CBS news program 60 Minutes is facing criticism and calls for boycott for a piece the program aired profiling alleged war criminal Eddie Gallagher, whose punishment after posing for a “trophy photo” with a dead teenage ISIS fighter was reversed by President Donald Trump.
The program featured 60 Minutes correspondent David Martin interviewing Mr Gallagher – a Navy SEAL who was tried for war crimes – at his home in Florida, conducting interviews and questioning him about his life since his war crimes trial. Mr Martin doesn’t shy away from asking Mr Gallagher about his involvement in the death of a wounded, sedated teenage ISIS fighter who he was accused of stabbing in the neck while he was deployed in Iraq.
Mr Gallagher was ultimately acquitted of the war crime charges that could have sent him to prison for life, but was found guilty of “bringing disorder or discredit to the armed forces” for posing and distributing a photo of himself posing with the corpse of a teenager ISIS fighter while holding a knife near the teenager’s throat. Mr Gallagher – who was a trained medic – was accused of stabbing the teenager in the throat by another member of his unit.
Though Mr Martin does ask some uncomfortable questions to Mr Gallagher regarding his role in the teenager’s death and his overall glorification of brutal violence, the 60 Minutes piece has garnered criticism online as an attempt – intentionally or not – to normalize someone guilty of posing with the slain corpse of a teenager.
Bishop Garrison, of activist organization Human Rights First, called on 60 Minutes to offer an explanation for why the segment happened.
“@60Minutes should consider some type of update, retraction, or at very least, an explanation on how this segment actually happened. Normalizing a war criminal is bad enough, but not engaging in basic research is something else,” he wrote on Twitter.
.@60Minutes should consider some type of update, retraction, or, at the very least, an explanation on how this segment actually happened. Normalizing a war criminal is bad enough, but not engaging in basic research is something else. #Gallagher https://t.co/lZVdxfhlVK
— Bishop Garrison (@BishopGarrison)
Rowaida Abdelaziz, a national reporter at Huffington Post, referenced the war crimes that Mr Gallagher was accused of, namely shooting a school-aged girl walking with her friends and murdering an unarmed elderly man.
Stabbed a teenage captive to death. Shot & killed a school girl walking with friends and an elderly man. Indiscriminately shot up neighborhoods with rockets & machine-gun fire. Boasted about the number of people he had killed, including women. But sure, let’s give him the airtime https://t.co/PWBbEeJU29
— Rowaida Abdelaziz (@Rowaida_Abdel)
Jamil Smith, a writer at Rolling Stone, called the piece “journalistic malpractice” and said giving Mr Gallagher the platform was “unconscionable.”
The @60Minutes profile of former Navy SEAL and convicted war criminal Eddie Gallagher was journalistic malpractice. It reminded us again whose lives so often matter most in the editorial judgment of the majority-white corporate press. Giving him that platform was unconscionable.
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith)
Broadcast journalist Soledad O’Brien, who formerly worked on CBS’s morning news program Starting Point, also shared her disappointment with the piece.
“I think you mean convicted war criminal. Argh – come on guys. What is wrong with you,” she wrote on Twitter.
I think you mean convicted war criminal. Argh—come on guys. What is wrong with you? https://t.co/MhRQp9uMk2
— Soledad O’Brien (@soledadobrien)
During the interview, Mr Gallagher shows little remorse for posing with the photos and distributing them to his friends. He said they were never supposed to be seen by the public and were “distasteful.” Mr Martin says the photo looks like “a trophy photo if I ever saw one.”
“Yeah, that’s what it was taken as,” Mr Gallager said. “I know how bad it looks when it gets out in the public, which it was never supposed to.”
He said that it wasn’t the first time that a unit had taken a trophy photo with a slain combatant, and complains he was the first to go to court-martial for “taking a picture.”
“I’m pretty sure I’m the first person ever to go to a general court-martial for it, for taking a picture. It’s been done in previous deployments,” he said during the interview.
The knife that Mr Gallagher had been accused of stabbing the ISIS fighter with was resting amongst his other awards and memorabilia on his “glory wall” in his gym. Mr Gallagher is seen holding the knife in the photo. When he texted a friend the photo, he included the message “Good story behind this, got him with my hunting knife.”
When asked about the text, Mr Gallagher told Mr Martins “it was a joke text.”
In a piece for The New Republic, Adam Weinstein argues that the 60 Minutes piece fails because it doesn’t make Mr Gallagher confront why his teammates hated him and turned him in. Mr Weinstein points out that Mr Gallagher’s teammates accused him of firing “a machine gun indiscriminately into neighborhoods” and of sniping civilians to the point that the team tampered with his guns’ sights to throw off his aim.
“Little of that is discussed in the 60 Miniutes segment, which deals only cursorily with Trump’s extension of clemency to Gallagher and Gallagher’s subsequent campaign support for Trump’s reelection.”