Commentary: Servicemembers abroad perhaps best-suited to select commander in chief
October 17, 2008
CHIAfE+VRES, Belgium Aca,!" During this election cycle, servicemembers living abroad may be the most qualified to elect the next commander in chief Aca,!" not because they will serve and deploy under him, but because they may have been exposed to the most neutral media coverage in this contentious presidential election.
They are not harassed by biased telemarketers or presidential supporters going door-to-door. Their street corners and lawns aren't littered with campaign signs.
Protestors aren't spewing opinionated hate at people walking down the street. And vandals can't destroy party headquarters as Democrats and Republicans don't bother to set up shop here.
At the workplace, political conversations may include water cooler banter, but other than that, the regulations are clear. Servicemembers must follow Department of Defense Directive 1344.10 and civilian employees are restricted by Hatch Act Amendments (5 USC 7321-7326).
Perhaps most importantly, servicemembers living abroad are not exposed to negative campaign ads that flood the airwaves in the states. Ads that the New York Times calls "lies and vicious" and the Washington Post calls "nasty and excessive."
So what makes troops half a world away so qualified to select our country's next leader, if they're missing all the action' It's the balanced messages that they do see and hear.
In general, military homes overseas receive television from the Armed Forces Network, a DoD-run broadcast service that combines military command information, entertainment programming and local, national and international news.
AFN's commercial-free service includes 10 channels. Along with a sports, movie and family channel, one channel is devoted entirely to news. This is where the neutrality comes to play. It's not all FOX News, which some consider right wing, and it's not all CNN or MSNBC, which some say has a liberal bias.
Weekdays, on AFN News, the audience gets two hours of PBS news, five and a half hours of MSNBC/NBC news, six hours of CNN and eight hours of FOXNews. Primetime news is split with CNN getting the hours of 7-9 p.m. and FOXNews broadcasting from 9-11 p.m.
Along with news from the affiliate's live desks, the AFN News network broadcasts shows like Aca,!A"Countdown with Keith OlbermanAca,!A? (MSNBC), Aca,!A"The O'Reilly FactorAca,!A? (FNC), Aca,!A"Anderson Cooper 360Aca,!A? (CNN), Aca,!A"The Newshour with Jim LehrerAca,!A? (PBS) and 30 minutes of evening news from ABC, CBS and NBC.
The network also broadcasted each presidential debate live.
On AFN's other networks, entertainment shows vary, but all include the late night comedians Jay Leno and David Letterman, whose stand-ups are engulfed by political humor that pick on each candidate.
As for radio broadcasts, AFN has that covered, as well, offering both talk radio and music channels.
In Europe, scattered between talk shows about cars, parenting and sports, listeners receive one hour of conservative Rush Limbaugh, one hour of liberal Ed Shultz and four hours of NPR.
In the Pacific region, along with four hours of NPR, listeners get an hour from liberal hosts Schultz and Alan Colmes and an hour from conservative hosts Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.
For those who think the neutral balance of media limits a personAca,!a,,cs judgment, on the contrary, it broadens their perspectives.
When living in the States, our opinions and beliefs seldom shift because we don't want to hear the other side. We don't have to hear the other side. With hundreds of TV and radio channels to choose from, the voice of an annoying comedian or talk show host is enough to trigger a remote-frenzied reaction.
But on the other side of the world Aca,!" where we have the opportunity to look at our beloved country from an outsider's perspective Aca,!" we are exposed to positive coverage about both candidates. If Airmen, Marines, Sailors and Soldiers, with one point-of-view, hear something intriguing from a host with the opposite point-of-view, they have the power of the Internet at their fingertips to become their own investigative journalist and to seek the truth.
As a journalist, I look at any government-controlled media with a cautious eye, but AFN is uncensored and unbiased. Aside from the 30-second commercials that remind people about force protection and Army values, it's reminiscent of the good-old-days where we had to get up to change the channel Aca,!" but there were only four to choose from, so it didn't take long. The news was investigative, informative and accurate. It wasn't filled with people who just like to hear themselves talk.
While the non-military news on AFN is modern day and filled with talking heads, the less is more concept works to the servicemembers' advantage. It streamlines the important messages that ease the decision to elect the man that will control their professional futures and possibly their lives.
Now that we are equipped and ready with the balanced, informative news to make that decision, there is only one step left to take, VOTE. Absentee ballots are arriving, and the deadline to mail them back to the States is literally days away.
Don't let all this useful information and the freedoms of democracy that you fight so hard to give other countries go to waste.
For more information about AFN, visit myafn.dodmedia.osd.mil
For more information about voting overseas, visit www.fvap.gov