Florida Today on missing Bibles at the Missing Man Table

McCarthyism is alive and doing quite well in America, a scan of this week's newspapers reveals. The mob mentality that promotes intolerance in the name of diversity has claimed the scalp of Mozilla CEO Brendon Eich and dominated the front pages of newspapers and the chat shows, but it has been the little things -- the small local events and actions that condemn free speech, free thought and freedom of religion -- I find so frightening.

An item in one of my local newspapers, Florida Today (part of the Gannett chain), illustrates the collapse of discourse in our culture -- and the truly rotten state of affairs within the top ranks of our military.

The newspaper reported that the Missing Man Table in one of the dining facilities at Patrick Air Force Base had been removed after someone complained about the presence of a Bible.

The author enters into the story through the reaction of a dismayed veteran, angered over the disappearance of the table:

When Michael Tater did not see the POW/MIA Missing Man Table at the Riverside Dining Facility at Patrick Air Force Base, his reaction was of disbelief. Missing Man Tables — fully set tables left vacant for military members who didn’t return from combat — are commonplace at military and veterans organizations. One had been a fixture at Riverside. But a dispute over including a Bible as part of the display led to its removal from the dining hall.

Done right, a lede sentence that frames the issue according to the views of the man in the street makes for an interesting feature story. But care needs to be taken that the man in the street view is not being used by the author as a cloak for his own views. This is where balance and context comes into play. We hear side A, but also need to hear side B. And the two need to be placed in context.

This article is almost there -- but not quite.

The story continues with a response from the base commander. Was the name withheld by the author or was the press release signed base commander? A name is necessary -- especially in light of what follows.

But commanders at the base have rethought that decision. They said Friday that the table would again be displayed at Riverside, but they did not specify a time for the reintroduction of the table or what items will or will not be included on it.

“The 45th Space Wing deeply desires to honor America’s Prisoners of War (POW) and Missing in Action (MIA) personnel,” commanders said in a written statement. “Unfortunately, the Bible’s presence or absence on the table at the Riverside Dining Facility ignited controversy and division, distracting from the table’s primary purpose of honoring POWs/MIAs. Consequently, we temporarily replaced the table with the POW/MIA flag in an effort to show our continued support of these heroes while seeking an acceptable solution to the controversy.”

“After consultation with several relevant organizations, we now intend to re-introduce the POW/MIA table in a manner inclusive of all POWs/MIAs as well as Americans everywhere.” the statement said.

The remainder of the article gives voice to local reactions to the news that the Missing Man Table is being returned. But should not there be a bit more context? What do the regulations say on this point? Did the base commander act according to the rules, or did he violate them? The blog Christianfighterpilot.com notes that in taking down the Missing Man Table due to the complaint over the presence of the bible, the base commander contradicted the military's regulations governing such displays.

The official Department of Defense ceremony for the Missing Man Table states in part:

The single red rose, displayed in a vase, reminds us of the life of each of the missing, and the[ir] loved ones and friends of these Americans who keep the faith, awaiting answers.

The vase is tied with a red ribbon, symbol of our continued determination to account for our missing.

A slice of lemon on the bread plate is to remind us of the bitter fate of those captured and missing in a foreign land.

A pinch of salt symbolizes the tears endured by those missing and their families who seek answers.

The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God.

The glass is inverted -- to symbolize their inability to share this evening's [morning's/day's] toast.

The chairs are empty -- they are missing.

Let us now raise our water glasses in a toast to honor America's POW/MIAs and to the success of our efforts to account for them.

According to the DoD regulations a Bible is one of the symbols placed on the Missing Man Table -- it is explicitly permitted. Yet the Patrick Air Force Base commander went beyond the regulations to censor the display.

From a journalism perspective, this story fell short. While it did a good job in offering local color, it missed the real story -- the base commander's censoring the display. We have the who, what, where, when -- but Florida Today failed to ask why. Why did the base commander make a decision that appears -- to this layman -- to contradict the DoD regulations governing the Missing Man Table ceremony?

As the ChristianFighterPilot blog notes, it is within the base commander's discretion not to have a Missing Man Table, but:

Choosing to censor a display, rather than defend the virtues of what the DoD has said it represents, could contribute to the perception the military is so afraid of religion or associations with Christianity that it will bend over backwards to scrub public displays of religion from within its ranks.

In an essay on Charles Dickens, George Orwell wrote that in the novelist he saw the “face of a man who is always fighting against something … the face of a man who is generously angry — in other words, of a nineteenth-century liberal, a free intelligence, a type hated with equal hatred by all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls.”

Should the press not do battle with the smelly little orthodoxies that beset our culture today? The cant, political correctness, moral cowardice and mendacity that is choking this country?  Florida Today was most likely unaware of the deeper issues at play, offering up a pleasant puff piece of a local news story. Yet, they had in their hands the ingredients for something much better -- a story that if properly investigated and thought through would bring the far off stories about Brenden Eich and political correctness home to the people of Melbourne, Fla.

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