The St. Louis Dispatch ran an "article" on November 8 by former embedded reporter Ron Harris, purportedly debunking claims made by ex-Marine Jimmy Massey that he and his unit engaged in all manner of atrocities while in Iraq during the early days of the occupation. Complete with perhaps the most unflattering photo published on a newspaper site since the tighty-whitey-clad-Saddam tabloid photo, the piece appeared to have some merit, assuming as one would that a debunking piece in a major US newspaper would have involved extra editorial oversight, fact-checking and source-vetting.
But it turns out one cannot assume too much these days, as appears to be evidenced in an equally scathing debunking-of-the-debunking piece quickly put together by antiwar commentator Stan Goff, which may or may not have been vetted by an editor before it was posted November 8 to the CounterPunch website. Goff's contribution was followed on the 10th by a response from Massey himself.
I spent some time looking into the various claims of the various writers this week, since TNS ran two pieces over the past year citing some of Massey's claims. One was about his testimony at the Canadian asylum trial of a fellow soldier. The other was a report about loose trigger-fingers at US military "checkpoints" in Iraq, particularly the one where soldiers shot at released hostage Giuliana Sgrena and Italian secret agent Nicola Calipari, wounding the former and killing the latter.
But I must confess, given the arguments at hand, it appears impossible to either fully corroborate Massey's story (which does appear to contain contradictions, exaggerations and possibly distortions), or to really validate Harris's decidedly sloppy critique. What is clear is that Harris played fast and loose with his assertions -- especially his claims about the content of Massey's claims -- and that he did one of the poorest jobs of reporting I've seen on a story like this in at least a couple of weeks (which is sadly saying quite a lot, given how much news I read and how bad American journalism is today).
That said, I don't regret summarizing and linking to Harris's story in TNS's In Other News section last week (except for the headline I used, "Ex-marine's shocking war stories revealed as tall tales," which I have since moderated), and yet I don't regret citing Massey's claims in other TNS stories. Allow me to explain...
» Continue reading "The Jimmy Massey Controversy: Should TNS Retract or Correct?"