NBC First to Praise Medal of Honor Recipient Lt. Michael Murphy

The NBC Nightly News on Tuesday night became the first broadcast network evening newscast to highlight the first Medal of Honor award since Vietnam for a member of the Navy, announced last week, to Lieutenant Michael Murphy, a SEAL killed in combat in Afghanistan in June of 2005. “His story is already the stuff of legend,” anchor Brian Williams related before Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski recounted Murphy's heroism: How during a battle with Taliban fighters “Murphy stepped out into the line of fire to make a satellite call for help.” A survivor recalled that Murphy “took two rounds to the back and dropped down on that rock and sat back up, picked the phone back up and started talking again.” Standing by a memorial in Brookhaven, New York, Miklaszewski explained that in addition to the memorial, “they've named a park and post office after him. Monuments not only to what he did as a Navy SEAL, but to who he was as a man.”

Miklaszewski got out of the way and allowed his story to end with two moving tributes from Murphy's parents. Maureen, his mother, revealed: “I miss him. I'm glad that he got the medal because other people will know what a great guy that he was.” Dan, Michael's father, got the last word, a desire for appreciation: “While I'm crying inside and my heart's breaking, my chest is puffed out and I'm saying, my son, this is what he did and I hope the country appreciates it and realizes it.” To that, Williams certainly spoke for many viewers: “Here, here.”

Navy Times reported that President Bush “will present the Medal of Honor to Murphy’s parents, Daniel and Maureen, and his brother, John, on Oct. 22 at a 2:30 p.m. ceremony in the White House.”

That certainly should generate more media coverage for the American hero. A 2006 MRC study, “Touting Military Misdeeds, Hiding Heroes,” determined that the ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening shows gave little attention since 9/11 to those who have earned the military's highest honors -- the Air Force Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross and Medal of Honor -- but the one Medal of Honor winner, the late Army Sergeant Paul Smith, got the most attention.

An excerpt from the June 12, 2006 Media Reality Check report by the MRC's Rich Noyes:
....Since the war on terror began, the military has awarded top medals to 20 individuals, four of whom died on the battlefield in either Afghanistan or Iraq. The highest award, the Medal of Honor, was given to the family of Army Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith, who lost his life while protecting more than 100 fellow soldiers during the battle for Baghdad's airport in April 2003. Nineteen servicemen received the second highest honors, all for "extraordinary heroism" in combat. The list includes two fallen members of the Air Force who were awarded the Air Force Cross; three soldiers who merited the Distinguished Service Cross; and three sailors and 11 Marines who received the Navy Cross, one posthumously.

Most of these men have never been recognized by ABC, CBS or NBC. None have been given more than a fraction of the attention that the latest allegations against the military have received. And while the networks have told of acts of heroism by others in the military — with Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester of the Kentucky National Guard getting the most coverage among those honored with a Silver Star — none of those other positive stories have interested the networks as much as news of possible military misconduct.

CBS presented more than twice as much coverage (28½ minutes) of these 20 heroes as either ABC or NBC (each at about 11 minutes, 45 seconds). The CBS Evening News has since 2004 regularly spotlighted short biographical features of "Fallen Heroes" and, later, "American Heroes." And only the CBS Evening News noted when Vice President Cheney gave the Distinguished Service Cross to Army Special Forces Master Sergeant Donald Hollenbaugh on June 10, 2005, although they did not recount the story of how Hollenbaugh saved the group of Marines he was with when they were overrun in Fallujah in April 2004.

The most heavily-covered hero was Medal of Honor winner Paul Smith, who received 41 minutes of coverage during a 24-month period, 79 percent of the heroes' total. CBS's Jim Axelrod had Smith's story on April 9, 2003, just five days after he was killed in action. ABC's Bill Blakemore featured Smith on World News Tonight two weeks later. Blakemore ran a soundbite from First Sergeant Tim Campbell: "He's the epitome of what I look for in a soldier. He was, a good man. When you think in terms of how many soldiers he saved, and he died doing it, it's just phenomenal to me." All three networks offered full reports on their morning and evening news shows when President Bush presented the Medal of Honor to Smith's widow and two children on April 4, 2005, the second anniversary of his death.

ABC, CBS and NBC have yet to mention the heroism of Marine Captain Brian Chontosh, who led his men out of an ambush during the drive to Baghdad in March 2003. "I never wanted a medal. I just wanted to save my Marines," Chontosh told the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle in 2004. Nor have they reported on Marine Sergeant Scott Montoya, who ran into a hail of gunfire to save five wounded Marines. Later, Montoya told the Orange County Register that all he could think of was the Bible verse: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

These stories aren't military secrets. Nearly every surviving medal recipient has told their story publicly, and many are recounted in Home of the Brave, the last book by former Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger, just published. There's no question the media must not hide bad news from the public. But can't they balance the portrait with true stories of America's newest heroes?
List of those who, as of early 2006, had earned the highest military honors.

For much more on Murphy, check the the October 15 Navy Times story, “First Navy MoH since Vietnam to go to SEAL.”

Or, the October 12 Newsday article, “Slain Patchogue SEAL receives highest honor.” An excerpt from that story by Martin C. Evans:
WASHINGTON. Two years after his death in Afghanistan, Lt. Michael P. Murphy, who grew up in Patchogue and joined the elite Navy SEALs after college, has been awarded the nation's highest battlefield award, the Medal of Honor, for a valiant attempt to save the lives of comrades that cost him his own.

"This tells the country what we already know about Michael -- that he was a hero," his father, Daniel Murphy, said after receiving the news Thursday that the White House had made the announcement of the award shortly after noon Thursday.

The president will present the medal -- a star-shaped bronze emblem suspended from a sky-blue ribbon -- to Murphy's family on Oct. 22 at a ceremony in the White House's historic Blue Room.

Murphy, 29 at the time of his death, becomes the first Medal of Honor winner for combat service in Afghanistan, and the first sailor recipient since the Vietnam War. He is the 18th Long Islander to win the award. Four U.S. Army soldiers from Long Island won the honor for service in Vietnam, where Daniel Murphy served and was awarded the Purple Heart for battlefield wounds.

Daniel Murphy, a law clerk in State Supreme Court in Riverhead, said he learned of the president's decision on Aug. 27, but had agreed to keep silent until an announcement was officially made.

"The family is absolutely thrilled by the president's announcement," Murphy said. "I think it is a public recognition of what we knew about Michael, of his intensity, his focus, his devout loyalty to home and family, his country and especially to his SEAL teammates and the SEAL community."

Murphy is credited with putting his life in danger in an effort to save the lives of three of his subordinates during a fierce firefight in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border in June 2005.

That month, Murphy and three other SEALs -- Petty Officer Matt Axelson, 29, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Danny Dietz, 25 -- were inserted by helicopter onto a remote mountaintop near the border. They were four men on a secret mission to track a high-ranking Taliban warlord, Newsday reported last May. But they were discovered first by an Afghan goat herder who stumbled upon their hiding place in a mountainside forest. Not long after, the four SEALs were surrounded by dozens of armed insurgents, and a fierce battle ensued.

The lone survivor of the incident, Petty Officer 1st Class Marcus Luttrell, 29, of Texas, has called Murphy, the team's leader, "an iron-souled warrior of colossal, almost unbelievable courage." According to Luttrell's account, as told to Navy superiors and in a recently published book, Murphy displayed "an extreme act of valor" when he ran into the open -- and suffered a bullet wound when he did -- in a last-ditch attempt to call for help and save his fellow SEALs.

That call brought tragedy instead, when a rescue helicopter sent to save them was shot down, killing all 16 U.S. troops aboard, including eight Navy SEALs...
The full transcript of the final story on the October 16 NBC Nightly News:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: The recipients of Congressional Medal of Honor live forever in American history as examples of valor, courage, sacrifice and patriotism, even if many of the recipients don't live to see the honor themselves. The newest recipient, a Navy SEAL from New York who died in combat in Afghanistan. And as Jim Miklaszewski reports tonight, his story is already the stuff of legend.

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI: June 2005, at 10,000 feet in the Hindu-Kush mountains of Afghanistan, a four-man team of Navy SEALs, led by Lieutenant Michael Murphy, fought one of the fiercest battles in SEAL history. Petty Officer Marcus Lutrell was on SEAL team ten.

PETTY OFFICER MARCUS LUTTELL: I've been in some tight spots, but I've never been in one like that.

MIKLASZEWSKI: They were on a reconnaissance mission when they came across three goat herders. The SEALs could release the Afghans and risk they'd run to the Taliban, or kill them. Murphy ordered them released, no surprise to Murphy's parents.

DAN MURPHY, FATHER: Michael's moral compass was one hundred percent on. Wouldn't even cross his mind to injure a non-combatant.

MIKLASZEWSKI: But as feared, within hours, up to 200 Taliban attacked the SEALs.

LUTTRELL: It got rough real fast. It got bad.

MIKLASZEWSKI: This Taliban video of the attack shows the intensity of the battle. Lieutenant Murphy was wounded. What happened next earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor. Murphy stepped out into the line of fire to make a satellite call for help.

LUTTRELL: He took two rounds to the back and dropped down on that rock and sat back up, picked the phone back up and started talking again.

MAUREEN MURPHY, MOTHER: That was Mike. He's brave and a heck of a fighter. He put his all into anything he ever did.

MIKLASZEWSKI: As the battle raged on, Murphy was killed along with Petty Officers Danny Dietz and Matt Axelson.

MIKLASZEWSKI: This is one of the many memorials to Michael Murphy here on Long Island. They've named a park and post office after him. Monuments not only to what he did as a Navy SEAL, but to who he was as a man.

MAUREEN MURPHY: And I miss him. I'm glad that he got the medal because other people will know what a great guy that he was.

DAN MURPHY: While I'm crying inside and my heart's breaking, my chest is puffed out and I'm saying, my son, this is what he did and I hope the country appreciates it and realizes it.

MIKLASZEWSKI: Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News, Waiting River, New York.
WILLIAMS: Here, here.
MSNBC.com's page for NBC Nightly News has Flash video of Miklaszewski's piece. Wednesday night the video will move to this page.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center