“The thick-muscled man with close-cropped hair who called himself Rick Duncan seemed right out of central casting as a prop for a Democratic candidate running against Bush administration policies last fall.” So begins a story in The New York Times about Richard Strandlof, who pretty much chumped everyone. Everyone who wanted to believe that is.
But note this paragraph from the Times:
The tale of how Mr. Strandlof managed to fool so many people for so long says much about the power of veterans in Colorado, a swing state with numerous military bases. Politicians who now shun him were eager to have him by their side a year ago, no questions asked. Antiwar groups like VoteVets.org embraced him as a valued spokesman. And real veterans buried doubts about him out of respect, they said, for his alleged service and injuries.
Notice what’s missing from that paragraph of blame. Journalists, we are told — professional journalists — can’t be replaced by blogs and citizens because, well, this is just what you get. No one asks the tough questions to get at the truth. Of course, in this case, journalists didn’t ask the tough questions to get at the truth.
It wasn’t like there weren’t any red flags or anything. “There were also things that made Mr. Strandlof seem not credible. He never mentioned what unit he served with. He claimed to have lost a finger, but had 10 digits.”
Ultimately, it wasn’t journalists who blew the story open. It was the Colorado Veterans Alliance, one of many veterans’ groups who do the work of investigating guys who come out of the woodwork making suspicious claims.
Perhaps professional journalists were too afraid to question a Marine. God only knows the field day certain elements would have had with this at the start. How dare you questions this hero? Perhaps they liked the story too much — a gay, anti-war vet sticking it to the man — to check.
There were probably a hundred little reasons, some of them valid, that no journalist checked into this guy’s background. But these are the sorts of stories to keep in mind when journalists — and, yes, I am one — go on about how they’re professionally trained seekers of truth and that such a lofty task should not be left to unqualified bloggers.