December 30, 2005
WaPo's Preemptive Strike Against Bill Roggio
It was the
journalistic equivalent of a drive-by shooting. The targets of
Washington Post reporters Jonathan Finer and Doug Struck
were two of journalism's favorites: Web loggers and the U.S. military.
Money, Now Weapons in Information War," read the headline
over their story, which appeared last Monday. "U.S. Recruits
Advocates to the Front, Pays Iraqi TV Stations for Coverage,"
the subhed said.
soldier Bill Roggio was a computer technician living in New Jersey
less than two months ago when a Marine officer half a world away
made him an offer he couldn't refuse," the story began.
of the headline and the lead is that Mr. Roggio was recruited
and paid by the Marines to write favorable things about military
operations in Iraq.
shootings are notoriously inaccurate, and the story by Mr. Finer
and Mr. Struck, which ran last Monday, contained so many errors
it should be an embarrassment to the Washington Post.
the facts: LtCol. Christopher Starling, the operations officer
for the 2nd Regimental Combat Team, 2nd Marine Division, did a
Web search for stories on Operation Matador, which the 2nd RCT
had conducted in Western Iraq. He was intrigued by the analysis
of the operation Mr. Roggio made on his Web log, Fourth Rail,
and called it to the attention of the regimental commander, Col.
called my site the command chronology for Western Iraq,"
Mr. Roggio said. "They basically said I'm the only person
who's discussing the operations in context."
suggested to my friend Bill that he should come out to see the
situation for himself. So Bill took a leave of absence from his
job; raised $30,000 from readers of his blog (I contributed a
small amount) for travel expenses, hazard insurance and to buy
body armor, and obtained press credentials from the Weekly
Standard, a conservative magazine.
were happy to show Bill whatever he wanted to see, but contributed
nothing to defray the expenses of his trip; made no suggestions
about what he should write, nor censored his reporting in any
way. Bill was treated no differently than any other embedded reporter,
though doubtless the Marines respected him more than they do most
and Struck erroneously described Mr. Roggio as a "retired"
soldier (Bill spent four years in the Army Signal Corps and two
in the National Guard, but would have had to have served at least
20 to retire); implied Bill was still in Iraq (he'd been home
a week when the story appeared); misidentified from whom he had
obtained press credentials, and misrepresented the embed process.
This last error was egregious, since Mr. Finer had himself been
embedded with the Marines, and ought to know the procedures.
media giants like the Washington Post repeatedly claim
to have layers and layers of editors and fact checkers to make
sure only verified facts get into the daily newspaper. This process
is allegedly why (journalists) are superior to bloggers in getting
it first and getting it right," said Mark Tapscott, a former
journalist who now works for the Heritage Foundation, a think
tank in Washington, D.C.
and Struck are experienced journos, but their reporting in this
instance contained so many errors of basic fact that one wonders
how on earth this example of their work made it into print,"
Tapscott said. The answer, as Mr. Tapscott well knows, is that
editors are less vigilant in fact checking stories which advance
about Mr. Roggio's whereabouts and his media affiliation are minor.
Erroneously describing Bill as a "retired" soldier is
significant only in that it indicates a fundamental ignorance
of the military appalling in two reporters who are based in Baghdad.
The misstatement of the embed process likely was deliberate, because
had it been described accurately, the premise of the story would
have been shown to be false.
don't like bloggers because they fact-check journalists. Bloggers
like Bill Roggio and Michael Yon, a former Special Forces soldier
who embedded with a Stryker battalion in Mosul, expand the threat
posed by the new media. They're reporting news, and doing it better
than "professional" journalists are.
and Struck weren't reporting news when they slimed Bill Roggio.
They were launching a preemptive strike against a new, but increasingly
Kelly is national security columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
and the Blade of Toledo, Ohio.