Public Trust

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Earlier this week, KRTV reported that an Airman stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base was charged with sexual intercourse without consent, and naturally some people wondered why the media feels it is necessary to point out that the suspect is in the military.

On the KRTV Facebook page, Cristen Korona Cochran posted: “If he was a cook at a restaurant would the headline say “local chef from Eat Your Heart Out restaurant…..” I don’t understand why when base people get mixed up with the civilian law enforcement, the fact that they are military must be pointed out?!”

During my time at KRTV, that concern was always raised whenever a military member was charged (or convicted/sentenced).

It’s a fair question. The answer has to do with public trust. Military personnel – just like police officers, clergy, judges, elected officials, and certain other professions – have a unique position in our society, wherein they have a “public trust” with the people that they serve.

The public trusts those people with their safety and well-being – literally, in some cases – and gives them the training, education, tools, and resources to carry out their very special duties. As a result, they are usually held to a higher standard of public behavior, and in some cases, they literally take an oath to protect and serve. And for their adherence to higher standards, those people are usually afforded unique benefits – they are usually held in high esteem by the society,  and there is a huge amount of public support for them.

The most visible manifestation of that public support is that many retail businesses offer discounts for them – “Military Monday” at Cafe Rio, for instance. There are thousands and thousands of “military discount” opportunities across the country — food, retail, travel, and more.

(In fact, two weeks ago, I was the beneficiary of such a discount – 10% off of new glasses at EyeMart Express on 10th Avenue. That equated to a savings of $54 for me, and I appreciated it.  I rarely use military discounts, but this one was specifically pointed out to me, and the savings in this case were pretty nice :-).)

Military members do not demand (nor should they expect) such discounts, but they are offered freely by businesses because they appreciate the service of military personnel – and their adherence to higher standards.

So the military/police/etc are held to higher standards and are routinely praised and/or rewarded for their service and public trust – so many people feel that it is only fair that the public spotlight also shines when that trust is broken.

And it should go without saying, but it needs to be said: the bad actions of any one Airman, or police officer, or priest, etc, should not tarnish the entire agency or profession. Such breaches of trust are  the exception, not the rule.

So: if a police officer or an airman violates the law, it generally is more “news worthy” than if, say, John Doe at Walmart does the same thing.


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