The Hulk-like growth of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's release into a political attack against the White House has dominated the news this week, and has largely been fueled by rampant, one-sided speculation about Bergdahl's capture, combined with the false narrative that the White House's handling of the release amounts to praise for Bergdahl's service. This morning, National Security Advisor Susan Rice (pictured here being interviewed by a Godzilla-sized CNN reporter) addressed a key linchpin in that narrative, her remark that Bergdahl served "with honor and distinction."
Aside from that single out-of-context phrase, the White House has been studious in its avoidance of praise for Bergdahl's service, and in its open acknowledgement of the issues surrounding it. Bergdahl is being tried in absentia for desertion, and possibly treason, by the media and his former platoon-mates, while the government has to wait around for that pain-in-the-ass "due process" thing.
On Sunday's This Week, Rice inartfully provided critics with the flimsy nucleus of their attack by saying that Bergdahl "served with honor and distinction," but in context, it was clear she was referring to the period prior to his disappearance:
The White House continued to distance itself from that remark, and on Friday morning, CNN's Jim Acosta asked Rice about the remark in an exclusive interview. Rice patiently explained what was already obvious.
"Jim, I realize there's been a lot of discussion and controversy around this. But what I was referring to is the fact that this was a young man who volunteered to serve his country in uniform at a time of war. That is itself a very honorable thing," Rice said.
"With honor and distinction?" Acosta interrupted.
"Jim, really, I mean, this is a young man whose circumstances we are still going to learn about," Rice continued, stating more obvious things. "He is, as all Americans, innocent until proven guilty. He's now being tried in the court of public opinion after having gone through enormously traumatic five years of captivity."
She reiterated that "this is a young man who volunteered to serve his country; he was taken as a prisoner of war. He suffered in captivity. He's now trying to begin the process of recovery. Let's let that happen. And then let's know the facts, including his side of the story. And then we can make a judgment."
Later in the interview, Rice also pointed out that "In the case of Bowe Bergdahl, for me to condemn him without any opportunity for him to have the chance to tell his side of the story without any due process that we accord any American, that would be inherently unfair."
Rice isn't completely off the hook for her word choice, because while volunteering to serve is honorable, it isn't distinct from anyone else who volunteers to serve. Whether his time in captivity qualifies is another matter. It was obvious what Rice meant, but she appears to have been tripped up by boilerplate.
Rice's response to Acosta, along with Obama's posture of standing by the release while reserving judgment on Bergdahl's capture, is a strong signal that the administration has no plans to shrink from the political fight that conservatives are carrying to them. Once all the dust has settled, and the facts are known, the mainstream media will have a lot of explaining to do if they fail to meet the bar their speculation has set, while the administration will have been right all along: Bowe Bergdahl deserves "due process," as CNN calls it.