A fake story that circulated shortly after Osama bin Laden was killed went viral online reporting that one of the SEAL members had called his father to tell him he was on that raid.
The story was picked up by Notimex, Mexico’s version of a news agency, and made it into La Opinion of Los Angeles, Latina Magazine, Fox News Latino and El Universal in Mexico City newspapers’ websites without verification of the facts. (Copy editors at these papers should hang their heads in shame for this blunder). It even made it to the wonkroom.thinkprogressive.org website (the story written by Andrea Nill is still there with a poor excuse for follow-up).
Media commentator Richard Prince writes:
“On May 2, 2011, stories began circulating that a Navy SEAL by the name of Rubén Mejía had participated in the mission that killed Osama bin Laden. The bullets include that he was the son of Mexican immigrants from Guanajuato, (Mexico) who now live in Perris, CA.
“Alejandro De La Cruz, who describes himself as ‘Follower of great tweeters. Media junkie. Lover of photography. Managing editor of @turnstylenews,’ wrote on storify.com.
“His story appeared under the headline, ‘Hero Or Hoax: The Rubén Mejia Story /A radio station call-in from a father turns into a fabricated story being sent through the newswires and republished by outlets around the world.’
“De La Cruz then traced the spread of the tale: ‘The story first appeared through Mexico’s El Universal’s website through a newswire from Notimex. . . . . It was run on May 3 by La Opinion’s news site. . . . The story’s origins have since been retraced to an interview that took place between a caller and a radio host on Los Angeles’ La Raza, 97.9 radio station. However, no archive of the interview can be located.‘” (emphasis added.)
But Raul A. Reyes a columnist for USA Today and a Huffington Post contributor got caught up in the racial implications of the feat.
Even nationally known Latino commentator Ruben Navarette whipped out a note and reposted the fake story on his FaceBook account.
I noted on Navarette’s FB wall that no English-language U.S. outlets were releasing the names of the operatives who participated in the mission. That’s because the Pentagon and White House will not release the names for security reasons — and their names will not be released for about 60 years, if ever.
I spotted this obvious hoax when one of my FB friends posted it. I immediately sent up a red flag to them and others letting them this was in no way a true story.
First, a SEAL would never jeopardize operational security, even their wives have no idea what they really do.
Second, the fake report said he had been promoted to sergeant. These are Navy and Coast Guard personnel; there are no sergeants in the Navy.
Third, The report said two soldiers arrived at the home of the father with a folded flag saying they were there to honor the son’s feat.
Fourth, the story goes on to call the SEALs a squadron, even Mexicans know the difference between a squadron and a team.
Fifth, the report stated the son said he would be receiving a portion of the $50 million reward offered by the U.S. government. No federal employee, including military personnel, are eligible for the reward.
Subsequent to the story being disseminated, several AP and other national news services have written on the super-secret group and why no one could know who the commandos are.
The daring feat was executed (no pun intended) by the formerly known Navy SEAL Team Six. Its official name is Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU). They are called the “silent professionals” because — not only are they stealthy in their operations — they know how to keep their mouths shut.
Many editors and copy editors don’t look at a wire stories as closely as they should. Just because it comes from the Associated Press, Notimex or Agence France Presse, doesn’t mean the originators of the story got their facts correct. In this case, since it was a hoax, it should have easy to spot by a copy editor who knew more about the military and how they conduct their own security.