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February 23rd, 2014
12:29 PM ET

Undercovered: American POW Bowe Bergdahl

Video: CNN's Jake Tapper on the lack of media attention given to the captivity of Bowe Bergdahl, the American soldier being held by the Taliban.

Transcript:

Let me start with a name, Bowe Bergdahl. Have you ever heard of him before? I'm sure some of you have. His name came up in the news this week for the first time in a long time.

But many Americans I venture to say most haven't heard of this man. He's a prisoner of war, America's only prisoner of war.

So, why don't we hear more about him? He's 27 years old. He's from Idaho. He deployed to Afghanistan in May 2009. He was captured less than two months later.

Since then, he's been seen in a number of Taliban propaganda videos like this one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOWE BERGDAHL, AMERICAN PRISONER OF WAR: Every day, I want to go home. The pain in my heart to see my family again doesn't get any smaller. Get me - release me, please. I'm begging you.

Bring me home. Bring us all home. Back to our families.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Very hard to watch. There's a lot more to this story than often told. In many ways, it's a mystery.

My next guest, CNN chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper has been following this case for years. He's an author of a book on American heroism in Afghanistan titled "The Outpost."

Jake, thank you for being here.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: It was a segment on your show "THE LEAD" that got me thinking why we don't hear about Bowe Bergdahl more often. What do you think are the main reasons this POW doesn't gain more attention in the national media?

TAPPER: Well, it's a complicated story to begin with. Probably the main reason that stories of Americans being held captive either by foreign nations or groups like the Taliban, the main reason is because generally speaking, the U.S. government and the families often request that the media not cover it because the more you cover it, the more power you are theoretically giving to those holding the American prisoner or hostage.

Now, that's not always the case. Sometimes families ask the media to cover it because they feel the U.S. government isn't doing enough, but quite often, especially when negotiations are starting to heat up, the media is requested to not cover the story and quite often the media does that because obviously we're Americans, we're human beings, we want the person's end to captivity as well.

STELTER: In this case, it seems that there are maybe other reasons as well. Tell me if I'm wrong - but the muddied circumstances of this man's capture as outlined by Michael Hastings in "Rolling Stone" a couple years ago seemed like they're not a traditional kind of story you hear about a POW in any war.

He was disillusioned with the war. He apparently walked off the base. That led some people to call him a deserter. Do you think those are - because the story is muddied, is that one of the reasons why it doesn't get more attention?

TAPPER: Absolutely. Absolutely. The fact is, and you mentioned the late great Michael Hastings, and he got some emails that Bowe Bergdahl sent to his family, emails that suggested that he wasn't just disillusioned with the war, he had become - he had turned against the war. He didn't think the war was a good idea.

He left the base on his own. The American military does not refer to him as a POW. They refer to him as missing.

STELTER: That's an interesting detail, that they don't call him a POW. Maybe that's why the country doesn't realize there is a POW.

TAPPER: That's one of the reasons I would think, and the murky circumstances of why he left the base that night definitely makes the story different than other POW stories where a soldier on a mission is captured by the enemy. It's different.

That's not to say that he shouldn't be freed, that the U.S. government shouldn't be doing everything it can. But in terms of how much his cause has taken root among activists, I think that's one of the reasons why you haven't seen, outside of his family and some troops and veterans, a huge push.

I think some of those people who would normally be supporters, normally be calling for the U.S. government to be doing more, they are relatively quiet.

STELTER: Has it been hard to book members of the family, for example, have you tried to reach out for them for interviews? Have they stayed mostly quiet over the years?

TAPPER: The father pops up here and there. He - but generally is tough to book. He's difficult to book.

And I imagine the reason he is tough to book is because of what we mentioned at the top of the segment, which is just the idea that you don't want to do anything to jeopardize what might be going on if you empower his captors in any way, if they feel like oh, look, the American people are really paying a lot of attention to this, we can demand X, Y, and Z, not just three prisoners from Guantanamo, but 10 prisoners from Guantanamo. That could really scotch things and so that obviously complicates things.

We should also mention, Brian, that negotiating with terrorists, which is what the U.S. would have to do in order to negotiate for Bowe Bergdahl's release, that's something that the U.S. doesn't like to acknowledge that it does, because the fear is it will empower and encourage other terrorists to take Americans hostage.

STELTER: And the last thing the government wants is - if it is secretly negotiating, is any coverage of that. And we have seen headlines about that in the last few days.

Last question before we go, I wonder if one of the other reasons that - one of the overarching reasons for the lack of attention on a story like this is the lack of attention toward the war in general.

You just don't see that much coverage of the Afghan War on television or even in the newspapers these days.

TAPPER: Well, you and I have talked about this before. It's something that we try to fix on my show, "THE LEAD," as often as we can, talking about troops, talking about veterans.

But look, the sad fact is that the American people are very weary of war. We have been involved in a war since 2001. It's now 2014. And a lot of these stories are sad stories and the American people have grown weary of them.

That doesn't mean that we in the media don't have an obligation to try to tell them as much as possible, especially in terms of what Americans can do. The most recent story we did about veterans had to do with a new program having to do with service dogs helping out wounded veterans.

But it does make the task more difficult because obviously you want to be telling stories that help you sell newspapers, attract viewers, and right now the American people - and obviously I think this is not a good thing, the American people have largely tuned this war out.

STELTER: And there are excellent sources for the kind of information you're describing, it just is kind of hard to find sometimes because people have tuned it out.

Well, Jake Tapper, thank you for joining me on this.

TAPPER: Thank you, Brian.


Filed under: Afghanistan • Blog • Reliable Sources • Undercovered
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