- Published: Thursday, 29 May 2008 18:30
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.
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!
David J. Watson
National Operations Center
(202) 282-8116 (STE)
80-822-1408 (Red Switch)