Tuzla. Initially sleeping under the stars, just as the soldiers did, these professionals helped set up the vital air link to Europe for NATO forces. If they had failed, supplies and personnel would have had to come entirely over a treacherous land route all the way from Hungary.
By the way, these people at Tuzla Airbase worked for Kellogg, Brown and Root, which is now a subsidiary of the dreaded Halliburton, a favorite object of scorn for many media figures, whose number one workplace hazard is a paper cut.
I could go on about the myriad tasks civilian contractors do in support of the US and our military, both Stateside and overseas. But the point is that this has historically been a critical capability in our national security equation, and these people will continue to play a vital role in the War on Terror, and in the dozens of other forward operations going on around the world.
People hire on with these companies for many reasons, including money, just as people weigh their decision to volunteer for the Armed Forces. Whatever the motivations and circumstances which enter into each personal decision, in the end, they all go out to hazardous locations to do their best for our country.
Mr. Rather, I am afraid that what you seem to do best is spin the truth for political ends. This is your right. But it is not right with me when you dishonor some of America's best. You owe us all an apology.
It is quite apparent that you are the desperate one, not my civilian compatriots.