They Report, We Decide: Haditha vs. 'American Idol'

I am hooked on American Idol.  I admit.  They got me.

I’m worse than the most ill-informed, outspoken audience member of you name the trash TV show — Springer, Maury, Montel.  

I TIVO it.  I vote.  I give advice to the contestants out loud as I’m watching.  Nothing can deter me — not Randy Jackson’s weak hip-hop lingo, not Paula Abdul’s unnerving platitudes or psychosis-of-the-week.  

So as I was impersonating a potted plant all weekend watching the NCAA tournament, I was eagerly anticipating 60 Minutes on Sunday evening to see Anderson Cooper’s interview of Simon Cowell.

The Cowell interview was teased in every commercial for 60 Minutes that appeared over the weekend — and there were many.  

Yet, when I tuned in to watch I was stunned.

The first segment, one that was not teased on spots for the show, was 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley sitting down to interview Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich.

Sgt. Wuterich was the unit leader on November 19, 2005, in Haditha, Iraq,  where U.S. Marines reportedly killed 24 apparently innocent civilians.

The 25-year-old Wuterich has been charged with 18 counts of murder and faces a court martial later this year.  Three other Marines in Haditha on that fateful day have also been charged with murder.

The interview of Sgt. Wuterich was as compelling as it is unusual, considering what Wuterich said on national television could later be used against him.

If convicted, Wuterich would go done as one of our nation’s worst war criminals.

In political circles, Sgt. Wuterich and his men have already been convicted by political opponents of the War on Terror, like Pennsylvania’s Prince of Pork, Democrat Rep. Jack Murtha.

Frankly, I, too, was a skeptic of their innocence before hearing from Sgt. Wuterich.

Despite the political-media establishment complex having already passed judgment and notwithstanding Scott Pelley’s melodramatic muckracking during the interview, I came away very much uncertain about the Marines’ legal culpability for what happened in Haditha after hearing from Sgt. Wuterich.

I also came away terribly disconcerted by the commentary about America implicit in CBS’s decision to tease the Cowell interview as opposed to the one featuring Sgt. Wuterich.

I don’t fault CBS necessarily.  It’s a business decision.  Forty million people watch Idol every week.   How many people care about what happens to four Marines charged with killing 24 civilians in cold blood?

It is for a military tribunal to determine the guilt or innocence of Sgt. Wuterich and the other Marines.  

However, the sad reality is that we, as a nation, pay more attention to probate disputes and paternity tests surrounding vapid celebrities done in by their own excesses than we do to the inevitable and nonetheless sobering moral dilemmas faced by our young soldiers who come from a place of self-sacrifice.

We are at war with enemies of freedom intent on killing Americans and destroying the fragile idea that is America.  We pay lip service to those on the front lines of the War on Terror but we are embarrassingly deficient with the necessary follow-up.  

Whether it’s the conditions at Walter Reed or the indifference to the fate of men charged with making horribly wrong decisions under conditions we cannot begin to fathom, we are not holding up our end of the social compact this nation has with our armed forces.

They have pledged to live by a code — honor, duty, country — to protect our individual, God-given rights.

And so we owe a duty.  

Every single American owes a duty to our men and women in uniform to be vigilant, to stay informed, and to have their backs — not just while they are on the frontlines but also when the return home to resume their lives.

You can read an account of Sgt. Wuterich’s interview by logging on to