June 4, 2012

Bullshit Journalism Has Consequences

Background

Nobody appreciates a good headline more than I do. However, at what point do we sacrifice good journalism for the parroting of information without thought or a headline without substance behind it?

A while back I wrote a response to the Daily Mail article that quoted me (“SEALs Slam Obama…”). If you read past the headline you would have seen that the SEALs quoted in the article were not “slamming” anyone, just sharing opinion and some of it supported the President with his record on Terrorism. A lot of people instantly lumped me into the Obama hater category (I’ve got my issues with Obama, but his foreign policy isn’t one of them) and Fox news came a-calling…

One of the main reasons I started SOFREP was to give a voice to the Special Operations community, bridge the understanding gap so-to-speak, and provide interpretation on current events from people who are experts…as opposed to some self-proclaimed expert who maybe did an embed and is now a combat journalist with the picture to prove it.

The Military, especially Special Operations, is often misrepresented by main stream media and I’d just had enough when I was working as an editor at Military.com and so SOFREP was born.

On to the topic at hand.

Everyone Fucks Up

I’ve done this plenty of times and it will not be the last, fortunately I have a great managing editor who keeps me grounded (most times). But it’s how you handle yourself in situations where you’ve stepped in a pile of dog crap that separate the men from the boys and the women from the girls.

So forgive me while I beat a dead horse and use the example of David Axe (and his parroting report on Korea) and a US Army General that spoke out of context.

Integrity Counts All Around

First the General: Shame on Tolley’s staff for not getting their facts straight and for apparently launching a counter strike of ungrounded statements with regards to Axe’s report.  This reflects poorly on the General and ultimately big Army. I’m a fan of exemplary leadership but it’s too late after the fact. Looks like the General is being re-assigned early.

It’s no secret that the Army has a long history of painting itself into a corner where the truth is concerned. Apparently, this incident has caused the General to be re-assigned and more to follow soon.

Only a few months ago I received a panicked phone call from an O-4 Army Public Affairs Officer (PAO) accusing us of falsely reporting on a story that Jack Murphy had posted regarding a Special Forces Soldier who had committed homicide. Once the facts were laid out this particular PAO didn’t have the truth on her side (just their version via press release) and ended up going away quietly after a quick lesson in Constitutional rights.

Bullshit Journalism

And then there is the issue of what I’m calling Bullshit Journalism. It’s spreading like a California wildfire these days and I’m committed to holding the line, at least where Special Operations and the military are concerned.

I define Bullshit Journalism as: reporting on issues where you are not an expert and/or do not bother taking the time to read up on the issue you are reporting on.

In this particular case of North Korea I feel that David Axe drifted off course and into the realm of Bullshit Journalism. He parroted information without intelligent thought and clearly out of context.  His journalistic peers not reporting as he did supports my point.  Not like North Korea is a serious issue or anything. David is lucky there’s no dead bodies on his conscience.

An Apology or Insult?

Below is an apology I pulled off of David Axe’s blog War is Boring. (War is Boring? A lot of dead terrorists might disagree I suspect)

“If Tolley truly did speak hypothetically, as he and the Pentagon now claim, then I misunderstood him – and I regret that. If I had known more about the politics of the Koreas going into Tolley’s presentation, I probably would have been more skeptical. That’s my fault. Just because U.S. Special Operations Forces are present in 77 countries (according to SOCOM Adm. Bill McRaven) and just because the U.S. routinely violates the sovereignty of nations such as Pakistan and Iran, does not necessarily mean we do that same in North Korea.” – David Axe

A note to the budding military journalist and David Axe

Olivia-art-sofrep-little-man-big-gun

Photo Credit: Olivia

Best you do your homework when you are reporting on serious issues, sometimes one small person wields a big gun, so be careful to check your bullet path to make sure you don’t hit an un-intended target and draw friendly fire.

You can learn a few lessons from how the fashion media and Katie Grand operates. They have an uncanny knack for getting things right, or else…off with your head.

Think about breaking the trend of “parrot” reporting and actually doing your homework before you push out a report regardless of if “it’s the standard”.  You and your wannabe war journalist buddies are on a lot of peoples’ radar screens right now, mine included. It takes more than an embed and a few trips to the Middle East to earn the respect of the people I run with.

Continue to thumb your faked hipster nose at this and you may find yourself in a different kind of Danger Room then the one at Wired magazine.

See you in July for beers if you’re still up for it.

Brandon

The Consequences of Bad Journalism: 17 Dead

Newsweek Example From Wikipedia:

Newsweeks April 30th, 2005 issue contained a report asserting that United States prison guards or interrogators had deliberately damaged a copy of Islam’s holiest book, the Quran. A week later, Hendrik Hertzberg wrote in The New Yorker, reporting the words of Pakistani politician Imran Khan “This is what the U.S. is doing – desecrating the Koran.”

This incident caused major upset in parts of the Muslim world.

‘For five days, nothing. Then, on May 6th, Khan, in a press conference in Islamabad, waved a copy of the offending issue and thundered, “This is what the U.S. is doing – desecrating the Koran.” And, rhetorically addressing Musharraf: “This war on terrorism is self-defeating if, on the one hand, you are demanding that we help them” – that is, us -“and, on the other hand, they are desecrating the book on which our entire faith is based.” Khan’s remarks were broadcast repeatedly throughout the Muslim world. The riots began on May 10th; in Afghanistan, seventeen people died and more than a hundred were injured.’

About the Author

is a former U.S. Navy SEAL with combat deployments to Afghanistan, and Iraq. During his last tour he served as the west coast sniper Course Manager at the Naval Special Warfare Center. He is Editor-in-Chief of SOFREP.com, and a New York Times best selling author (The Red Circle & Benghazi: The Definitive Report). His writing has been featured in print, and digital media worldwide. You can follow him on twitter here.

To comment on this article please join/login. Here's a sample of the comments on this post.

  • Minou_Demimonde

    And going on a year later, things haven't changed. They've gotten worse. God help us, we seem to be unable to do it ourselves.

  • Recon6

     @Tango9  Rec'd !

  • SEAN SPOONTS

    @BrandonWebb Jeez, the way you butter him up, I'm surprised he hasn't already. Lol

  • jrexilius

    @Tango9   chill out Tango.. not really worth getting spun up over.  

  • katgirl231

     @jeffreycarr  @Tango9 ohhh yeah, not just wifi, but libraries too :)