It's no surprise New York Times editorials reflexively defend President Obama, but the decision to refocus the blame on Bowe Bergdahl's fellow soldiers for his apparent desertion is pretty astonishing. And yet, here we have the Times is fretting about "The Rush to Demonize Sgt. Bergdahl":

And a classified military report shows that Sergeant Bergdahl had walked away from assigned areas at least twice before and had returned, according to a report in The Times on Thursday. It describes him as a free-spirited young man who asked many questions but gave no indication of being a deserter, let alone the turncoat that Mr. Obama’s opponents are now trying to create.

If anything, the report suggests that the army unit’s lack of security and discipline was as much to blame for the disappearance, given the sergeant’s history.

So to unpack this, the Times acknowledges Bergdahl walked away twice previously, but that he "gave no indication of being a deserter." Other reports indicate Bergdahl wanted to contact the Taliban, but this fact is ignored in favor of speculation that any suspect motives Bergdahl may have had are fictions "Mr. Obama’s opponents are now trying to create." Further, the fact he did walk away and get captured by the Taliban "suggests that the army unit’s lack of security and discipline was as much to blame for [Bergdahl's] disappearance, given the sergeant’s history." If Bergdahl "gave no indication of being a deserter," why would his unit be blamed for not keeping closer tabs on him?

Now the Times article summarizing the classified report about Bergdahl -- the article the editorial is basing its conclusions on -- actually says this about the report's conclusions: "It stops short of concluding that there is solid evidence that Sergeant Bergdahl intended to permanently desert." There is a huge semantic difference between stopping short of providing solid evidence he was a deserter and saying Bergdahl "gave no indication of being a deserter." The report being referenced was also written two months after Bergdahl's dissapearence. Certainly, new facts have come to light since then. This report, while an important piece of the puzzle, might present an incomplete picture.

It's entirely possible that the members of Bergdahl's unit did not follow every procedure they should have. But they were also in a war zone under serious duress. It's understandable the Army would dutifully note any slip-ups they may have made in this instance. But these same men also risked their lives to retrieve Bergdahl and any of their alleged failures buried in the official report are awfully insignificant compared to Bergdahl's own irresponsible behavior. The idea Bergdahl's fellow soldiers are "as much to blame" for his disappearence if Bergdahl walked off of his own accord is offensive.

In the end, the Times editorial page is mischaracterizing a short news article summarizing a 35 page classified report in order to question the motives of honorable soldiers. If this is what the Times editorial page has to do to defend Obama, they ought to rethink what they're doing.

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