12 November, 2009 — Editor & Publisher
NEW YORK (Commentary) With the publication of an interview with Sgt. Mark Todd, the actual cop who gunned down the killer at Fort Hood — following its account of an unnamed eyewitness last night–The New York Times this afternoon finally underlined what some of us noticed from nearly the start: the media fell hook, line and sinker once again for a military account of what happened during the tragedy.
First, it was the ‘death’ of the apparent mass murderer, Major Hasan, not corrected for hours. Then, for days, the story of how a white female cop brought down the shooter, even as she was receiving serious wounds.
Yet I noticed–without great searching–just hours after the attack that scattered eyewitnesses, via the Web and Twitter, were saying that the killer re-loaded after Kimberly Munley went down.
How could he have done that if she had just plugged him four times, supposedly ending the rampage? Some of those witnesses said they yelled at the unnamed second cop to shoot Hasan–which he did, and then went up and kicked his gun away.
Yet for days, the media rarely questioned the military’s ‘official’ story of Munley as savior. The New York Times was one of many who put Munley on the front page and declared, on Nov. 7, that she was the person who nailed Hasan. Its headline: ‘She ran to gunfire, and ended it.’ It said flatly that she ‘brought down the gunman.’
Later that day, The Associated Press interviewed Todd and he described some of his actions that day, which raised questions about Munley’s prime role. Still, most news outlets for days continued to label Munley ‘the’ (singular) Fort Hood hero. It wasn’t until two days ago that Todd got feature billing, although usually in a secondary role. Now, in the past day, he is finally getting his due as the original account begins to fall away. The New York Times pushed the envelope with its reports last night and today by James C. McKinley, Jr.
Times executive editor Bill Keller has emailed E&P’s Joe Strupp, ‘My first reaction is, it’s a fine piece of reporting that throws a shaft of new light on this tragedy. I’m proud that Jim broke the story yesterday with an unnamed eyewitness, and that he then built on it with Sergeant Todd’s confirmation….
‘What we and other news organizations (at least the ones I saw) had to go on in the early days was the official account put out by the post commander and the director of emergency services. They said (accurately) that Munley rushed to the scene and that she was shot. They claimed (inaccurately, we now know) that she fired the shot or shots that brought Hasan down. We reported what they said, attributed to them. Our reporters didn’t have witnesses questioning that account, though we did raise questions in that first story about whether Todd also shot. It took a while for us to track down a knowledgeable witness willing to contradict the official account — and when we did, we put it on the front page.’
But what else will turn out false about Fort Hood claims from military, e.g. the ‘Allahu Akbar’ shouts?
Yes, Munley is a hero for facing the bullets. And, no, this isn’t another Jessica Lynch case, but it does have some disturbing similarities.
Plus: Just coincidence that a white woman got the credit over a black male? We’ll soon find out. Perhaps. But this time, put aside the military’s official narrative. First time, shame on the source. Second time, shame on the media. Third time?
Greg Mitchell (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor. His latest book is ‘Why Obama Won.’