The other day I was reading a piece that said a U.S. Navy destroyer was using cluster bombs against the citizens of Misrata, Libya.
The writer, is not a journalist working for a traditional news outlet. Rather, she an activist writing for one of the latest start-ups that will take anyone who can write about something.
I love citizen journalists. In my career as a managing editor, I’ve come across several who could write better and dig deeper into a story than some J-school reporters I know. But, in this case, the writer for the junk news site has a blatant bias with slipshod research, if any, no balance to the piece and no basic checking of the military facts.
If you’re going to be a citizen journalist you owe it to your readers to get the story right, even if you are writing for an e-rag.
The piece, “PSYOP: US Navy cluster bombs oil-rich Libya, blames Gadaffi” by Deborah Dupre was published in the online site Examiner.com.
Dupre, who has an advance degree in science and should know better on how to do research, leans on Iran’s state-sponsored PressTV.com for her own politically oriented charges against the Navy.
But it goes further, PressTV published the piece from a group or person called Human Rights Investigation which conveniently came online the day after the Misrati attack and blaming the Navy.
Let me be clear, Dupre and PressTV and HRI are making political statements by using made up evidence and misidentified photographs. In HRI and PressTV’s case, it’s deliberate. In Dupre’s, I sincerely hope she was only duped in bolstering her naive agenda.
Dupre claims the guided-missile destroyer USS Gary fired cluster bombs at civilians in Misrati. She bases this solely on HRI’s report. Interestingly, as I write this, HRI has removed their accusations against the Navy but continues to spew out propaganda pieces.
So here are some of the key errors in her story and its premise.
1. Cluster bombs are dropped from an aircraft. A mortar round is fired from a tube firmly planted on the ground.
2. The photograph used by Dupre and HRI is a Spanish-made cluster mortar used by infantry — it’s not a bomb, and it’s not fired by U.S. Navy ships.
3. The Spanish manufacturer of the mortar is Instalaza SA. You can see the mortar still on its online inventory, though they no longer sell it.
4. The photographs used by PressTV and HRI were taken by C.J. Chivers a New York Times military journalist who found the remnants of the mortar. He writes about this in his NYTimes. blog. Chivers is a former Marine Corps infantry officer who graduated from the Army’s Ranger School and saw combat in the first Gulf War.
5. The ID of the MAT-120 mortar shows that it was sold to the Libyan government which took possession of the munitions between 2006 and 2008. This was written about by Javier L. Noriega in the Spanish press, CincoDias.com.
6. The use of cluster mortars against Misrata by Libya’s army was confirmed by the reputable Human Rights Watch and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.
7. PressTV has been labeled by the International Commission for Human Rights in Iran as an intelligence apparatus of the Iranian government, according to reports in the BBC. It also denies the Holocaust occurred.
8. Human Rights Intelligence has no address, no individuals named as part of its organization nor its staff. In other words, there is no transparency. Compare this to Human Rights Watch.
9. Dupre throws in an unrelated incident about the commanding officer and the executive officer of the amphibious transport USS Ponce were relieved of command. What does this have to do with cluster munitions and Misrata? Nothing. As a note, the two officers were canned for failing to discipline the ship’s sailors for humiliating hazing rituals.
I’ve asked HRI and Dupre to comment and have yet to receive a reply.
There is a line between activism and citizen journalism and Dupre definitely falls in the former. But even as an activist, you cannot twist the truth to your liking and hope it stands up to scrutiny.
Dupre’s piece also destroys Examiner.com’s credibility as a news source. For me, it falls in with Answer.com and a lot of other phony information sites. As a consumer of news, one needs to be mindful of where it comes from. Examiner now is in the doubtful category.
Editors need to know more about the military and look harder at their contributors’ source material, otherwise they end up with the likes of Dupre.
Citizen journalists need to dig even deeper and double- or even triple-confirm your sources and data. And they need to reconsider writing for e-rags like Examiner when sitting right next to their great piece is shlock.
If you’re going to cover the military, whether as a professional, activist or citizen journalist, do it with integrity and knowledge.
Here’s another excellent piece on the subject by another combat journalist, Carl Prine, on his blog Line of Departure.