Rushing to Judgment With the Crowd

In 2009, Bowe Begdahl walked away from his camp in Afghanistan. In June, 2014, after being held by the Taliban-friendly Haqqani network, he was released.

I am not discussing the trade for Bergdahl, I am discussing what happened next. “News” outlets began to give their opinions as fact. He deserted, said one outlet. He was a loner, said another news outlet, quoting a platoon member who said that Bergdahl did not drink beer or eat barbeque at parties, and then drew the conclusion that he may well be a traitor

Image from

Image from

The first time I heard this, I laughed. In three leaps from non-beer-drinking to loner to traitor? But the more I listened the less likely any of this seemed.

On Yahoo, in the newspaper, on TV–everyone was spouting their opinion as fact. “He’s a traitor.”

“He’s one of those loners who deserts his brothers and sisters in arms.”

Not one of those news sources had spoken to Bergdahl. A few had spoken to members of his platoon–but none of them were in captivity with Bergdahl

Word of Mouth from

Word of Mouth from

and none of them knew why he left. Almost everyone had an opinion. I tracked down the source of one and it was the PR department of a political party poll.  Under no circumstance that I can think of does a PR department qualify as a news source. None of us knows what was in Bergdahl’s mind. None of us knows why he left his base, or what happened to him in captivity. Bowe Berdahl knows, and maybe the people who are treating him for physical and psychological wounds. He was a prisoner of war, that’s all we know.

I am confounded how anyone can draw any more  of a conclusions than that. As a parent myself, I ache for his parents. The support vanished, not because of facts, but through opinions, many unfounded and the lightning fast communication of juicy gossip through social media.  Many more rumors started not because of facts, but because the rumor mongers don’t like the President or his actions. Which Bergdahl was not in control over.

And many more people used code words like “loner,” “different,” and “not a team player” to vilify him. Other loners? Syd Barret, founder of Pink Floyd. Barry Bonds, who hit 762 home runs, more than anyone else ever, was a loner. Piet Mondrian, Rachel Carson, Isaac Newton, Beatrix Potter. All loners. All brilliant at their creative path. None dangerous.

Bowe Bergdahl’s story will come out. Until then, let’s remember he is innocent.

—Quinn McDonald wonders what people have against loners. She is one herself.




33 thoughts on “Rushing to Judgment With the Crowd

  1. Thank you, Quinn. You so elegantly stated my same thoughts. I is so sad that everything seems to have a political undertone that we have to sort through. It is no longer popular to be proud of our nation and rescuing a POW. How disappointing!

    • I haven’t watched TV since the first time Donald Trump bellowed “you’re fired!” I watch occasional shows, but no more local news. How sad that I had to make that decision.

  2. Alarming headlines sell stories, it’s been that way forever. We have to take everything with a grain of salt and do our own research, sit back and wait for all the facts to come out. Both sides of the political aisle and all news organizations are guilty. Period. People try to find explanations for why someone did something but sometimes we will never find those answers. When we don’t have those answers, we make stuff up like, “He’s a loner or a traitor” (we includes people in general, not anyone specific).

  3. This story has crystallized my thinking about journalism today. I am appalled that anyone would threaten parents of a prisoner of war. What will happen when Bowe Bergdahl does return to the US? The whole family is now changed forever with the heated nastiness coursing through discourse today.

    Real journalism: stating known facts that have been sourced without the slant of personal opinion is almost totally missing today. One can easily tune in only to those who spout the same political slant to every event that occurs, listen only to a playlist instead of possibly being introduced to new and different types of music, read only those with similar opinions; it is much harder to find a place to hear/read “just the fact, ma’am”. We are increasingly separating into larger and more dangerous cliques that echo junior high and high school. Bullying is never all right. It feels like the adults are leaving everything up to the loud unthinking mean kids. I worry about our future.

  4. Thank you for this post, Quinn. Each day my feelings of disbelief in the spread of “stories” taking over the simple fact that a prisoner of war is coming home – the military has experience in managing details and investigations from many wars of prisoners returning – the talk getting louder and more bullying. Your “story” is a clearly written piece that informs clearly how the bullying process expands and explodes and attempts to destroy. This accepted form of communication that explodes stories with no basis in truth brings sadness to me. Again, my thanks and appreciation for the post.

  5. It’s really a shame that when this is all over there will be no consequences for the perpe”traitors”. They are spreading rumors about something of which they know nothing. This should be an opportunity to celebrate until such time as there is a reason not to. Unfortunately there is no news like bad news to sell, sell, sell, sell…and selling out a countryman is a bad way to do it, no matter what the political motivation.

  6. I’d like to expand on Pete’s comment a bit. Maybe stating the obvious, but now that the “crowd” is social media enabled it has grown in size and volume. The hate-screamers yelling “Burn the witch” cannot be silenced by reasonable voices at the same location, or by calm, rational people taking a stand and saying, “Let’s not do anything hasty here.” This does seem to be a case of worst news opinion forward, full speed ahead. The media does love to stir the pot and sell air time and newspapers. Apologies from the media for ruining someone’s life are rare and never as loud as the volume of the inciting reports.

  7. Thank you so much for your inspiring, encouraging blog post! I cried at your words that needed to be said and I needed to hear. god have mercy on their souls…

  8. Amen!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m a loner too (and to compound the sin, by the way, I deal with mental illness). I do believe that the reason why there is so much negative press about this is because of the Obama haters. Sure, the whole thing could have been handled differently – BUT the most important thing is that we didn’t leave the guy behind. No one knows how they would react to captivity or torture or whatever – I’m just glad the guy is alive and home. He’s got a long difficult journey ahead of him – let’s not make it harder

  9. In a crowd, many (maybe most) people join in. They echo the chant, they spout the slogans. An unexpected side effect of expanding media into so many kinds of channels and such ubiquity seems to be that people feel and act as if they’re in a crowd all the time and they do that “bypassing thinking” thing that happens in crowds.

    I think there’s a good deal more to it than just thoughtlessly mimicking slogans.

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