This morning, I have heard the voices from the Special Operations community, along with many of our readers, loud and clear. They are angry and disappointed that SOFREP chose to publish helmet camera footage from the ambush in Niger back in October in which two U.S. Special Forces soldiers and two support soldiers killed. We are willing to explain our editorial decision to publish this video, although it will not satisfy those who are angry with us. There is nothing satisfying about this story at all.
The first big story that SOFREP worked on was the attack on Benghazi. Many were clamoring for the facts, searching for the truth about what really happened that night in Libya. Early on, it became clear to us that we could not exist in both worlds, behaving as both active duty government employees (which we no longer were) and also as journalists trying to write about the reality that unfolded. You can’t serve both masters, and decisions had to be made. At SOFREP we charted a course which we remain on to this day — that we will report the truth even if it hurts; even if we find it disturbing.
You can’t demand facts and simultaneously be protected from them.
We understand full well the anger of the family, friends, and teammates of those who perished that day. When deciding whether or not to publish potentially harmful material, one has to strike some kind of balance weighing the need for further information versus the potential anguish that said information could cause. Many would say that we failed to strike that balance in this case. We understand why they would feel that way.
This is not the first time that SOFREP has published video footage of U.S. Special Forces soldiers being killed. We did so when CCTV footage of the three Green Berets in Jordan were murdered by a turncoat checkpoint guard emerged. The video clearly demonstrated that these soldiers were murdered in cold blood, and dispelled many of the myths and misconceptions about what happened that day.
The ambush in Niger has also been subject to myths, rumors, and propaganda as were events in Jordan and Benghazi. The helmet cam footage is a piece of hard evidence, one which depicts factual events.
Some say that we cynically published this video for profit, as some kind of war profiteering. Those people clearly do not understand how news outlets make money. It simply doesn’t work like that. In reality, news outlets lose money by publishing material which rubs their demographic the wrong way and by offending potential advertisers. This is why we have a crisis with media bias today as outlets simply peddle accepted views to their key audience.
It should be noted that we did not film the video in question nor were we the first to publish it. Others had picked up on it and jihadists were using it for propaganda, allowing them to control the narrative. We stripped the propaganda aspect from the video and put it in its proper context as video that proves that U.S. Special Forces soldiers fought and died bravely that day.
One correction is that I believe the video itself should have had a disclaimer on it to further warn viewers of the graphic content. This is being corrected.
The footage of the Niger ambush is not easy to watch. That said, this has been the reality of our soldiers for the last 16 years. America has been sheltered from addressing that reality for far too long. The job of news outlets like SOFREP is to remind the public every single day that we are at war — that we have troops in combat as we speak.
On September 20th 1943, Life Magazine published the following photo:
Life published the following caption with the photo:
Here lie three Americans. What shall we say of them? Shall we say that this is a noble sight? Shall we say that this is a fine thing, that they should give their lives for their country? Or shall we say that this is too horrible to look at? Why print this picture, anyway, of three American boys dead upon an alien shore? Is it to hurt people? To be morbid?
Those are not the reasons.
The reason is that words are never enough. The eye sees. The mind knows. The heart feels. But the words do not exist to make us see, or know, or feel what it is like, what actually happens. The words are never right. . . .
The reason we print it now is that, last week, President Roosevelt and [Director of the Office of War Information] Elmer Davis and the War Department decided that the American people ought to be able to see their own boys as they fall in battle; to come directly and without words into the presence of their own dead.
And so here it is. This is the reality that lies behind the names that come to rest at last on monuments in the leafy squares of busy American towns.”
We appreciate the feedback we have gotten from our readers and take their words seriously. We also appreciate our soldiers who are deployed across the globe, often doing tremendous work, which is only acknowledged publicly on those occasions when things go horribly wrong.
This letter from the editor is not an apology, nor is it a retraction. We have published video footage of Americans dying in combat. We have done so in the past and we will do so in the future. We are a news website and will likely publish work that offends and upsets people every day. We are not simply a cheerleader for the armed services as we also believe in providing Americans with the facts and holding people accountable when needed.
In the end, individuals will have to decide what they think about that. Do they want this type of information, or do they want a carefully curated news experience that tells them what they want to hear? This is currently a national conversation.
We invite you to become a part of it.