Michael's Dispatches

The Buck Stops

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Last week I published a memo that had been circulating around the Department of Defense warning of verbal assaults against uniformed military personnel in the Washington Metro. Now some folks are saying that the memo is a hoax. One of the more prominent of the accusers is Roy Edroso, a writer for The Village Voice.

 

….. Consider this item, published by Michael Yon and purportedly from the "Dept of Transportation Federal Transit Administration," describing "incidents" in which "military personnel have been verbally assaulted while commuting on the [D.C.] Metro," and advising servicemembers, "If possible, do not commute in uniform."

Especially on the cusp of Memorial Day, it was an outrageous story; certainly Yon's commenters were outraged ("I just want to see it one time—it will be on! They better have good health insurance"). So were many others. Austin Bay compared the attackers to Civil War Copperheads. Gateway Pundit picked the story up. So did a newspaper in New Mexico. And so on.

Then, to his credit, rightblogger Bob Owens, proprietor of the Confederate Yankee site, largely debunked the story at Pajamas Media —misattributed source, single incident, etc. Some bloggers who picked it up updated with corrections, which now sit atop piles of angry comments from people who will probably never go back to see it. Others, as of this writing, haven't bothered—including Yon, and, oddly, including Owens at his own site. ….

 

Now, those who have followed this story from the beginning will already know how far Mr. Edroso’s article has strayed from the truth. He seems not to understand the basic facts of the story, and seriously misrepresents my role in it.

I first came across the memo after it was widely disseminated at the DoD, including high levels at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and among officials at the Department of Homeland Security. The person whose name appears at the bottom of the memo is Mr. David Watson at the National Operations Center at the Department of Defense. Mr. Watson forwarded it to a large number of officials, and it continued to circulate within government channels. When I contacted Mr. Watson’s office, I was told that Mr. Watson was not the author but that he had merely disseminated the memo. The actual author is unknown to me. However, various contacts of mine confirmed that the memo had circulated among U.S. government officials.

I published the memo without commentary, other than a link to Austin Bay’s blog on the subject. The story smelled fishy to me, so I asked Bob Owens at Confederate Yankee to check it out. When Mr. Owens published his findings at Pajamas Media, I provided a link on my site under the headline “Curiouser and Curiouser.” Mr. Owens’ article stated that the rumors of serial harassment of uniformed military personnel in the Washington Metro was nothing more than a Pentagon Urban Myth. Mr. Owens concluded:

There is no pattern of verbal abuse against uniformed Department of Defense personnel in the DC Metro system. The memo sent to Department of Defense security managers was authored at a high level, and exaggerated the number of verbal assaults from one confirmed event into an apparent outbreak, while attempting to shift authorship to another federal agency.

Soldiers are not being systematically targeted by aggressive anti-war protesters in the Washington D.C. area, but someone within the Department of Defence is willing to stoke those fears, without merit.

Bottom line: The memo is authentic in the sense that it is an accurate copy of an official document circulated among high levels of government. Yet the memo’s content is inaccurate and misleading, which is precisely what Mr. Owens and I suspected might be the case. The memo could be considered inaccurate in the sense that the content might lead one to believe that the isolated harassment is epidemic. Yet the claim that this was a cynical attempt by the government to stoke fires against certain elements in American society seems highly unlikely. After all, the memo was an internal, if non-classified, document. It was not released to the public by the government. The memo came across my desk, and I made the rare decision to publish.

Now back to Mr. Edroso’s article in The Village Voice. He implies that I believe the memo to be not only authentic, but accurate as to the facts, and that I did not publish a correction or amplification when Bob Owens wrote about it. (Mr. Edroso also accuses Mr. Owens of not printing a correction on his own site. Again, Mr. Edroso is wrong. Mr. Owens did publish his Pajamas Media article on his own site, but the fact remains that the memo is authentic.) Mr. Edroso’s various misunderstandings could have been avoided if he had contacted Mr. Owens or myself, standard journalistic procedure and common-sense due diligence when you’re about to accuse someone of disseminating a falsehood. At the very least, Mr. Edroso’s editors should have insisted on giving me a chance to respond or comment before they published the article. They also should have asked Mr. Edroso to contact the officials named in the memo in order to determine its authenticity and track down the facts.

From simply reading the memo, Mr. Edroso should have realized that there were ways by which its authenticity could be determined. For example, the phone numbers of MSgt Cyril Charity, the NGB Antiterrorism/Force Protection Officer, are included in the memo. Mr. Edroso could have called MSgt Charity, as I did. When I talked to MSgt Charity, he not only confirmed that the memo was authentic, but also stated that the incident described in the memo actually did occur. I also contacted the office of Mr. Watson, and they were helpful and forthright. Mr. Edroso or someone at The Village Voice could have done the same. Fact checking of this level is not only simple, easy and quick to perform, but also happens to be Journalism 101, the kind of reporting The Village Voice has practiced in the past, but appears to have abandoned today. If The Village Voice would like to return to a tradition of responsible journalism, it might consider printing a formal correction of Mr. Edroso’s article, and apologizing both to the bloggers they have accused and the readers they have misled. While Mr. Edroso is personally responsible for his article, his editors are corporately responsible for printing it. Mr. Edroso might consider apologizing to his readers for betraying their trust.

Once again, here is the memo in its entirety:

 

Recently, there have been local incidents in which military personnel have been verbally assaulted while commuting on the Metro. Uniformed members have been approached by individuals expressing themselves as anti-government, shouting anti-war sentiments, and using racial slurs against minorities. In one instance, a member was followed onto the platform by an individual who continued to berate her as she exited the metro station. Thus far, these incidents have occurred in the vicinity of the Reagan National Airport and Eisenhower Ave metro stations on the yellow line, however, military members should be vigilant and aware of their surroundings at all times while in mass transit.

Should you be approached by any individuals expressing anti-government/anti-war sentiments, or any other types of direct verbal assault, immediately notify your local police jurisdiction. If riding metro, exit the train at the next stop, distance yourself from the individual, and notify the Metro Transit Police Department. For this and any other suspicious activity, NGB personnel are also asked to notify the Pentagon Command Center at (703)697-1001, and the NGB Antiterrorism/Force Protection Officer, MSgt Cyril Charity, at
(703)607-2396 or (571)239-1109 (after duty hours).

Here are a few friendly reminders of personal protective measures that can help you to stay safe:

  • If possible, do not commute in uniform (military members).
  • Do not displayDoD building passes, "hot cards", or personal identification in open view outside of the workplace.
  • Do not discuss specifics about your occupation to outside solicitors.
  • Always try to remain in well lit, well populated traincars if traveling via metro.
  • Be vigilant at all times!


V/R,

David J. Watson
DoD Desk
National Operations Center
(202) 282-8116 (STE)
80-822-1408 (Red Switch)

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    LThom · 10 years ago
    "When I contacted Mr. Watsonƒ??s office, I was told that Mr. Watson was not the author but that he had merely disseminated the memo. The actual author is unknown to me."

    That's when you went wrong. You spread a rumor. That's journalism 101.

    And you spread that rumor as fact. You say you posted the memo "without comment." Your headline of the article: "Verbal assaults directed at uniformed [military] personnel." That's a comment. That's also journalism 101.

    It's not surprising or galling that you now choose to malign Edroso. It's embarrassing.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mark also · 10 years ago
    101 - you have seriously misread everything associated (I doubt you have even read the full original MY post).

    Edroso's post was ignorant. Your post is doubly so. How is an "authenticated memo" a rumor? Whether the original author is known or not, the FACT the memo exists still stands. Your complaint about Michael's 'headline' on the post is also ignorant. The memo itself discusses "Verabal assaults on uniformed military". If that is a "comment" then you had better be sending the exact same complaint to each and every major news publication in the world.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    gspurlock · 10 years ago
    Good grief! The memo was not a rumor. It was not classified. Because it was posted here, it was investigated and found to be exaggerated and that too was published here. Um...I thought that was the actual purpose of reporting...to get to the truth. If that is its purpose, then this was a successful cycle.

    That is what "breaking news" is all about. It requires a little judgment on the part of the reader, something to which Mr. Yon is accustomed with his loyal readers.

    If the memo was, as it now appears, to be exaggerated, I am nonetheless very glad that swift action was taken at the first indication of any abuse of our military.

    My only criticism to you, Mr. Yon, is that you may have invested too much of your valuable time in fully clarifying the matter. Your meticulous attention to detail and fact is commendable in the extreme...are you getting a little restless being away from the action?

    Please keep up the good work, there are far more of us who appreciate your work than those who would throw stones.

    And from Teddy R:

    "It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."
    Theodore Roosevelt
    "Citizenship in a Republic,"
    Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

    The entire speech is available on the internet and I recommend it highly.

    Best always,
    Gail
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Marcus Aurelius · 10 years ago
    I used to live in the Middle East. From time to time we would get similar notices from the embassy. The main point of the memo was not to detail incidents and give incident counts but HOW TO AVOID THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE.

    Just because the embassy in Abu Dhabi sent us a note telling us to vary our routes & timings to/from work did not mean tons of us were getting kidnapped.

    A subsequent investigation an incident HAPPENED, I am guessing there were others just that they went unreported or it was trifling. It is reasonable to assume it will happen again and a note went out to try to prevent further incidents.

    Way too much is being made of that memo.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    David C · 10 years ago
    ..and have read this or experienced something like this, I submit this to you: Carry a small stone in a pocket in your fatigues. If someone verbally abuses you, simply and calmly walk up to them, hand them the stone and say "This first stone is yours to cast, you deserve it." Then walk away.

    And thanks for allowing the rest of us to live fulfilling lives through your sacrifices. It does mean the world.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    wavynavy · 10 years ago
    for clarifying this issue. One thing I find somewhat ironic is that 99% of the people who became of the aware of this memo and the incidents described via your website, or the others mentioned, would not be surfing over to the Village Voice anyway.

    re: the Journalism 101 cat fight, I never have expected any elevated ethical standards from blogs or the MSM. Agenda-driven reporting is the rule rather than the exception. But I will lend more credence initially to those who actually have boots on the ground.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    acerbicskeptic · 10 years ago
    I know Roy Edroso, personally. We are not lifelong friends, but we had many conversations in the past.

    He is not evil. But he is hopelessly, reflexively liberal; to a knee-jerk degree. He will believe nothing that does not match his liberal viewpoint, to the point of ignoring documented facts from neutral sources like the Encyclopedia Brittanica ("oh, sure, no Anglo bias THERE !"). His intellectual laziness is another reason he writes such nonsense; why do research when you can just spew from the gut?

    He is marginally employed; in the past he relied on the largess of a friend who supplied him with a venue for his cranky writing (Alicubi blog). He is trying desperately to make a name for himself, in order to obtain some financial security, as he has no assets to speak of.

    And after his snark-fest in the Village Voice, he is finally starting to gain some traction.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    ATune · 10 years ago
    Yon -- " When I talked to MSgt Charity, he not only confirmed that the memo was authentic, but also stated that the incident described in the memo actually did occur. I also contacted the office of Mr. Watson, and they were helpful and forthright."

    Reading 101 Mr. Thom?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    timex · 10 years ago
    101's correct.

    If your only point was to report "this memo exists" then that would be fine. But the headline " Verbal assaults directed at uniformed [military] personnel" went beyond what you knew. "Unverified memo states that verbal assaults directed at uniformed [military] personnel" would have been fine. But you took the content of a memo for which the provenance was not known and took the content at face value. But to post it and THEN ask Bob Owens to look into it seems a little strange doesn't it? I mean what's the matter? Your typing finger broken?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    timex · 10 years ago
    "When I talked to MSgt Charity, he not only confirmed that the memo was authentic, but also stated that the incident described in the memo actually did occur. "

    So MSgt Charity states that the incident described was authentic. What did MSgt Charity say when you asked about this line "Recently, there have been local incidents in which military personnel have been verbally assaulted while commuting on the Metro. Uniformed members have been approached by individuals expressing themselves as anti-government, shouting anti-war sentiments, and using racial slurs against minorities."? I mean, that's really the meat of the story right? That this was not one isolated incident but that this represented a trend so worrying as to necessitate a memo warning service members of the threat.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    LThom · 10 years ago
    Timex - thanks for the attention. Short supply of that in these comments.

    Mark also: You crack me up. It's an "authenticated memo"? Did you have it checked by scientists: "Yes, we have confirmed that it is indeed words of some sort in a message - definitely a memo." The fact that it's a freaking memo is not the question. It's authenticity and how it was reported on are. And you obviously know nothing about journalism, so please stop embarrassing yourself. Headlines are comments, and the art of writing them concerns recognizing that. That's why you so often see "Report:..." or the word "allegedly" in headlines.

    Why the hell am I talking to you?

    gpurlock: You do the investigation before the reporting. If you want to do a "Breaking" story then the lack of investigation has to be noted. That's J101. (And I'm only using that phrase because Yon used to deride Edroso. I'm not a journalist (I am a professional non-fiction writer). Following your silly logic I could do a post entitled "GSpurlock Blows Goats!" and then follow up days later that this turned out to not be true. That's not - you will be surprised to know, apparently - how it works.

    ATune: You reprinted Yon's stament, "When I talked to MSgt Charity, he not only confirmed that the memo was authentic, but also stated that the incident described in the memo actually did occur. I also contacted the office of Mr. Watson, and they were helpful and forthright."

    First: The "incident"? Here's what the memo said: "Recently, there have been local incidents in which military personnel have been verbally assaulted while commuting on the Metro. Uniformed members have been approached by individuals expressing themselves as anti-government, shouting anti-war sentiments, and using racial slurs against minorities."

    That's not an "incident," thats "incidents. The fact that a particular incident was described does not change the fact that the memo states as fact that incidents, plural, occurred. Precision about such things is a prerequisite for reporting.

    But that tack is wrong on its face anyway. The fact that Yon got someone who clearly had no authority to authenticate the incidents is bad reporting. If he couldn't find the author - he should have reported that. I have no problem with him posting the memo. If I had a memo like that I would have posted it. But I would have noted that its authorship was unconfirmed, and I surely would have said it seemed "fishy" if I myfreakingself actually thought that. Why would you hold that back from readers?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    LThom · 10 years ago
    I was unclear in the frist section:

    Mark also: You crack me up. It's an "authenticated memo"? Did you have it checked by scientists: "Yes, we have confirmed that it is indeed words of some sort in a message - definitely a memo." The fact that it's a freaking memo is not the question. It's authenticity and how it was reported on are.

    I mean it's authenticity in regards to the facts it states, not its authenticity in regards to whether it was an actual Dept of Transportation Federal Transit Administration memo.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    AVN · 10 years ago
    The folks who wrote and pushed out this memo were not trying to generate media. Let's remember that. They were trying to do their jobs and be proactive. If your job is force protection, you don't wait until lots of people get harassed or assaulted before getting off your duff and doing something. You try and respond as quickly as possible and get ahead of the power curve. That's what happened here. The memo probably should have been written a little more carefully, and make it clearer that there was only one incident confirmed, and that there might be others. But the main point of the memo, was to provide advice to servicemembers and civilian employees of DoD and the military services on how to avoid such incidents. The advice at the end about not displaying your ID badge, keep 'shop talk' to a minimum, etc. are standard operational security (OPSEC) that is preached throughout the military. To be honest, the memo probably just used a single incident as an opportunity to reinforce the need to maintain operational security. People get lax after six years of war. There was no conspiracy intended by the memo writers.

    Lefties got their panties into a knicker over this incident because they still harbor tremendous guilt over what they and their intellectual forefathers did to our returning troops from Vietnam. They also know that their shameful hostile displays towards the Soldiers during Nam hurt their political causes, and so they are absolutely hellbent to prevent it from hurting their cause again.
  • This commment is unpublished.
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