The Durango Herald retraction

| July 2, 2012 | 83 Comments

I swear, Katie Burford is like lightening. She sent us a link to her retraction of the Timmy Oliver fantasy at the Durango Herald, you should read the whole thing…and to her credit, Katie asked me for my DD214 and I sent her a copy. Baby steps….

EDITOR NOTE: The article has for some reason disappeared, so I got the text from a cache copy and put it below the link;

A story that appeared on Page 4A of the Herald on Sunday contained a detailed account by Timothy Oliver of his time serving in Afghanistan. Since the story ran, numerous questions have been raised about accuracy of this account.

Specifically, knowledgeable readers found reason to doubt his service in the Army’s elite Delta Force.

Oliver, when reached by phone, said he could not provide any documentation to support his account or show that he had served in the military.

“You can run a retraction with my apologies if somebody was offended,” he said.

He maintained that he had served but said any evidence of it would be classified.

“I was trying to help people out, but I can’t prove this one,” he said.

Jonn Lilyea, a retired infantry platoon sergeant, spends much of his time looking for people who provide inaccurate accounts of their military service and exposing them on his blog http://thisainthell.us/blog.

Lilyea was among more than a dozen people, many retired military, who emailed the Herald raising concerns about Oliver’s account.

Lilyea said he dedicated himself to ferreting out fakes because they are more common than many people would believe.

“With the Stolen Valor Act struck down by the Supreme Court, that leaves private citizens to protect the honor of soldiers,” he wrote in an email. “I like to think of This Ain’t Hell as the stocks and dunking chairs of the veteran internet community where we can expose the frauds and folks can come by and throw metaphorical rotten tomatoes at them.”

The Stolen Valor Act, introduced by former Colorado congressman John Salazar, made it illegal to lie about receiving the Medal of Honor and other prestigious military recognitions.

The law was struck down recently by the U.S. Supreme Court, which pointed to the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

Oliver did not claim to be the recipient of a medal.

Lilyea said the media should do a better job of policing accounts of military service. This includes asking vets to show their bona fides, such as a DD Form 214, which details service history and is issued to every member upon discharge.

Oliver, when asked for a copy of his DD Form 214, said he did not have one.

Lilyea said there is nothing offensive about asking for proof.

“I don’t mind showing my discharge – I’m proud of my service – and I’m sure most real veterans don’t mind. Only the phonies would object,” he said.

When asked to provide a copy to the Herald, he quickly sent the one-page document by email.

Category: Media, Phony soldiers

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  1. Andy Kravetz says:

    Well, Dr. Brett, I am not going to get into a pissing match as it will just come back on my employer and that ain’t good. I do read books, I have been around the service and I do try. Truth is most people have no idea what an 11B is let alone all the modifiers that go behind it nor should they. It’s a military thing for the Army. Marines are 0311, if I remember right.

    That’s not the idea. Take a swipe at me. I am fine with it. The vets I cover and the units I am responsible for daily are cool with me and frankly, that’s all I need. And no this isn’t a defiant email. I just don’t get why some people don’t see the obvious. There are stories upon stories about the growing gulf between the military and civilians. It’s not just me, my friend. I just try to bridge it.

    And don’t forget, I don’t work for the Herald. I work for the PJS.

  2. Andy Kravetz says:

    @Nicki, most PAOs are great. Ours with the IANG are super and the Air Guard people are terrific. The Marines, eh, hit or miss. I have found that AD guys tend to be more stand-offish and if they hear I am from out of town, they are even more so. That said, I dealt with someone in the 25th ID who was amazing. He was in Hawaii and I was, well, in Peoria, Ill. Was super. I guess it goes case to case.

    Most people are good and honest and cool if you just get to know them. I have found.

    Andy

  3. Marine_7002 says:

    Dr Brett: I respectfully submit that you’re putting your rounds downrange at the wrong target (Mr. Kravetz).

  4. WOTN says:

    Andy, a little more on that “primer” you were asking for: http://militaryreporter.net/

    That’s Isaac’s site, and I believe Our Veterans here will appreciate that he calls out the “bigs” when they screw up stories like Bales, and journalists with integrity will appreciate that he is trying to help them understand military terminology, so they don’t come off sounding like idiots.

    I may maintain a dim view of your colleagues in general, but I judge individuals on their own merits, even if they have to overcome that generalized deficit their colleagues have established.

  5. Hondo says:

    Took a look at the link in 54, WOTN. I also contacted them and suggested they add POWNetwork and TAH to their list of Journalists’ Resources.

  6. Andy Kravetz says:

    Great site. I have linked to it. I belong to MRE (military reporters and editors) and they have a good Web site as well. I agree that a primer might help fakers but honestly, those guys are like the criminals I cover (my main beat at the paper is legal affairs) in that they are “much” smarter than the rest of us. :)

    As for @68W from last night. It was Jeremy Church and it was (is) a great story. The 724th TC did great things that day.

    And finally, sorry to comment so much and hijack a thread. I didn’t mean it this way and well, I should probably take some of these posts off line or through email. So I’ll relax now. Thanks again for all that you all do. Really, this blog does a service to vets and well, it’s funny as hell at times.

  7. SGT E says:

    I would suggest that a GA reporter would be well-served to develop a relationship with a local VFW or American Legion post. There will be vets from WWII -> GWOT hanging out there every day, and if you’re respectful, you can probably have them vet any stories/documents/copy you put together. And if they’re stand-offish, there will be another one a few miles down the road you can try.

  8. Spade says:

    “Many in the press didn’t serve and even I, who hang around veterans every day and read blogs like this can’t make sense of the jargon.”

    I didn’t serve. I can understand it.

    It’s called research (for me, a bunch of undergrad military history courses). I know most J-school majors don’t seem to place a great deal of importance on it, but there it is.

    Shit, you can Google most everything today. Or easily find a good source. If a reporter fucks up today it’s because they’re (1)stupid (2)malicious or (3)lazy. Or a combination of all three (having met a bunch of J-schoolers in my day I lean towards (1)).

    Here’s an example from you.
    “What you guys are typing right now seems obvious. walk into any newsroom around the nation and ask what a MOS is. Count the blank stares. I just asked our city hall reporter. He looked at me like I was an idiot.”

    http://lmgtfy.com/?q=MOS

    First link is to a company, so since that’s no the military that’s out. Second link is a Museum in Boston, so that’s out. huh, third link. Military related. Describes the whole thing. Neat-o.

    Anyway, as a military history guy and a gun guy I see a lot of utter crap written by journalists that could have been avoided by a few minutes of research. I don’t buy this, “But we don’t know about this subject and learning is hard” nonsense. Learn, it’s your job. If you don’t want to learn, don’t write about stuff you don’t know about. That’s like if I (a guy who studied military history, the colonization of the America, and a bit of Africa) suddenly decided to write an article about the oxford comma. Totally out of my lane. Yet reporters do it all the time and cry about how hard life is when somebody calls them a moron.

    This post may seem mean, but that’s just because I really really hate journalists. You guys don’t need a “primer”. You need to utilize the plethora research tools available and some critical thinking.

  9. Spade says:

    Although, in fairness, “science” reporters for non-science publications are my favorite. I love to watch those big NASA press conferences where you can just see and hear the utter contempt coming from the scientists. It’s like they’re using their science skills to figure out how these journalists are able to ask such stupid questions and operate their lower bodily functions at the same time.

  10. Tman says:

    There should be a sequence diagram given to as many media outlets as possible throughout the country, and publicized throughout the world wide web. TAH can take the lead on this.

    This sequence diagram will be a brief guide on how to properly ‘vet’ someone claiming to be a veteran and telling war stories.

    For example, it would start off with something like “Veteran Status,” and have two lines coming off it. If the person claims to be a mechanic or cook in the military, it branches off into another “tree” where there is less suspicion (if individual doesn’t make any outrageous claims, person gets a ‘pass’ and is good to go).

    However, if person claims to be Ranger, SEAL, Special Forces, etc., it branches off to another tree where there is more scrutiny (ask for DD-214, where person trained, unit, etc. etc.), and ultimately to contact individuals/organizations with more expertise in the matter (POW network, etc.).

    Only then should these stories be published.

  11. Nicki says:

    Andy, I’m glad most of your experiences with military PAOs were positive. I’ve always said you have to love this job with a passion to do it, and some are just there to be there. We had an amazing Army spokesman a few years ago named Paul Boyce. He worked at OCPA and was probably the most responsive, intelligent, respectful and thoughtful man I’d ever dealt with. His replacement, unfortunately, barely answers emails. I’m told to give him a chance, but so far it’s not looking good for the home team.

    You will always find people to help you with accurate info, even if it’s not the first time around. The only thing I’d ask is that the media actually makes an effort to get said info instead of going with the first thing they find. Not aimed at you, personally, but as a general comment.

  12. Old Trooper says:

    @44: You are correct. The one I received, by request, from St. Louie has the raised seal to prove it was officially from them. My original did not.

  13. Hondo says:

    Jonn, the article’s URL was apparently changed – but a link to it is still on the front page of the Durango Herald as of now. The new URL is

    http://www.durangoherald.com/article/20120703/NEWS01/707029905/Stolen-valor?

    The question mark at the end IS necessary.

  14. MCPO NYC USN (Ret.) says:

    First … excellent retraction and follow up by Katie Burford.

    Andy Kravetz,

    I agree entirely with my associates above and particularly their recommendations regarding verifying and the veracity of information provided by a subject. Those measures should ALWAYS be employed. There are some other tools available: allow the subject to freely speak and take copious notes; circle back to those notes; record their incongruent responses; continue forward with deeper questions; observe their respiration frequency; take note of eye movements and facial expressions; check body position, language, and posture; view the surface veins adjacent to the temples and count the beats of the jugular veins; and finally … the gut check … if you FEEL the subject is lying … the subject probably IS. We are all wired to sense or feel deception. Once deception is detected and scrupulously verified … PUNCH THE SUBJECT IN THE THROAT!

  15. As a veteran and journalist, I’ve been on both sides of the equation and answering them.

    For a piece I just did for the NY Times “At War” blog they asked me to send my D214 for verification – so media outlets ARE starting to realize that this is a growing problem.

    Truth is, it’s always been a problem, but before the internet the liars could only operate in a small sphere of influence…and the reverse was true, as it was very difficult to debunk anyone if you can’t reach a wide audience. So the spotlight will be a benefit, as these wanna-bes increase (oh, and they will) over the next few years.

    If it makes us feel any better, it’s not a US-only problem. I read an article years ago about North Vietnamese “veterans” claiming participation against the US, and getting benefits, etc, from the communist government. It probably didn’t work out quite so well for them, when they were discovered.

    As for Andy Kravetz, he’s doing exactly the right thing coming here – this website IS a solid, reputable source of information. If in the future, a reporter had questions, I think it totally makes sense to come here and ask some general questions about what to be suspicious about, and what questions to ask and what documentation is needed.

    So unless I’m wrong, I think Kravetz and any reporter should be welcome here when this subject comes up in their reporting. This is a pretty good opportunity to be part of a system of safeguards, and not magpies on the sidelines.

    Like has been said, a real veteran will be proud to show his DD214, because it basically documents legit service. If you’ve got real awards, etc., damn right you’ll want to show them off!

    It’s the same old story – nobody ever lies that they were a cook, supply clerk, mechanic, etc…and yet those jobs are always filled…funny how that works.

    As for Army journalists, I can sum up my 1991 “wartime” experience this way: “Cup of coffee in one hand, doughnut in the other, there I was in Riyadh, watching CNN!”

    But, hey, my SWA ribbons are on the DD214 – you can look it up!

  16. First line should read, “As a veteran and journalist, I’ve been on both sides of the equation, asking questions and answering them.” :-)

  17. DR_BRETT says:

    ANY reporter (just about) who starts out “You have to understand . . .” will receive from me, what I nicely told “Mr.” Kravetz.
    I do not judge, that the “professional reporters” who have done untold destruction to America, and who are the Professor’s Goons, should receive anything but scorn, UNTIL, they have proven BY MANY YEARS, that they’re worth a damn.
    I do not know anything about the !@#$ who “characterized” me, above — thus, I do NOT give him the courtesy of direct reply.

    NO, I have NEVER been “diplomatic” —
    look what the diplomats (and so-called “journalists”) have done to the world.

  18. DR_BRETT says:

    No. 58 Spade:
    I like your comment.

    By The Way, if anyone does NOT like a response from me, especially one in which I salute or admire, feel free to respond, and say: “I don’t care to hear from you again.” — no problem.

  19. Information Warrior says:

    @ 48 Niki,

    Truth be told, I was thinking of Navy PAO’s when I made my comment. Sorry about that!

    Seriously, sometimes I wonder where the public gets the idea that the military is full of gruff, unsmiling, humorless people … and then I run into them and have to work with them.

    Very Respectfully,

    IW

  20. Jon The Mechanic says:

    Hondo,
    Guard and Reserve units are still processing through Shelby. I went through there in the past 6 months and am downrange now.

  21. DR_BRETT says:

    No. 53 MARINE_7002:
    Thanks, I just now read your comment !!
    (That is unfortunate.)

    My No. 39 explains what I objected to in Comment No. 7:
    “I appreciate all your help. But YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND.” — “. . . and EVEN I, . . .”
    (Condescending Attitude)

    If I don’t know a great deal about a particular “reporter” over a LONG time, I ASSUME HE IS OF SMALL CHARACTER — I AM SAYING IT ALOUD .

    Please spell out — the Correct Target downrange.
    I am ALWAYS ready to learn from a Marine.
    Respectfully,
    US ARMY War Veteran.
    (I wish I had seen your comment earlier — excuse me.)

  22. david says:

    There is a difference talking about the military, which is fine, and talking about your personal ‘exploits’ during your career. If I were a reporter covering the military, my alarm bells would start ringing the moment someone crossed into the ‘I did this, and won that’ realm. There is a lot of confusing jargon out there to learn, but the main thing you need to listen for, is “I, me, Ultimate Badass,’ lingo. That is pretty easy to spot. Of course, you should ask anyone for documentation, wether they sound like theyre full of it or not, but especially demand proof of anything that smacks of boasting…and by the way, I am sure there are plenty of proud soldiers who can back it up, and the honest ones wont mind doing so.

  23. SFC Holland says:

    DR_BRETT. I read your comments. They make you sound like an ass. You may not be, but you sure sound like one.

  24. Hondo says:

    Thanks for the update, Jon the Mechanic. Didn’t know if that was still the case and didn’t want to assume.

    Be careful out there, amigo.

  25. Yat Yas 1833 says:

    Mr. Kravetz, what Sgt. E said. I’m friends with a couple of reporters with the Arizona Republic who call or e-mail me any time they are writing about the military. (I served in the Marine Corps) Thanks to the many members here, from all branches, and the reference material mentioned I can speak with a reasonable chance I can give them correct information. Make friends (read, buy them beer) with a couple of members of your local American Legion, VFW or DAV and I’m 99.9% positive they’ll be glad to help you out. Thank you for caring about trying to get it right.

  26. DR_BRETT says:

    No. 74:
    Thanks for noticing the comments, SGT.
    I have MY OWN form of speaking and writing — it is not always the most ordinary .

  27. Vincent F. Safuto says:

    As a former Marine (MOS 6315, Aug. 1978-Aug. 1982) and a member of the news media, I rise in defense of the news business and journalists.

    I am between full-time news jobs now, and recently in a job interview with an editor whose father was career Navy, we got into a chat about the need for accuracy in military reporting.

    I’ve worked as a copy editor, and facts and accuracy are an obsession for me. It’s really easy to act surprised that the reporter took steps to undo the damage she caused, but that happens a lot.

    Military fakers have been profiled, but no one realizes that stories often are stopped in their tracks and not finished or published because someone in the newsroom realizes that a source is lying. I’ve seen it with not only fake military but fake police and fake firefighters.

    In late 2004, I was working at one paper and was the reason our Veterans Day edition did not have a profile of a Vietnam veteran. We’d started one, and were editing it and laying it out when I realized that the person being profiled was too young to have served in Vietnam.

    Mainly this was thanks to B.G. Burkett’s book, “Stolen Valor,” and the stories he told about guys who were the wrong age for the exploits they were describing.

    I initially thought maybe the reporter had given his age wrong (47 instead of 57, which would have been the right age) but found out that the guy had been telling stories to the reporter.
    The subject had served in the military – in the late 1970s, after Vietnam.

    The story was canceled and the paper took some heat from local veterans, but a lesson was learned and shared. I later organized a presentation by myself, a fellow former Marine corporal who was a reporter, and a retired Marine sergeant major who also worked for the paper in its administration to explain the best practices for covering the military.

    Accuracy is paramount, I always say, when it comes to covering the military. From ranks to ribbons to jobs and so much more, veterans want the coverage to be right, and I want it to be right, too. My heart aches when I read a story and find out it’s wrong.

    One time, we had a story of a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who had raced off on a motorcycle and went to a remote area, where he accidentally started a brush fire that killed him. A reporter with zero knowledge of the military was assigned to the story, and I was assigned to copy edit the story for military facts and information.

    The story was a mess, giving his brother’s rank as “officer” when he was a Petty Officer Second Class and confusing VA and military doctors, among many other things. When the story was fixed, it was accurate and respectful. That has always been my goal in veterans’ stories.

    I agree with Nathan Webster on all of his post. I advised reporters to ask for a DD-214 with everyone they interviewed for a military story, or at least look around for photos, memorabilia, etc., at a person’s house. I know I bore people to tears with my photos of my days in the Corps and VMA-513.

    Misinformation in the paper concerned me so much that I let it be known that I was reachable all the time with any questions about the military, and that if I couldn’t answer a question or was not reachable, the sergeant major could help. One time I was off work for a few days and driving far away when my cellphone rang. It was a reporter, wanting to know if there was such a position as “Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps” because she had never heard of it. I was glad that she had reached out to me and happy to help her.

    Webster is right that with the Internet, people with tall tales have a better outlet, but it’s easier for them to get caught. I stay on top of the latest trends in military fakery through online sources, and appreciate those who are upset at poor-quality news coverage and want reporters to get the story right.

    And Webster is also right on with this: no one ever lies about having an ordinary job in the service.

  28. Yat Yas 1833 says:

    Mr. Safuto, ‘Jump Jets’ outta Yuma, right? Semper Fi, Bro!

    I think I can speak for all of us when I say, thank you for your due diligence when reporting on military/Veteran’s affairs. Our beef is with reporters who take everything at face value and don’t bother asking questions. ANY questions! In another thread I posted that I have made a copy of my DD-214 and my “old school” ID card and now carry them with me because people are soon not going to trust anyone who claims to be a veteran. Isn’t that sad? I was a broke d1ck Amtracer who did nothing, of any renown, yet because of supply clerks claiming to be Recon with Navy Crosses and Admin Pogues claiming to be Green Berets with Distinguished Service Medals, I gotta carry around my bona fidies!? Sad, don’t ya think?

  29. Vincent F. Safuto says:

    Reporters who are doing stories about veterans often are freelancers (I am one now, but I have worked on staff, too) with no past military service. I would like to point out that military fakers seldom admit to a reporter that they are faking, and even fabulists will merely claim that the military experience they are referencing on their resume is a “mistake” if they are called on it.

    In journalism, we reporters take a lot of what we are told at face value because we don’t have the time to do detailed research. Also, it would be nice if the military’s personnel records section was faster at responding to requests. It can take six weeks to confirm that someone served and get a copy of records and a DD-214.

    I tend to err on the side of trust when talking to veterans, but also try to draw them out about when and where they served. A number of Vietnam-era veterans have been caught because they claimed Vietnam service when they had none. The trouble is that they are good at lying, and good at lying to reporters.

    Incidentally, I still carry my old ID card, shellback card and DD-214. Back in 2009, I interviewed for a job at a news website and it turned out the owner was a former Marine from my era. He hired me based on my journalism knowledge and didn’t even ask for proof of my Marine service, but after I started work I showed him my photos, DD-214 and old ID anyway.

    The thing now is that reporters at small local papers may make it known that they are on the prowl for war stories, and there are plenty of people looking for sympathy and VA benefits, and reporters can be gullible. It’s up to editors and copy editors (the latter are being let go in record numbers now) to make sure these stories are accurate.

    I remember that right after the Afghanistan invasion, the first military faker story came out about a month later, about a college student who claimed to be an Army sniper and had an M-4 in his dorm room. I just wish reporters would be more skeptical and more willing to learn how to confirm service.

    By the way, I still occasionally have dreams of Yuma. I was in Gainesville, Fla., back in 2011 working for the paper there when there was an airshow. Four AV-8Bs from VMA-542 had flown down to do some bombing in the Ocala National Forest, and two of the planes developed problems so they landed in Gainesville and spent the night.

    I thought they were part of the show, but they weren’t. I’m proud to say they stole the show. I got out just before the “B”s were introduced, but seeing those planes brought back a flood of memories, and I bored a couple of Marine pilots to death with my stories about Yuma and ‘513 back in the early 1980s.

  30. ROS says:

    I made it to this before you lost me: “In journalism, we reporters take a lot of what we are told at face value because we don’t have the time to do detailed research.”

    So it’s more important to get the story than it is to be accurate?

  31. DR_BRETT says:

    No. 78: “. . .the damage she caused . . .” —
    Why CAUSE DAMAGE, in the first place ??

  32. DR_BRETT says:

    No. 79: “. . . yet because of supply clerks claiming to be Recon with Navy Crosses and Admin Pogues claiming to be Green Berets with Distinguished Service Medals, . . .” —
    There are at least, a few NON-supply clerks and Admin Pogues, written up at this site — who claim what they don’t deserve.

    I am sticking up for the NUMEROUS supply clerks and Admin Pogues .

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