WASHINGTON — Esquire magazine published an error-laden piece by Phil Bronstein Monday, and the magazine’s editors are scrambling to excuse glaring factual errors in the 15,000-word profile of the bin Laden shooter — errors exposed by Megan McCloskey of the military publication Stars and Stripes. Esquire has understated medical benefits available to the shooter, and is using ad hominem attacks and appeals to emotion to distract readers from inadequate reporting. Mr. Bronstein is the chair of the Center for Investigative Reporting.
The Esquire piece, “The Shooter,” falsely says that the retiring member of the elite counterterrorism unit will receive “no health care, and no protection for himself.”
This morning, the editors contradicted themselves in this selection responding to Stars and Stripes’ corrections:
There are benefits available to combat veterans via the VA . . . so what does Bronstein mean when he writes, “Nothing. No pension, no health care, and no protection for himself or his family…”? Well, he means precisely that. Because while the Shooter may be eligible for some direct benefits from the VA, his wife and two children are eligible for nothing.
The Esquire editors’ disjointed apologies for a writer surely a powerful, well-connected force in the publishing world — he used to be married to Sharon Stone — would have some coherence had Mr. Bronstein only asked (fair, compassionate) questions about the fate of the shooter’s family, instead of plainly writing about what “he [the shooter] gets from his employer and a grateful nation.” Additionally, “The Shooter” claims that there will be “no protection for himself or his family” [emphasis added].
Having been called out for sloppy reporting, the editors sidestep their readers’ ability to reason, and stoop to sleight-of-hand emotional appeals. Monday morning they wrote: “What good does it do the man if he can go to a government chiropractor for his neck when (heaven forbid) his child could get sick and wipe out the family?” Tacit in this appeal to sympathy with the bin Laden shooter’s family is a mea culpa: Indeed the shooter could go seek out care on the government dime. But pride has overcome the editors’ responsibility to issue accurate, timely corrections. Instead they resort to ad hominem attacks on Megan McCloskey, baselessly insinuating that she had not read the piece. Esquire’s editors condescend: “Now granted, ‘The Shooter’ is a long story, lots of words to sort through.”
The Esquire editors identified this morning Ms. McCloskey’s second “mistake:”
In the Stars & [sic] Stripes piece, she further writes:
“Like every combat veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the former SEAL…is automatically eligible for five years of free healthcare through the Department of Veterans Affairs. But the story doesn’t mention that.”
[ . . . ] McCloskey is wrong here. We refer her to this paragraph deeper in the piece: “There is a Transition Assistance Program in the military, but it’s largely remedial level, rote advice of marginal value: Wear a tie to interviews, not your Corfam (black shiny service) shoes. Try not to sneeze in anyone’s coffee. There is also a program at MacDill Air Force Base designed to help Special Ops vets navigate various bureaucracies. And the VA does offer five years of benefits for specific service-related claims—but it’s not comprehensive and it offers nothing for the Shooter’s family.”
Esquire throws out some red herring about the Transition Assistance Program, a point that, once again, seeks to sidestep the much more substantive free medical attention available. Stars and Stripes’ second correction is also wrong, they say, not because it points out that medical benefits are available but because veterans have to take the initiative to enroll once they leave.
The editors close with a second type of appeal to readers’ emotions — all the while sporting like a medal their own desire to co-opt the patriotic image of the bin Laden shooter:
So if there are people out there, journalists included, who think that the status quo is hunky dory [Stars and Stripes never said it was -- a strawman], the government’s approach to these extraordinary veterans is just right or even adequate [Another strawman], and who are too quick to incorrectly call another journalist’s work “wrong” [as Esquire has this morning] rather than doing their own work on the profound problems of returning veterans, then, as the cover of the magazine says, the man who killed Osama bin Laden truly is screwed.