Update: Washington Post ombudsman says 'there will be an answer;' Adds third and fourth paragraph; Paper publishes correction and Roggio responds; Adds fifth and sixth paragraph
A Washington Post article which combined coverage of a blogger’s embedment in Iraq with a story about military propaganda has sparked so much controversy that the paper’s ombudsman is “looking into it,” RAW STORY has learned.
"I totally agree with you we need to answer," Deborah Howell wrote in an email to a reader of Michelle Malkin. "The reporters are in Iraq in the field and it's been a problem getting them and researching it.
"There will be an answer," Howell added.
On Saturday, The Washington Post published a correction for misstating Roggio's accreditation, describing him as a retired soldier, and writing that he was embedded at the time of publication.
"It is good to see those three facts were corrected, however the issues with mischaracterizing the embed process and the reasons for lumping me in with information operations have still not been addressed," Roggio told RAW STORY.
Bill Roggio, a 35-year-old software analyst who lives in New Jersey with his wife and three young children, began blogging in March of 2004, primarily about the war on terror. While the military blogger ("milblogger"), a registered Republican, leans to the right, he doesn’t believe it’s fair that people are using him as a "political game piece."
"There really is nothing behind this story when it comes to politics," Roggio told RAW STORY. "I am just a guy that wrote about Iraq and decided to go and see it for myself. It’s corny, but it’s true."
In a Dec. 26 Washington Post article, "Bloggers, money now weapons in information war," Jonathan Finer and Doug Struck revealed new details about the military paying Iraqi television stations to air "favorable coverage" within a summation of Roggio’s embedment with the Marines. Some on the right saw it as a "hit-and-run" or "hit piece."
Essentially, the piece seemed to suggest that Roggio was an active participant -- or even a propagandist -- in the Pentagon's Iraq "media wars" because the Marines had invited him to attend. In essence, the Post reporters folded Roggio into a story about military propaganda when he never received any money for his writing and had to raise $30,000 to mount the trip. Roggio has, however, expressed his interest in highlighting the "underreporting of the military's success and strategy."
Multiple calls and emails to Jonathan Finer and Doug Struck went unreturned. Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell told RAW STORY by email that she was “looking into it,” though it's unknown whether she'll be tackling the controversy in print.
A day after the Post article was published, Roggio fired back in a post entitled Disinformation Operations which objected to "the use of incorrect facts which could have been easily checked; the portrayal of my embed as an information operation; and equating U.S. military information operations with al-Qaeda propaganda efforts."
Roggio noted that the Post incorrectly reported that he received his media credentials from the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. This information the Post reporters gleaned from his blog but didn't verify; Roggio says the information was incorrect on his blog and that he later obtained credentials from the Weekly Standard.
According to Roggio, his Washington Post interview consisted of a "single email exchange" with Jonathan Finer, and he told Hugh Hewitt on his radio show that he forwarded his response to Finer, who "didn't disagree with anything." Although Roggio wouldn’t forward the email conversations -- which he considers "confidential" -- to RAW STORY, he did provide some previously undisclosed details.
In what amounted to a "long conversation," Roggio "repeatedly asked if [Finer] understood that writing about me in the same breath as the Lincoln group and information operations was a case of guilt by association." The blogger also asked the journalist how he would feel if he himself had been grouped in an article with two former reporters notorious for plagiarism and fabrication, Jayson Blair and Jack Kelley.
Roggio says Finer disregarded both questions, maintained that his article was "balanced" and that he hadn’t intended to "brand" the milblogger as a component in an "information operation." Roggio did note that Finer respected his courage in going to Iraq (Finer himself embedded with the Marines in 2003 and is currently in Baghdad).
Sometime last October, Roggio was invited by "senior Marine officers with the Regimental Combat Team - 2, 2nd Marine Division" to "visit and tour the operations environment" in Iraq that he’d been writing about for a year. Colonel Stephen W. Davis referred to his blog as "the command chronology of Western Iraq."
On Halloween, Roggio wrote at his widely-read blog, The Fourth Rail, that he "received media credentials" from Michael Ledeen and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which is what the Washington Post reported. But in his online response to the Post article, the milblogger revealed that he was "unable to make an agreement" with the magazine and was instead credentialed by the conservative Weekly Standard, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, and from a Canadian radio station.
Michael Ledeen, the Resident Scholar in the Freedom Chair at AEI, formerly worked at the Pentagon, the State Department and the National Security Council. He played a key role in the Iran/Contra dealings as a former adviser to Oliver North and has forcefully advocated an expansion of the War on Terror into Iran. Ledeen has left a number of comments at Roggio’s blog.
When queried about his relationship with Ledeen, Roggio admitted they had exchanged emails and spoken on the phone, but said Ledeen didn’t "intercede in any way" or contribute in any way to his trip.
Roggio has submitted only one article to The Weekly Standard, Election Day on the Euphrates, which was published Dec. 26. Though he expects payment for the article, Roggio never asked how much he would get and says he doesn't care.
The milblogger's experience comes in the wake of a New York Times article, "Answering Back to the News Media, Using the Internet," which explained how some subjects of news stories used their websites "to correct the record or deconstruct articles to expose what they perceived as a journalist's bias or wrongheaded narration."
"I think they got this issue just about right," Roggio said in response to the article. "It is the first time I have read a major publication intelligently discuss the change in the landscape with the introduction of blogs and their interaction with the media."
This isn't the first time Roggio has responded to the media.
Roggio founded Easongate.com which brought pressure on CNN for remarks attributed to its Chief News Executive, Eason Jordon, about the military targeting journalists. On the site, he called for a boycott of the cable news channel. Jordan later resigned.
Sidebar: A sidebar story containing exclusive details about a few of Roggio’s reports from Iraq can be read elsewhere on RAW STORY at this link.)