The other day, there was a Memorial Day story, written by freelancer, Nicole Rodriguez, for an E.W. Scripps newspaper, that I was editing that contained so many factual errors, I couldn’t believe it already had gone through a couple of rounds of editing.
Never mind that the subject being quoted never served in the military yet runs around in an Army Combat Uniform and calls himself “colonel.”
What was frustrating was reading something that the freelance reporter should have done — check the facts, and turned the story around about a local “Stolen Valor” issue, and not the original assignment she was sent to cover.
In this case, Rodriguez was interviewing the pseudo colonel whose organization was placing white crosses and Stars of David with the names of Floridians killed in action since World War II.
The freelancer wrote that the fake colonel had served in the Army. I’m not sure where she got this information, because there is a statement from this man who admits to never serving in the military.
The freelance reporter went on to write, “In a scene reminiscent of Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, 2,800 white crosses and stars of David will be erected … .”
Shades of Dick Cheney when, at the Republican Convention on August 3, 2000, he said “Just before you settle down on the landing pad, you look upon Arlington National Cemetery…its gentle slopes and crosses row on row …”
Last month, I was at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery to pay my respects to my father and several of his friends buried there. The cemetery was in the process of realigning the thousands of headstones so they would look all uniform in height and angle.
There were no crosses, just rounded headstones.
I had to remind myself that there are no crosses or Stars of David at Arlington either. A check of my photo archives from Arlington also showed no crosses. Yes, our overseas military cemeteries use these religious symbols as markers — not in the U.S.
So, where did the freelancer get this from? Since there was no attribution, I’ll assume the writer just thought there were crosses and stars there.
Thought it up, or made it up, either way this kind fact is easy to look up. Just open up a browser and search for Arlington National Cemetery photos. What you will see are headstones going back to the Civil War.
Additionally, the reporter never questioned the white crosses and stars idea. At least there are no notes in the story. How would the fake colonel respond, that not all of those killed in action had his Judeo-Christian bias?
The two wars we have been fighting for the past 10 years have service members from all faiths, Muslims, Buddhists, even those who practice neo-pagan Wicca. I don’t know if any of the Florida-specific service members are of these faiths that will be memorialized this weekend. But the reporter should have asked if there were, and what if (for future years).
Reporters need to do basic fact-checking and ask deeper questions before sending the story to the editors. Don’t assume. And editors need to send stories back if they aren’t sourced. The result could be the loss of credibility and looking stupid in print.
If you’re going to write about the military do your homework, more than likely your editor is ignorant as well. Make yourself the authority at your news organization. You will serve them well and your readers better.
So she missed a national story, stuck to the rookie mistake and got both of them wrong.