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Two More Tales of Journalistic Dishonesty?

By Jack Kelly

Jennifer Hunter is married to Chicago Sun-Times publisher John Cruickshank, which explains why Ms. Hunter writes a column for the Chicago Sun-Times. Here is why she should not.

On July 16, Ms. Hunter wrote a column which began: "After watching the top five Democratic candidates for president speak before a trial lawyers' group Sunday, attorney Jim Ronca of Philadelphia, a staunch Republican, became certain of one thing: He is not going to vote for a Republican in the 2008 presidential election."

A suspicious reader checked out Mr. Ronca's political contributions. Mr. Ronca had made 14 since 1994 -- 12 to Democrats. The Democratic candidates received $7,000; the GOP candidates $750.

Mr. Ronca's contribution record was posted on several Web sites, whose readers flooded Ms. Hunter with demands for a correction.

If Ms. Hunter had fessed up, I wouldn't be writing about her. But she responded by attacking Web loggers for doing the research she should have done, and blaming her error on her editor.

"The grumbling arose partially because my editor took a small part of my story and made it into a headline: 'GOP lawyer sold on Dems,'" Ms. Hunter wrote in her July 19 column.

But what her readers objected to was the description of Mr. Ronca as a "staunch Republican," which was Ms. Hunter's own, and which appeared in her lede. To blame the headline writer for the mistake is as dishonest as it is lame.

The New Republic was shamed when two high profile writers (Ruth Shalit and Stephen Glass) were discovered to have made up stories. The venerable liberal magazine apparently has another scandal on its hands.

In last week's issue the New Republic ran an article by "Scott Thomas," who -- the editors tell us -- is a pseudonym for a soldier currently serving in Iraq.

"Thomas" describes three instances of shocking behavior by U.S. troops. In the first, his buddies humiliate a woman in the chow hall who was disfigured by an IED. In the second, a soldier excavating a mass grave puts a portion of a child's skull on his head and wears it like a helmet for an entire day. In the third, the driver of a Bradley fighting vehicle deliberately runs over a dog in the street.

The New Republic's editors told a skeptical Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard the chow hall incident took place at FOB Falcon near Baghdad, and the mass grave was uncovered in farmland south of the Baghdad airport.

But soldiers currently serving at FOB Falcon say they've never seen a woman there fitting Scott Thomas' description. (There are only a handful of women, and just one small mess hall on the base.) They also find incredible Thomas' claim he couldn't tell whether the woman was a soldier or a civilian. (Soldiers in Iraq wear their uniforms -- and carry their weapons -- at all times.) "There was no mass grave found during the construction of our Coalition outposts at any time," Major Kirk Luedeke, the public affairs officer at FOB Falcon, emailed milblogger Matt Sanchez.

The story about the Bradley driver running over the dog couldn't possibly have happened, people familiar with the Bradley say.

According to Thomas' story, the dog was on the right side of the vehicle, because the driver turned right to strike it. The driver's hatch is on the left side of the Bradley. Immediately to the driver's right is the cooling grill of the engine compartment, which rises above the driver's hatch, making it impossible for him to see anything on the right side of the vehicle.

"Even if the driver was head out, he still couldn't see anything to his right below the level of the top deck (all armored vehicles have significant blind spots close in, which is why they need dismounts to protect them from RPG guys in foxholes)," Stuart Koehl emailed Mr. Goldfarb. "So if the driver 'twitched' the Bradley to the right, he must have used extrasensory perception in order to catch the dog, because there is no way he knew the dog was even there."

That the New Republic would publish this drivel indicates how little its editors know about the military, and how eager they are to believe bad things about American soldiers.

If the editors cannot tell us precisely when the incident with the woman with the burned face took place, or precisely where and when the mass grave was found, they should admit to being victims of fraud, or perpetrators of one.

The Web makes it harder for journalists to lie and get away with it. This is a lesson Jennifer Hunter and the editors of the New Republic evidently haven't learned.

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