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Saturday, December 10, 2016

For last week’s post-election column, I described a piece of artwork that hangs in my home.

Titled “Reproductive Freedom Flag,” Dawn Hanson’s artwork looks like an American flag, but closer examination reveals a clever alteration. Instead of 50 stars, four rows of buttons are arranged to resemble a one-month supply of birth control pills.

So many readers asked to see a picture of Hanson’s flag that I posted it on Facebook and tweeted it, too, on Nov. 10.

On Nov. 11, Veterans Day, I tweeted twice about Vietnam War veterans’ continued struggle with the legacy of Agent Orange. Both tweets included links — the first to a Vietnam Veterans of America website for Agent Orange, the second to The Patriot-News‘ project titled “The 40-Year War: Agent Orange Casualties Keep Mounting.”

I mention those two Veterans Day tweets to help you appreciate my surprise the next morning when I discovered a story on NewsBusters depicting me as disrespectful of veterans.

NewsBusters bills itself as “a project of the Media Research Center (MRC), America’s leading media watchdog in documenting, exposing and neutralizing liberal media bias.” This particular “exposé,” written by Katie Yoder, includes a snapshot of my tweet with the picture of Hanson’s flag and begins with this:

“Just when you thought feminists couldn’t get any more insular, myopic and just plain silly; pills and gripes are the new stars and stripes.

“On the eve of Veterans’ Day, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and senator’s wife Connie Schultz tweeted a ‘Flag of Reproductive Freedom’ to her 11,000 followers. In place of the stars signifying the 50 states, the flag boasted 28 buttons representing a month of birth control pills.”

You can imagine the email and social media response from angry veterans accusing me of defiling our flag, Veterans Day and their military service.

Had Yoder committed the most rudimentary act of journalism — we like to call it “reporting” — she would have found both of my Veterans Day tweets and plenty of my coverage of veterans, too. Instead, she noted that the abortion rights group NARAL shared my photo of Hanson’s flag — which, to repeat, is designed to resemble a birth control packet.

A quick tutorial: Birth control prevents unwanted pregnancies and, therefore, abortions. This has nothing to do with Veterans Day, but welcome to the world of right-wing blogging.

I usually subscribe to the “don’t feed the trolls” mantra and ignore right-wing screeds for attention. Yoder’s piece, however, seemed to be getting some traction. I decided to use it as an opportunity to raise again the issue of Agent Orange and the ongoing problem of hit-and-run blogs masquerading as journalism. A twofer, if you will.

Any veteran who served in Vietnam between Jan. 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, is presumed by the U.S. government to have been exposed to Agent Orange, which was an herbicide used to destroy 5 million acres of foliage and 500,000 acres of crops in Vietnam.

The list of presumptive exposure also includes those who served on ships off the shore of Vietnam or who worked at military bases where Agent Orange was stored. Add those serving in Korea’s Demilitarized Zone between April 1, 1968, and Aug. 31, 1971. In Vietnam, about two-dozen Agent Orange hot spots remain, polluting land and water tables and allegedly causing second- and third-generation birth defects. I have met many of those children in Vietnam and use the word “allegedly” only because politicians and scientists disagree on the cause. With cause come blame and responsibility. Avoiding that lets us avoid cleaning up our mess, too.

Over the years, the list of Agent Orange-related illnesses recognized for treatment by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has grown to include — and this is just a partial list — chronic B-cell leukemias, Type 2 diabetes, Hodgkin lymphoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Parkinson’s Disease and cancers of the larynx, lungs and trachea. The full list, which includes birth defects — all but spina bifida in children are covered only if the mother served — and information about treatment can be found at this VA link.

Advocates and medical professionals who work with Vietnam veterans often tell me they seek help for Agent Orange-related illnesses only at the insistence of a woman they love. Wives or significant others, mothers, daughters, sisters — these are the loved ones in a Vietnam veteran’s life who intuit that something is wrong and insist on doing something about it.

That is why I periodically write about Agent Orange. If one woman reads this and gets her Vietnam veteran to the doctor, it’s worth repeating.

Back to NewsBusters neutralizer Katie Yoder. A speedy back-and-forth with her on Twitter proved pointless — apparently, she’s not interested in Agent Orange — so I called to interview her for this column.

Our exchange, after I asked:

Yoder: “I would need to talk to our PR organization before talking to you.”

Schultz: “Really?”

Yoder: “I would like to talk to them before talking to you.”

I gave her my phone number and asked to hear from her in the next couple of hours, as I was on deadline. She assured me I would.

Deadline has come and gone.

I’m still waiting.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

Image: [email protected]

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