Aide to General Washington (avoiding eye contact with his superior): “Sir, I have a gentleman outside your tent we caught snooping around and listening in on the meetings with your officers.”
General Washington (stops writing in his journal and puts his quill down – all he’s been able to write is “Lord Cornwallis is a tool.”) “Why has he been listening in on our meetings? Is he a spy?”
Aide (clearly not enjoying this task, he blows out a deep breath and continues to avoid eye contact): “No, worse. He says he’s a member of the press and insists that he’s exercising one of the rights – Freedom of the Press to be specific – for which this war is being fought.”
Washington (giving his aide that Are you completely bonkers? look – aide simply closes his eyes and makes an almost imperceptible shake of the head): “I’m a fairly intelligent man – at least my mother thinks so – but I’m having trouble understanding why this chap feels it necessary to listen in on my strategic planning meetings with my officers the night before one of the most important events of this war. Throw me a bone here, man.”
Aide (throwing back a look of Don’t shoot the messenger and looking up at the ceiling, hands behind his back, clearing his throat): “Sir, he claims that his readers have a right to know what’s going on at the front and that this right supersedes the safety and security of our men who are fighting this war.” (Aide holds up both hands, palms outward, in an it sounds even dumber hearing myself say it manner and rolls his eyes.)
Washington (looking at his aide with a sideways glance): “Are you absolutely sure he’s not a British spy sent here to kill us with laughter? They’re famous for their dry wit, you know, but this is absolutely ridiculous.” (Washington notices a very pained look on his aide’s face and turns to look him straight in the eye.) “What? You’re serious? Is there something more?”
Aide (hands behind his back again, staring up into the corner of the tent just over Washington’s shoulder): “Um, well, yes, there is one other teeny tiny thing. He’s insisting on being embedded in one of the front-line infantry units tomorrow morning and wants your personal assurance on his safety.” (Aide casts his eyes immediately to the floor and shuffles his feet.)
Washington (laughing hysterically and trying to keep himself from wetting his pants, he’s amazed his aide is able to keep a straight face – this is one phenomenal joke, perfectly delivered!): “Wait. You’re not kidding are you?” (He regains his composure, tugs at the hem of his coat and smooths down his lapels.) “Right. Take the bugger and his rights (Washington makes air quotes with his fingers) out back and give him the Thomas Paine treatment – beat some common sense into him. If that doesn’t work, dress him up as a woman and set him free in the British camp – most of those men haven’t seen their wives or girlfriends for months, and it’s cold. He’ll quickly learn the meaning of being embedded in an infantry unit!”
Fast forward to today: if someone in Washington’s position making a similar suggestion were overheard by the wrong person or videotaped and played on YouTube, the madding crowd would be clamoring for his resignation, his evisceration, and/or his castration. I can’t pinpoint where in the ensuing centuries we, the American People, decided to fill our collective wheel barrow with stupid bricks and get everything turned around, but it’s obviously happened!
I was watching the morning news recently when the talking head read a story about the liberation of a member of the press who had been taken hostage in the Middle East. The newscaster – one of the hostage’s kindred spirits – blithely announced the happy news that the man was now free but then quickly breezed through the part of the story that a British commando was killed in the operation. Warning: I’m going to capitalize this next part so you can clearly hear me. A MAN WHO HAS BEEN PAINSTAKINGLY TRAINED TO DEFEND HIS COUNTRYMEN AND WOMEN AND TO BRING HOME HIS FALLEN COMRADES UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES WAS KILLED SO A MEMBER OF THE PRESS – SOMEONE WHO WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF HELL VOLUNTARILY, SOMEONE WHO WAS BRINGING ABSOLUTELY NO END TO THE CONFLICT OR PEACE TO THE REGION – COULD COME HOME IN THE PASSENGER CABIN OF AN AIRCRAFT WHILE THE DEFENDER CAN COME HOME IN A BODY BAG. That’s A LOT of stupid bricks for the wheel barrow, kids!