Saturday, March 29, 2008

Reminiscing with the future in mind

At this time last year, I was in Washington taking photos of the Jefferson Memorial during the National Cherry Blossom Festival. All that reminiscing has got me thinking about how my past has plowed a road into the future (and all that philosophical baloney).

I rarely talk shop on The Offlede, and I doubly rarely get too personal with my posts for fear my boredom could be contagious. But there are a few happenings coming up that excite me personally on a professional level (if only that made sense).

First, next week will present my first chance for in-house training at FLORIDA TODAY. I was promised it when I was hired, and now, it's being delivered - with food.

With about 20 other journalists - including higher-level editors, reporters, you name 'em - I'll be learning to produce publishable video from start to finish. Gannett trainers are coming in with the equipment and the know-how. I'm going to be grouped with two reporters. We'll report, shoot and edit. I'm severely lacking in this skill set, so once I'm proficient (that is the goal), I hope to be an all-around-darn-good journalist. And we're being fed breakfast and lunch each day, so what' not to like about this training?

Second, in order to do some of these tasks for myself and for this blog, I'll soon upgrade my computer to a MacBook Pro. The current Toshiba machine has slowed with age. It trembles during simple tasks such as looking for the definition of "za" on (a horrible dictionary, by the way, but sometimes, it's just darn convenient). "Za" is not a word, according to Merriam-Webster online.

My video training will last four days of about 12 hours each. In addition, I'll be working one normal day, so next week won't be a cakewalk. But overtime is good for the personal economic state.

Oh, and in case you don't know what I do, I'm a copy editor, a post that is responsible, among other things, for editing stories, writing headlines, then crunching them to fit onto the printed newspaper page. Copy editors are the last line of defense: If we don't catch a major error committed by a reporter or another editor - and there are many - then the compound is infiltrated and newspapers go down in defeat (but don't for a second blame the news industry's state on me).

Third, I'll be heading to Denver for my second external training mission (the first was a newspaper design conference in Tampa). That will be the three-day national conference of the American Copy Editors Society (but I'll be there for five days). I will meet with other such journalists to commiserate about our jobs and will reconnect with some old friends.

But more importantly, I'll be a panelist during one of the conference sessions called "Online Copy Editing: What’s Being Done, What Could Be Done." University of Oregon journalism professor John Russial requested my presence because FLORIDA TODAY employs Web producers who actually know a bit about editing (as opposed to those with an exclusive technological focus). I'll speak about my experience with Web producing since arriving. I love the Net, so this opportunity is perfect.

All of this has made me think about how far I've come since leaving Maine. I took the nation's capital by storm, graduated with my master's from American University, enjoyed Philadelphia and the ultimate copy editing teacher in professor Ed Trayes, left, at Temple University and loved my internship at Newsday.

I'll be blogging from Denver, so if there are any journalists reading this, you may want to stay tuned. And I guess I should take some video while I'm there, if not just to pretend I learned something.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Life in 111 words: Barbecue is good, but really, what's so different from grilling?


friedokra002I’m gonna barbecue some dogs and burgers this weekend,” I said.

“You mean grill,” my co-worker from out West said. “Not barbecue. There’s a difference.”

“Yeah, whatever,” I said.

“There’s a difference.”

“Yeah, whatever.”

That was when I lived up There, up North. Now, I’m down Here, down South.

My new co-worker took me to Sonny’s Barbecue. She’s a native Floridian.

Ribs. Pork. Chicken. Beef.

Tender. Moist. Flaky. Sweet.

Corn bread, mac ‘n’ cheese, beans, okra on the side.

“It’s about how it’s cooked: slow and low,” she said. “That’s the secret. It’s not burned or tough. There’s nothin’ like it. Not even grilling.”

“Yeah,” I said. “There’s a BIG difference.”

Monday, March 24, 2008

Life in 111 words: A hike along the Econlockhatchee River restores the kid in us

Cousin Danny

To be young again. That's cliche, right?

Today, it wasn’t.

I share many childhood memories with my cousin Danny. We fished. We played capture the flag. We hiked and biked.

Today, we trekked through the woods of Florida instead of Maine. We jumped off rocks we thought were mountains. We screamed when we heard rustling. We spit into the water and took pictures of it. We teased a snake with a stick.

Then, we were hungry. So we spoiled our supper with two scoops of ice cream. He had one of New York cheesecake, one of strawberry cheesecake. I had one of peanut butter, one of Oreo.

We were kids again.

Blogger's note: The above is a new feature on The Offlede meant to capsulize my life without useless words.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Jessica Lynch and Donald Walters: Why media embraced a supposed heroine instead of the real hero of an Iraq war battle

Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch is awarded the Purple Heart after suffering injuries in a car accident in Iraq. The media once portrayed her as fighting her attackers in an Iraq war battle, but those actions actually were performed by Army Sgt. Donald Walters, who was killed. (U.S. Army photo by Brett McMillan)

Five years later and the same kind of stories are being pumped out of Iraq. Death. Heroism. Moral turpitude. Need I continue?

And in a few examples, the same exact stories still are alive.

To me, the most glaring is that of Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who was falsely credited with killing Iraqis on the battlefield. Truth is, her gun jammed, and she never fired a bullet. Truth is, someone - Sgt. Donald Walters, to be exact - did kill a bunch of Iraqis in the ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company.

But Lynch is still a star, despite the phony way she achieved stardom. This story in U.S. News & World Report again has revived her celebrity.
Former POW Jessica Lynch Recalls Her Captivity in Iraq
Lynch, Shoshana Johnson, and Patrick Miller talk to U.S. News about moving on
By Anna Mulrine
Posted March 18, 2008
And again, the story is the same old, same old: Lynch was a small-town girl propelled into the big-time spotlight. She still gets hate mail because some people think she wrongly capitalized on the incorrect version of the role she took in the battle. She still suffers effects of the injuries she received. She still is considered by some a hero just because she joined the military.

The story also has comments from two other soldiers who survived the ambush of the 507th, but it does not mention Walters - most likely because he died.

It is time I posted my academic and journalistic investigation into the events that led to, then perpetuated the mix-up of Lynch and Walters. Below I have strung some excerpts into a long but mostly cohesive summary. (It may be long, but it's only slightly longer than the U.S. News story, so read mine.)

To download the full report to print and read in your spare time with a hot pot of coffee, just click here for the Word version and here for the PDF version.

Also, the following are PDF documents of the military investigation into Walters' case. They were obtained by his family through a Freedom of Information request. I obtained them from the family. None of this has been published until now.

Book1 Book2Part1 Book2Part2 Book2Part3 Book3Part1 Book3Part2 Book3Part3 Book3Part4 Book3Part5 Book3Part6 Book4Part1 Book4Part2 Book4Part3 Book4Part4 Book4Part5 Book4Part6 Book5Part1 Book5Part2 Book5Part3 Book5Part4 Book5Part5 Book5Part6 Book5Part7 Book5Part8 Book5Part9

Please, if you have time to read this, do. It's important because the story has never been covered to the extent that this report covers it. To prove that, here is part of an e-mail Walters' father sent to me about my research: "Of the reports and articles that we have read, yours was the most well researched, best documented, thorough, thought-out, logical and honest of them all. To say that we are ecstatic with the results of your project is an understatement. I would certainly award you the Pulitzer prize if it was within my power to do so. Unfortunately, as we have experienced so many times in the past, this will probably be as far as your investigation will ever go. We would like the government, the military, the media and the people to acknowledge the fact that they were wrong but they never will because the myth is far more interesting than reality."

Donald Walters and Jessica Lynch: fact and fiction on a battlefield

“She got a million-dollar book deal,” Norman Walters said about Lynch, “and my son got a gravestone,” above. (Photo provided by Norman and Arlene Walters)

United States Army Sergeant Donald Walters never signed a million-dollar book deal. He never made the front cover of Time, Newsweek or People. He never even had a hero’s welcome when he returned from duty in Iraq. He never had a chance to be a star.

He instead died in relative obscurity even though his story is unlike any other that came out of the Iraqi ambush that took his life.

On March 23, 2003, just three days after United States forces began their invasion of Iraq, Walters’ 507th Maintenance Company took a wrong turn in the desert and headed straight into the seething town of An Nasiriyah. As the unit’s vehicles broke down or ran out of gas, Iraqi fighters realized the Americans’ vulnerability and opened fire. After he was captured, Walters, a slim 33-year-old blond from Salem, Oregon, was stabbed brutally, shot in the leg, then fatally shot twice in the back.

But if it were up to the American media and military, the information about what Walters did before he died would have never came out. He fired every bullet that he was issued in order to provide cover for his fellow soldiers as they fled. Walters – who was just a cook for the 507th and was never supposed to fire a shot – killed numerous Iraqis, according to military sources, a Freedom of Information response and interviews with sources involved. He was fighting to the death. And after Fedayeen forces captured him, he was executed.

In a sense, Walters’ story did get told. In fact, it made headlines worldwide. But none of the newspapers, none of the magazines, none of the television networks used his name. Instead, they used the name of Private First Class Jessica Lynch, a 19-year-old blond-haired, “prissy girl” from the quaint town of Palestine, West Virginia.

In the April 3, 2003, issue of The Washington Post, a four-reporter team cited anonymous sources who said Lynch was “fighting to the death.” A headline with that partial quote captured readers worldwide. For the media, the Lynch story was a cinematic triumph-over-all-odds, stereotype-busting kind of story about a female Rambo. For the United States military, the Lynch story was a small victory in an otherwise disastrous ambush that left 11 soldiers dead.

But the story was wrong. It was based on mistaken identity and advanced by the military as propaganda. The Post used misinformation to set the agenda, and other American media seized the story as simply a great, feel-good tale.

The battle for An Nasiriyah, the first major conflict of Operation Iraqi Freedom, claimed 28 American troops altogether, making March 23, 2003, one of the deadliest days of the entire war. Walters was the first to die, but the last to be remembered. After Walters’ burial, it would take more than a year for any truth to emerge. It was a year in which his parents, Norman and Arlene Walters, joined their congresswoman, United States Representative Darlene Hooley of Oregon, in sending letters to President George W. Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and several commanding officers of Walters’ company. Through four Freedom of Information requests, the truth of the battle was discovered in May 2004, on the fourth try, when the Pentagon released the results of an investigation that totaled more than 1,000 pages and proved Walters’ heroism. For that, he was awarded the Silver Star.

But still, the story never gained traction in the American media. In the year after the ambush, Lynch’s media celebrity overshadowed the Walters story. He was never as widely recognized in the mainstream press as Lynch was. Her biography, which was authored by former New York Times reporter Rick Bragg, instantly made The New York Times Best-Seller List. Lynch’s life had forever been placed into the limelight for no extraordinary reason.

“She got a million-dollar book deal,” Norman Walters said, “and my son got a gravestone.”

The attack

When Lynch’s vehicle came under fire, the media led readers and viewers to believe her actions were similar to those of Walters. But in reality, things happened differently.

Two soldiers from a disabled vehicle jumped into the still-operational humvee with Lynch, one on each side of her. Those two soldiers, Sergeant George Buggs and Private First Class Edward Anguiano, returned fire while Lynch’s M-16 jammed, clogged with three days’ worth of blowing sand: It was “as useful as a hockey stick. … All the bullets and stuff just jammed up inside,” she told Diane Sawyer. That’s when Lynch buried her head between her knees and began to pray.

As Lynch’s humvee sped along, being driven by her friend, Private Lori Piestewa, it soon crashed into an Iraqi truck that was blocking the road, killing everyone but Lynch, who received broken bones, spinal injuries and head lacerations. When Lynch awoke, she was in Saddam Hospital being cared for by Iraqi doctors. After U.S. soldiers rescued her in a nighttime raid – the first successful rescue of a prisoner of war since World War II – the body of Walters was found in a shallow grave behind the hospital along with seven other fallen comrades and one Iraqi.

But for Lynch, a historic rescue set off a media frenzy that propelled her into international news coverage for years to come. She became, in many ways, the embodiment of the Iraq war. Her media celebrity was sparked by a green-tinged video shot by members of the rescue team. The video portrayed the team as being fired upon as it barged through doors of the hospital to get to Lynch.

The rescue, which ironically took place on April Fool’s Day, was exaggerated. In actuality, the Fedayeen, who once were guarding the hospital, had vacated the premises days before the rescue. The video was exaggerated.

Walters, Lynch mixed up

Media filled in the holes of the Lynch story, but for the parents of Walters, the nine days their son was missing were still empty. When they received autopsy reports months later, however, and compared his injuries with Lynch’s, something clicked.

Media reports said Lynch had been shot in the leg and stabbed twice in the abdomen, the same injuries that appeared on Walters’ autopsy report. “I remembered seeing it so well on TV when they rescued her,” Arlene Walters said. “They were saying she was stabbed twice and shot in the right leg. But Donald was the only soldier stabbed twice in the abdomen and shot in the right leg. That was all attributed to Jessica.”

The initial Army report about the ambush had given some indication of Walters’ heroism, but it wasn’t conclusive. Though their son had been awarded the Bronze Star, just as Lynch had, Arlene and Norman Walters believed that there was more to the story and that their son deserved to be recognized further.

They filed four Freedom of Information requests for the records of the Army investigation into the death of their son and other information concerning the nine days from the time his fellow soldiers left him behind, to the time his body was found behind the hospital where Lynch was rescued. In addition, their Democratic congresswoman, Darlene Hooley of Oregon, in a 2004 letter obtained by The Offlede, pressured Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to investigate.

“I believe it is imperative for the family of Sgt. Walters, as well as the families of the other casualties of this ambush, that the truth is investigated and reported,” Hooley wrote.

A communication error

The Washington Post’s erroneous April 3, 2003, report was based on unidentified sources who cited field intelligence reports. Those reports documented the National Security Agency’s surveillance of Iraqi radio transmissions or cellular-telephone conversations that, hours after the ambush, described “an American female soldier with blond hair who was very brave and fought against them.” The source said she had fired all of her ammunition. Being the only blond woman in the company, the feat was attributed to Lynch.

But in a World News Tonight broadcast on July 22, 2003, ABC correspondent Jim Wooten cited an official report that suggested the Iraqi telephone calls accurately described a different soldier. “It’s pretty clear this is what happened,” Wooten said during the broadcast. “American translators misunderstood two very similar Arabic pronouns, confusing ‘he’ with ‘she.’ And the ‘he,’ as it turns out, was this man … Donald Walters.”

Arlene Walters told The Offlede that this story later was confirmed by Captain Troy King, the commanding officer of the 507th. “Captain King said himself that it was not a female soldier fighting and doing all these things. That was Don,” she said.

Army Brigadier General Howard Bromberg responded to an early 2004 letter that was sent by Arlene Walters to the White House, which was then forwarded to the Pentagon. In the letter obtained by The Offlede, Bromberg wrote, “We believe Sergeant Walters fought bravely and that his actions likely prevented his unit from suffering additional casualties and loss of life.”

Paige Parker, a reporter for The Oregonian who reconstructed the incident, said in an interview that the story of Walters’ heroism was very plausible “given the condition of his body and the initial physical description of the soldier” who was fighting to the death.

And on March 19, 2004, Hooley told the Walters that their son “was indeed the brave soldier mentioned in the report and that he was to be recognized for his gallantry in battle.”

Finally, an official response

In May 2004, hundreds of pages of documents handed over to Norman and Arlene Walters as the result of a Freedom of Information request showed that their son had fired 201 shots from the total 210 bullets that were issued for his M-16 rifle, as evidenced by the shell casings found at the scene of the ambush. After firing his weapon repeatedly, Walters was captured, then taken to an Iraqi military building in An Nasiriyah, the documents say. Marines later found blood at the base of that building and matched it to Walters’ DNA. Until the Marines found the blood, Walters’ death was thought to have been combat-related. After medical examiners were given the case, however, they ruled it a homicide. Walters had been a prisoner of war.

Until the culmination of the investigation, the military was uncooperative with the family. Arlene Walters said the military’s “rudeness” included the failure to notify them of their son’s status during the days in late March 2003 when Walters was missing, and an inconsiderate military grief counselor who attended Walters’ funeral at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

“We were treated like second-class citizens,” she said. The Pentagon wouldn’t cooperate because officials thought that the Walters family might have been estranged from their son, she said.

A policy of telling a victim’s parents, not just the spouse and children, was added to the death-notification process after Walters’ murder.

Lynch disavows media claims

To Lynch’s credit, she has said that Walters deserves to be called a hero. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in April 2007 called a hearing to investigate the military and media deception in the cases of Lynch and former National Football League star and Army Corporal Pat Tillman, whose death in Iraq also was shrouded in military mismanagement and cover-up. Lynch told the committee: “I am still confused as to why they chose to lie and tried to make me a legend when the real heroics of my fellow soldiers that day were, in fact, legendary. … People like Patrick Miller and Sergeant Donald Walters who actually fought until the very end.”

An attractive news story

Though plenty of evidence existed against it, the military was slow to denounce The Washington Post’s account, and Lynch became, in many ways, one of the most recognizable – and attractive – representations of the patriotic American GI.

In a story that was published on the same day as the originating Washington Post account, reporters said “the White House viewed yesterday as an excellent message day” because of the news of Lynch’s rescue and of Iraqi civilians welcoming American troops in Najaf. In the originating piece, Senator Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas, said: “Talk about spunk! She just persevered. It takes that and a tremendous faith that your country is going to come and get you.”

An analysis of that April 3, 2003, coverage that said Lynch “was fighting to the death” reveals many indicators of the military’s stake in the apocryphal campaign. First, the danger of using unidentified sources proved damaging to The Post’s reputation. The story doesn’t specify whether the source for the quote “fighting to the death” was a military official, a Bush administration official or some other political official. The story just read, “one official said.”

But in the end, the media was much more open to the story of Jessica Lynch, the survivor, than to the story of Donald Walters, the dead soldier. “It’s not a happy story,” said Dante Chinni of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. “You don’t want the negative story out there because it exposes the reports about how screwed up everything got and how bad the situation was. It’s not just about protecting the Lynch story: It’s about making sure the bad news doesn’t get out.”

Michael Getler, who was the ombudsman at The Post during the Lynch saga and is now the ombudsman at PBS, told me that the source for the story likely contacted The Post, further raising suspicion of the source’s accuracy and motive.

The story “was reported in almost the World War II-propaganda style where this young woman goes down, guns blazing and is shot and stabbed, and none of that happened,” Getler said in an interview.

So the novelty of Lynch as the down-home girl from West Virginia helped perpetuate a story that arose from the military’s propaganda and the media’s retelling of the military’s version of events. This was the kind of thing movies are made of. It echoed earlier stories and fairy tales of plucky women fighting against the odds. “She was the girl next door for the middle-America audience,” Hanson said. “She was just tailor-made. As soon as I saw her picture when she was missing, I knew that this was going to be big. She was the face of the war.”

Blind journalism at The Washington Post

Until April 3, 2003, readers of false reports from The New York Times and The Associated Press, which said a woman had been shot and stabbed, did not have a greater idea of how Lynch got those injuries until The Post kicked coverage up a notch and said she had been “fighting to the death” and was injured during that firefight against Iraqis.

“There were a lot of holes in the story, so there was competition to fill the holes,” Hanson said. “The Post was the one that filled them.”

If Internet surfers were to search on for the terms “fighting to the death,” the first result they would receive is the April 3 story in The Post titled “She Was Fighting to the Death.” Out of 547,000 search results (which has grown from 66,200 at the original writing of this investigation), the first is The Post’s inaccurate report of what happened on March 23, 2003, during the ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company. Adding “Lynch” to the search returns 8,840 documents (636 at original writing). A Google search for “Private Jessica Lynch” returns 20,200 documents. A Google search for “Sergeant Donald Walters” returns 1,300 documents. That’s at least a symbol of how this story has persisted and has trumped many others that came out the ambush of the 507th, such as the story of Walters. Today, it is possible that in the eyes of many members of the public, the story is still framed the way it originally was published in The Post.

“We want history to be correct,” Arlene Walters said. “Don had three kids, and when they grow up, they would like to hear what their dad did instead of giving the credit to someone else. Any history should be correct.”

The rash of stories that developed after April 3, 2003, can be traced back to The Washington Post. Throughout the day on April 3, a plain young woman, Lynch, transmuted into a modern war icon as journalists, anchorpersons, commentators and politicians readily accepted The Post account as fact.

In describing her, a Fox News anchorwoman said: “Hard as nails. That’s what they’re saying about Private First Class Jessica Lynch.” Bill Whitaker, a CBS News reporter, said: “She shot until she ran out of ammunition. Shot several Iraqi soldiers, even though she herself had been wounded.” NBC, CBS, NPR and CNN all repeated the exact quote, “she was fighting to the death,” that was cited by The Post on April 3. And in perhaps one of the earliest quotations of The Post, anchorwoman Katie Couric repeated the quote on NBC’s Today Show and said: “She fired her weapon until it ran out of ammunition. She sustained multiple gunshot wounds. She watched several soldiers in her unit die around her. She was fighting so hard, did not want to be taken alive.”

Over the two weeks after April 3, 2003, Lynch was mentioned in major newspapers 919 times, according to LexisNexis. General Tommy Franks, the war’s commander, got 639 references, while Vice President Dick Cheney got 549 and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz had 389. “She stood with giants,” journalism professor Christopher Hanson of the University of Maryland said in an interview.

Sergeant Walters, however, got just 34 references during that period.

A story that won’t go away

For The Washington Post, the Lynch story was largely its baby. Her fame was the newspaper’s creation. In the June 17, 2003, story that looked back on the Lynch case, Post reporters took another stab at explaining what had happened during the ambush of the 507th and the subsequent rescue of the private. But it came up short. The story was mostly about Lynch’s injuries, not the media’s mistakes. It does not even mention the criticism the newspaper received for the erroneous April 3 story until 432 words into it on page A16, the second, “jump” page. The newspaper has not yet owned up to its mistakes.

Meanwhile, Norman and Arlene Walters used every chance to publicize their son’s story, never to any great avail. They said they were interviewed for two hours for ABC’s Primetime special about Lynch titled “Private Jessica Lynch: An American Story” but were on air for less than 15 seconds. The Post interviewed Arlene Walters twice, but never for comment about her son’s heroic role in the ambush that originally was credited to Lynch.

“That’s where it was left,” Norman Walters said about his son’s story. “There was no follow-up to it to any great extent, and because of that, I get frustrated with it. It’s something that was just left unfinished. It’s a frustrating, irritating and aggravating subject. But it’s not because of what Jessica Lynch did or didn’t do. It’s the fact that the government and the media never really did bring the attention to it in the way they should have.”

Media stardom and media black hole

While lying in a military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, Private First Class Jessica Lynch said in Time magazine that she asked her mother: “Did I make the hometown Journal?” Her mother answered back: “Yeah, you made it, plus all these world papers.”

Sergeant Donald Walters now lies in a cemetery at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. While stationed on the border just inside Kuwait in early 2003 and waiting to enter Iraq for the first stage of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Walters sent his parents in Salem, Oregon, a ripped-out page of a military magazine. It was an advertisement for a casket specially made for Army soldiers such as him. Arlene Walters, the sergeant’s mother, recalled that her son had said: “Mom, if something happens to me, I want that casket. I might not make it home.”

Indeed, Walters never made it home, and because of a case of mistaken identity, his story never gained ground in the mainstream media while Lynch’s story took off despite its apocryphal foundation.

After the Lynch report was disproved, it persisted because she was a woman from a small town who entered the military to do something big. It was still a big story – big enough for a movie and a book and free tuition to West Virginia University, where Lynch would pursue her dream to become a schoolteacher.

There simply was not enough novelty to the Walters story. He was older – 33 compared with Lynch’s 19. He was twice divorced and had three daughters; she was just out of high school.

But Walters, like Lynch, aspired to help children. His method was through children’s books. His first work, “My First Fishing Trip,” chronicled the first time his father took him and his sister fishing while his father was stationed with the Air Force in Kansas. His family could not get it published. Plus, Walters was dead. If a book were to be written or a movie were to be made about him, it would not have a happy ending.

The cases of Army Private First Class Jessica Lynch and Sergeant Donald Walters illustrate the power of a particular segment of media to lead others. It also illustrates journalists’ ignorance of truth and willingness to suspend belief of any information contrary to a good story. Wendy Swallow, journalism professor emeritus at American University, once said, “It was a good story … until we did some reporting.”

The Washington Post reporters assumed the roles of publicists, advancing that good story and serving as springboards for a myth. They did not wait. They did not hold. They did not consider evidence that would have pointed to another soldier – Sergeant Donald Walters, the true hero of the ambush on the 507th Maintenance Company. The media failed to give credit where credit was due. “I think they owe it to me, truthfully,” his mother said, “and to the memory of my son.”

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

New York Mets' Marlon Anderson gloves, dips, dives, recovers


New York Mets first baseman Marlon Anderson did a little tumble once he caught a pop fly Monday during the St. Patrick's Day game with the Washington Nationals.

Play through the above video to see my photos of the occasion.

The wind was blowing fiercely toward the outfield, blowing a ball, which at first seemed bound for the stands behind the Nats' dugout, back into the field of play. Anderson had a difficult time judging exactly where it would come down.

He had the beat on it the whole time and made the catch. But he was backpedaling when he did. And we all know New Yorkers have very little balance when it comes to important things, especially when they get back into a corner (see Eliot Spitzer). So he got tripped up, went to the ground and did a backward somersault on the turf.

But fortunately for the Mets, he held on. Unfortunately for the Nats, he held on.

The Boys of Spring home

Relive the magic of spring training with The Offlede

in review
The Boys of Spring

For The Offlede, Major League Baseball's spring training provided opportunities for new experiences: meeting professional athletes, jockeying for a position to get their autographs, getting perfect photos of them practicing and playing. It's a time when the fans get up close to the objects of their cheering and season-long devotion, and when the rookies have a chance to prove themselves. From a mean look from former Yankees third baseman Aaron Boone, to a heated argument by Tommy Lasorda, to the end of an era in Dodgertown, this is my take on The Boys of Spring.


Attempting to cure my case of the lazies that had me couch-ridden, I jumped off the leather piece of furniture and went to watch spring training workouts. I'm a huge baseball fan, and the stadium is only 10 minutes away, so I really didn't have an excuse. I annoyed Nationals manager Manny Acta, above, with my camera.


I forgive you, Aaron !@#$&% Boone

Aaron Boone looks at me like I'm stupid. He wants to say to me, "Are you serious? I'm trying to sign this bat. Stop taking photos! Let me concentrate! Does this look easy to you?" This also was the first day of the new telephoto lens, so the photos were improved.


D-Lowe, Nomar are still together

I hit up Dodgertown, the Los Angeles spring training complex in Vero Beach, about a 50-minute haul from Melb0urne. I got peaks at former Sox stars Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Lowe, as well as Tommy Lasorda, Joe Torre and Don Mattingly.


Wily Mo Pena misses Red Sox

Wily Mo Pena seems quite distressed now that he's with a losing team, the Washington Nationals. He was known for many great blasts over the Green Monster and onto Lansdown Street during his time with the Red Sox. He added his autograph to my Nats baseball. I also got close to Bret Boone.


Astros stick tongues out at fans

Kissimmee has been the red hot French Kissimmee in the past few days because Roger Clemens just started to throw batting practice to minor leaguers. And because he's fighting off accusations of steroid use, he has had more to worry about than the L-screen and the occasional line-drive that gets by it. I wonder if he would do any better against major leaguers.


Georgetown students face pros

The Washington Nationals played their first home spring training game against the Georgetown Hoyas, a college team. It would have been funny if the Nats had lost, but they didn't. The Hoyas got crushed, 14-0. The kid above got about a million free baseballs.


Troy Glaus and I ask, "What's the deal?"

What's the deal with ticket distribution these days? I paid $40 for two "good" seats at Space Coast Stadium to see a spring training game. But apparently, they weren't as good as I thought. And when I tried to improve them, I got the boot.


Red Sox come to Dodgertown

The final hours are winding down on the Los Angeles Dodgers' storied history at Dodgertown, the Vero Beach complex that is known for its family friendly atmosphere and that still conjures the old, high-socks days of Major League Baseball. A Dodgers game against the Boston Red Sox was a perfect opportunity to see the packed Holman Stadium for myself and to see the Sox in action for my first time.


Tommy Lasorda argues with umpire

The old man still has it. As Joe Torre and the rest of the Los Angeles Dodgers made for a spring training game in China, the better half of the split squad was under the management of 80-year-old Norristown, Pa., native Tommy Lasorda. And he gave 'em hell.


Mets celebrate holiday, new governor

New Yorkers hope the luck of the Irish, above, helps plow a path toward political success in their state with new Gov. David Paterson, who replaced disgraced Democrat Eliot Spitzer. Maybe it will leave them dancing in fields of green, as the Mets did with a 7-4 win.


Marlon Anderson gloves, dips, dives

New York Mets first baseman Marlon Anderson did a little tumble once he caught a pop fly during the St. Patrick's Day game with the Washington Nationals. Watch a slideshow of the event.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

New York Mets celebrate St. Patrick's Day, new governor with win

New Yorkers hope the luck of the Irish, above, helps plow a path toward political success in their state with new Gov. David Paterson, who replaced disgraced Democrat Eliot Spitzer. Maybe it will leave them dancing in fields of green, like the Mets, below.


As David Paterson was being sworn in as New York's first black, blind, male, Harlem native, bar-failing and affair-admitting governor in front of lawmakers in Albany, every other New Yorker was in Viera, Fla., watching the New York Mets beat the Washington Nationals, 7-3, in a spring training game. South Florida, which is as teaming with New Yorkers as New York is criminals, came out to support the Mets during a difficult time for the state and its politics. About 5,500 people were at Space Coast Stadium, which is the most I have seen at the usually poor fan-drawing Nats facility.

St. Patrick's Day probably played a role in the good attendance. Irish green bloods and wannabe green bloods enjoyed watching a bunch of overpaid athletes in green hats, drinking green beer and eating green hot dogs.

ticket0640I felt luck was on my side most of the day. I got a sweet ticket in section 215, row 21, seat 15. With that numeral repetition, I must have had something going on.

And the shamrocks were really working for New York, too. They had the Nats' number since the first inning.

But, not surprisingly, I don't think the New York fans in attendance could get their home state's politics off their minds. Here's how the baseball game told a story of the rise and fall of a grandstanding politician.

In the beginning, there was a newspaper, The New York Times, that raked up some dirt on Eliot Spitzer, a Democratic governor who had apparently paid thousands of dollars for a high-class prostitute, Ashley Alexandra Dupre of the now-defunct Emperors Club VIP. The Times was accusing Spitzer of being a rake, moving around money slyly to hid his immorality from his wife and constituents.

The story was something quite off the wall: A self-professed scrupulous politician who endeavored during his short term as governor to eliminate corporate malfeasance apparently was a hypocrite. It was as bizarre as "The band is on the field. The band is on the field." Or, maybe, "The cars are on the field. The cars are on the field."

Spitzer was stuck in a situation he couldn't free himself from, like a broken bat that jabbed into the infield sod. He was faced with resigning only days after the Times story broke. How could such a disgraced politician continue leading a bedraggled state?

Though Spitzer's wife urged him to stay the course, scary people dressed in green, with green lips, yelled at him to call it quits. The pressure was mounting from opposing Republicans, too.

So Spitzer handed off the governor's hat to his lieutenant - just as the Nats' Boone brothers, Bret and Aaron, would do with their special green St. Patrick's Day ball caps. The Statehouse would belonged to Paterson.

A packed crowd of legislators gave Paterson a few standing ovations, as the 5,500 fans at Space Coast Stadium did for their teams. Paterson is hoping to ride the wave of public optimism for a compassionate and bipartisan gubernatorial administration, and for a large step by minority groups such as blind people, black people, male people, Harlem people, bar-failing people and affair-admitting people.

But Paterson won't be asking for any handouts as an old Irish man would seek free beer at baseball game on St. Patty's Day. He's got a tough road ahead.

People will be lined up wanting Paterson to address problems and put his signature on legislation passed through the New York Assembly and Senate, and on the impending budget, which has been of great concern. It will be a situation reminiscent of Mets outfielder Ryan Church trying to sign autographs for all the fans lined up outside the stadium after the game.

Paterson must do plenty of legwork. He must blindly put a finger up and hail a cab if necessary to get around and ask New Yorkers what's on their minds. He must be a governor of the people.

Paterson needs to do his reading as Joe Smith does on long team bus trips. Apparently, he's reading Michael Crichton's latest novel, "Next," about politics and biotechnology. Maybe biotechnology will lead to Paterson actually being able to read a book.

Paterson must be stern and discriminate instead of readily giving by putting his signature on any old bill. If it doesn't deserve his autograph, he should just send it back to where it came from.

In the end, Paterson hopes to blow the hats off everyone and stop the proverbial wrecking ball for his state of New York.

The Nationals pitcher, catcher and pitching coach were in the shape of a shamrock - until the umpire came out to break it up. Luck obviously was not on their side. Let's hope Paterson's fate isn't similar.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

New York's Eliot Spitzer was best-paid governor, and he got plenty of money from Kenneth Starr and Donald Trump

Despite a personal fortune developed on Manhattan's highfalutin law scene, New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer also was the highest-paid governor in 2007 with a $179,000 salary. Of course, that pleasure will pass to Lt. Gov. David Paterson, a more modest Harlem native who failed the state's bar exam.

Spitzer also had no problem raising money for his campaigns, both as attorney general and as governor. With enough funds to pay for political costs, he had plenty of his own cash to cover "personal expenses."

(Photo by U.S. State Department)

Campaign contributions

According to campaign finance reports filed in the state of New York, Spitzer already had almost $9 million in contributions for his 2010 re-election bid. That included $500,000 of his own money.

Most of Spitzer's financial allies have been hedge fund whizzes and top partners at law firms nationwide, but mostly in New York City. But they have come from both ends of the political spectrum.

Prominent Spitzer donors included the politically conservative "Apprentice" host Donald Trump, who chipped in $20,000, and his wife, Ivanka, who contributed $10,000 to his 2010 campaign. A politician who once prided himself in rooting out evil on Wall Street and in other segments of corporate America, Spitzer now is on the wrong end of Trump's "You're fired" trademark.

Brian D. Obergfell, a partner at the Emmet, Marvin & Martin law firm in New York City, donated $20,000 to Spitzer. Obergfell's wife, Jo-Ann, gave $10,000. Not surprisingly, Obergfell was rewarded by Spitzer with an appointment to the New York State Banking Board in June.

Spitzer also named Dale Hemmerdinger, who gave $10,000 to his campaign, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

stategovpaySome other notable donors were:

  • Kenneth Cole, fashion designer, $10,000
  • DLA Piper Rudnick, largest global law firm chaired by Major League Baseball's "Mitchell Report" author, George Mitchell, $10,000
  • Leo Hindery Jr., executive in residence at Columbia Business School and Huffington Post contributor, $10,000
  • Nancy Elizabeth Lieberman, former college basketball superstar and current Hall of Famer, $10,000
  • Edward Norton, actor who starred in movies such as "American History X" and "Fight Club," $10,000
  • Richard Dean Parsons, chairman of Time Warner (AOL and CNN parent), $10,000
  • Ronald Owen Perelman, investor and Forbes 28th richest man in the United States, $10,000
  • Arvind Raghunathan, managing director at Deutsche Bank, $10,000
  • Jonathan Rosen, New Yorker book critic, $10,000
  • Jerry Speyer, whose company owns Rockefeller Center and the Chrysler Building in New York City, $10,000
  • Kenneth Starr, former White House special counsel who investigated Bill Clinton's Whitewater land transactions, $10,000
Gubernatorial salary

For many governors, salary is not an issue because of their own wealth. For example, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would have been the highest-paid in 2007 at $206,500, but he gives his paycheck back to the state. By law, Schwarzenegger must accept it. But he chooses to unload the money to his charity of choice, California, once he gets paid.

Multimillionaire New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine willfully reduced his own salary to $1 last year. Corzine is a
former chief executive of financing giant Goldman Sachs. He reported an income of about $6 million in 2006 mostly through stocks, bonds and real estate.

The best Internet source for gubernatorial salaries is here, a story I wrote last year for, an arm of The Pew Research Center in Washington. If you search Google "governor salary," you would get that Web site. (Included in this post is the accompanying graphic by, which grants permission to reuse material with proper credit.)

It looks as though the governor had plenty of personal funds left over to pay for a high-class prostitute.

Blogger's note: All above information is original research done by The Offlede.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

OFFLEDE EXCLUSIVE! New York Post, scared out of its wits, takes down Ashley Dupre photos; Eliot Spitzer disappointed

A screen shot of the New York Post's Web page,, comes up empty early Saturday morning, after the tabloid took down a racy photo gallery of Gov. Eliot Spitzer's alleged call girl, Ashley Alexandra Dupre, or "Kristen," her reported prostitute alias.

It's out of character for The Offlede to be the first to do something (after all, it's not The Lede), but there's a first time for everything, including a first time not to be second. So, tell your friends. ...

Sometimes, controversy created by the media is easily foreseen. I saw this one coming. And it was banging drums and waving huge fluorescent red flags along the way.

The Associated Press just moved (3:45 a.m.) a story (here) about Ashley Alexandra Dupre being vewy vewy angwy over the use of her MySpace photos and other pictures of her in publications.

And apparently the extremely racy photos that the New York Post ran of her were taken by an outside photographer and sold to the newspaper on a freelance basis.

Interestingly enough, though, the photo gallery that the Post had on its Web site no longer exists. If you were to click this link, which once led to the gallery, you would see "Page Not Found." I spared you the effort above, too.

The AP story was not successful in getting a comment from the Post on its publication of the photos in print. The story did not address that the Post Web site had taken down the photos sometime late Friday or early Saturday.

Well, I'm addressing that here: They're gone. And I don't know anything more.

The AP also explained its own reasoning for running the MySpace photos on the wire. I jokingly created four questions requiring keen news judgment that, hypothetically, were flying around the newsrooms of The New York Times, Newsday, the New York Post and the New York Daily News. (See this post.) But it appears that they probably were pretty accurate.

Here is the quote from the AP story:
"The Associated Press discussed the photos obtained from the MySpace page in great detail and found that they were newsworthy," said Associated Press National Photo Editor V.W. Vaughan. "We distributed the photos that were relevant to the story. Those photos did not show nudity, nor were they explicit."
Before I posted the MySpace photos on The Offlede, which was done as a media criticism instead of an exploitation of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's alleged prostitute, I looked at the MySpace terms of use. Here is what they say, in part:
By displaying or publishing ("posting") any Content on or through the MySpace Services, you hereby grant to MySpace a limited license to use, modify, delete from, add to, publicly perform, publicly display, reproduce, and distribute such Content solely on or through the MySpace Services, including without limitation distributing part or all of the MySpace Website in any media formats and through any media channels, except Content marked “private” will not be distributed outside the MySpace Website.
It seems that MySpace rightfully distributed them. For further details, click here.

I think this is an Offlede exclusive because I can't see a story about the Post's photo removal anywhere else on the Internet, not even on Gawker, New York City's media gossip blog. Creeps everywhere probably are disappointed about the Post's removal of the gallery, so real blogs such as Gawker better get on the story.

In this post, Gawker says, "New York 'Post' Has Best Week Ever."

Just imagine what would happen if it turns out that the feds had the wrong "Kristen" in the first place.

It could prove to be the Post's worst week ever.

Night rocket launch: still overexposed, but getting better


OK. I shot the Delta 2 rocket launch on the spur of the moment. I hadn't planned to do it, so I would say the result could have been worse.

I was editing stories at work early in the morning when I realized the launch was only five minutes away. I had lost track of the Windows clock in the corner of my computer screen.

I stopped agonizing over the commas in a story about a National Geographic photographer and ran out the door. And I mean, ran. My lone co-worker still there probably looked confused after such an abrupt departure.

I set up my camera near the FLORIDA TODAY sign that glowed in the dim moonlight. The launch was only seconds away, and I only had time for one test shot. I clicked it. The result looked a bit overexposed, so I took a few seconds off the shutter speed.

Then the sky lit up. And the rocket was about 45 degrees away from where I thought it would launch. Nowhere close to where my camera was pointed. Oops.

I readjusted the tripod. And the results are these two photos. The above one was the first, of course. Shuttle or rocket, they're both considerably brilliant at liftoff. I imagine people who live on the Space Coast are used to seeing their world suddenly light up in the dead of night.

My improvised "plan," which was drummed up as I ran toward my shooting location along U.S. Route 1, was to have the streaking headlights and taillights making up the bottom portion of the photo and the arching light trail of the rocket comprising the top majority.

I got a little bit of that effect in the photo below. I wish I had more road in the photo. In other photos, which didn't make the cut for The Offlede, I got too much road and not enough rocket. In this one, you can see the smoke behind the rocket, which successfully carried a Navstar Global Positioning System satellite into orbit. It was the 80th consecutive flawless launch of a Delta 2, the most reliable among all rocket types.

Read more here.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Magazines, newspapers pine for photos of Ashley Dupre

I knew it would happen. Ashley Alexandra Dupre, New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's alleged call girl, has posed for none other than The New York Post. Apparently, many magazines also are getting in line.

Here is the Wonkette story about it. Just another person using notoriety to become even more notorious.

Oh, I so called this.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

From classy to trashy:
Photo crops of Spitzer's call girl reveal character of New York media

One of the main stories on the Web sites of four New York newspapers is about soon-to-be-former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's alleged mistress, Ashley Alexandra Dupre (also known by her prostitute alias "Kristen" ... allegedly).

Each newspaper grabbed photos from her MySpace page, and each cropped them a bit differently. Look at the differences. They really show something about the nature of these papers' coverage of the news.

The New York Times: Good quality, but pretty conservative. A close crop. Nice aviators. Real classy.

Newsday (disclosure: I'm a former employee): Enlarged, decreasing quality, but still a respectable crop. Newsday is a tabloid only in format, not in content. And as usual, Newsday enjoys the scenery around the subject of the photo. Where is this taken, anyway? Not Melbourne.

The New York Post: Genuine tabloid picture. Eliot Spitzer's alleged woman in high-quality, eye-popping format.

New York Daily News: Gives us the whole thing. Enlarged and poor quality. Real trashy.

I can hear the questions flying in the newsrooms right now:

New York Times: "Indeed, we must search deep into our minds and ask ourselves, Is this photo really newsworthy? Call the company therapist immediately."

Newsday: "We should ask ourselves, Is her body below the neck really newsworthy? Put a poll on the Web site to see what our readers think."

New York Post: "This photo came from MySpace? I wonder if Murdoch knew her. Hey, get the Rupe on the phone, stat!"

New York Daily News: "Why did she have to wear all these clothes? Someone ask Hugh Hefner if he has made a deal with Kristen!"

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tommy Lasorda argues with umpire, gets shown back to seat


The old man still has it. As Joe Torre and the rest of the Los Angeles Dodgers make for a spring training game in China, the better half of the split squad is under the management of 80-year-old Norristown, Pa., native Tommy Lasorda. And he gave 'em hell.

The Florida Marlins were in Dodgertown for a game against Lasorda's team on Tuesday.

The innings blur together, but at some point in the contest:

One of Tommy's hitters lays down a sweet bunt on the first-base line. Pitcher charges for the ball. Pitcher intersects Runner's path to make the play. Pitcher stops in the base line, blocking Runner's way - a violation of the no-obstructing-the-base-path rule. Or at least, that's what Tommy thinks.

Pitcher tags Runner. Runner is out. Or at least, that's what Ump thinks.

Tommy isn't happy.

He leaps off his dugout chair and gets into Ump's face. Above, he sticks out his tongue and clasps his hands to his hips. It's the "you've gotta be kiddin' me, man" act. His players laugh in the background.

The fans get louder. "Get 'im, Tommy," one man yells. "Show Blue who's boss." He's probably drunk, for the beer man is effectively pushing his "Ice cold Bud, Bud Light and Miller Lite."


Above, Tommy points toward the Dodgers' dugout. The gesture has no obvious connection to the argument.


As they near the dugout, Ref takes over for Ump and assumes their animated pointing, above. It's as though they're dancing. The reffing crew thinks it's a joke: Smirks are on their faces.

But Tommy won't back down. He's all business. It's a dance of frustration, of protest.

I figure out what they're pointing at: Tommy's chair from which he earlier bolted. Ref wants him to take a seat.

I can't hear what they're saying, but I can imagine.

"Should I sit in this one?" Tommy says, pointing. "This one right here? Or this one? Tell me."

"Right there," Ref says, pointing.

Tommy sits in the chair. And wrinkles his nose. He lost the argument. And he's disappointed.

But to fans, Tommy is triumphant.

"That was worth it all," a fan says. "That was worth the plane ticket, the hotel reservation and the ticket to the game. That was great."

This is the ball that Tommy Lasorda took the time to autograph for me, when none of the other dodgy Dodgers would.