On May 31, 2014, President Obama stepped into the Rose Garden with Bob and Jani Bergdahl to announce that the Bergdahls’ son, Bowe, was coming home, after nearly five years in captivity. As Sarah said in Episode 01, the public reaction was immediate. We got our soldier back. Good news, right? But as details of Bowe Bergdahl’s release and capture surfaced, people suddenly seemed unsure how they were supposed to feel about the whole thing. You can see evidence of the public confusion on Twitter. In national-news-story moments like these, politicians do their best to ride the wave, hitting it at just right time, in just the right way. But this one caught so many off guard.
At first, some politicians responded to the news in carefully worded tweets, citing the military’s commitment to leave no soldier behind:
Here’s Vice President Joe Biden on May 31:
Welcome home, Sergeant Bergdahl. Today we are elated about his return and reaffirm our commitment to recover the warriors still left behind.— VP Biden (Archived) (@VP44) May 31, 2014
Representative Scott Peters, a Democrat from California, the same day:
And the Senate Democratic Leader, from Nevada:
The return of Sgt. Bergdahl is a statement of our commitment to leave no service member behind. I commend all who helped make this happen.— Senator Harry Reid (@SenatorReid) May 31, 2014
Others, including Rep. Raúl Labrador, a Republican from Idaho (Bergdahl’s home state), mentioned the relief the soldier’s family must have felt:
I am thrilled that Bowe Bergdahl has been freed and will soon be reunited with his parents.— Raúl R. Labrador (@Raul_Labrador) May 31, 2014
Then the backlash hit. Soldiers from Bergdahl’s unit went on television calling him a deserter—and some politicians chose to … delete their tweets. Which caused its own news event when outlets such as Mashable, The Hill, and others wrote about it.
The Sunlight Foundation’s Politwoops captured some of the removed tweets. One of them, published on May 31 from the account of Sen. Thad Cochran, a Republican from Mississippi, read: “Welcome home, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. A grateful America thanks you for your service.” The tweet was gone on June 4.
This message from Mark Amodei, a Republican congressman from Nevada, was deleted on June 1: “Best news I’ve heard in a long time!”
It wasn’t just Republicans who deleted tweets. Congressman Stephen Lynch, a Democrat from Massachusetts, removed this one on June 4: “Great to hear that Bo [sic] Bergdahl has been released from captivity in Afgh/Pak.”
Others chose to refine their stance. Rep. Jim Renacci, a Republican from Ohio, who had called Bergdahl “a true American hero” in a tweet, deleted it, and then posted this on his Facebook page.
The facts surrounding Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s capture and release are currently unclear. I entrust the Army to follow through with outstanding concerns regarding the nature of his disappearance and I fully support the House Armed Services’ Committee investigation into the prisoner swap. I expect the administration to fully cooperate and provide answers to the American people’s questions. I will continue to closely monitor the developments as they unfold.
This, of course, was only the beginning. Over time, Bergdahl, and the trade we made to get him back, became talking points, and sometimes applause lines, for politicians on television news shows and on the campaign trail. And now, more than a year later, there’s this.