Wash. Post op-ed page hosted disingenuous attack on Reps. Moran and Murtha

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

In an April 13 Washington Post op-ed, Vets for Freedom executive director Wade Zirkle criticized Reps. Jim Moran and John P. Murtha for their treatment of former Sgt. Mark Seavey, who chided the Democratic legislators at a January 5 town hall meeting in Virginia for saying that they "have talked to the troops and the troops are demoralized." Zirkle failed to note, however, that Seavey is one of the co-founders of Zirkle's organization.

In an April 13 Washington Post op-ed, Vets for Freedom executive director Wade Zirkle criticized Reps. Jim Moran (D-VA) and John P. Murtha (D-PA) for their treatment of former Sgt. Mark Seavey -- whom Zirkle described simply as "a former Army sergeant who had recently returned from Afghanistan." Seavey chided the Democratic legislators at a January 5 town hall meeting in Virginia for saying that they "have talked to the troops and the troops are demoralized." According to Zirkle, Seavey's comments "should have elicited something more than silence or a dismissive comment" from Murtha and Moran. Zirkle failed to note, however, that Seavey is one of the co-founders of Vets for Freedom.

According to the Vets for Freedom website, the organization was founded in January 2006 by veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who have "become frustrated with the way the operation [Iraqi Freedom] has been politicized and reported to the home front." It purports to "promote the unbiased, nonpartisan truth of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to educate the public and mobilize public support for the Global War on Terror."

Yet Zirkle never once noted Seavey's direct connection to the group, instead describing him as "a veteran injured in Afghanistan," "a former Army sergeant who had recently returned from Afghanistan," and "a constituent and a veteran."

In a March 8 online discussion hosted by washingtonpost.com, Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt lavished praise on his copy editing staff, writing:

Fortunately I have a copy desk chief and three full time copy editors who are terrific at their jobs ... They catch a lot of mistakes before publication. And while sometimes we have plenty of time -- an oped that we accept days before we can use it -- a lot of times they're working on pretty tight deadlines.

Hiatt also noted during that discussion: "I'm ultimately responsible for the factual accuracy of what appears on either the editorial or the oped page. When there's a mistake, sometimes the columnist corrects it in a subsequent column, sometimes we run a correction."

From Zirkle's April 13 Post op-ed:

The tenor of the town meeting was mostly what one might expect, but during the question-and-answer period, a veteran injured in Afghanistan stood up to offer his view. "If I didn't have a herniated disc, I would volunteer to go to Iraq in a second with my troops," said Mark Seavey, a former Army sergeant who had recently returned from Afghanistan. "I know you keep saying how you have talked to the troops and the troops are demoralized, and I really resent that characterization. The morale of the troops I talk to is phenomenal, which is why my troops are volunteering to go back despite the hardships. . . ."

"And, Congressman Moran, 200 of your constituents just arrived back from Afghanistan -- we never got a letter, we never got a visit from you, you didn't come to our homecoming. The only thing we got was a letter from the governor of this state thanking us for our service in Iraq, when we were in Afghanistan. That's reprehensible. I don't know who you two are talking to, but the morale of the troops is very high."

What was the response? Murtha said nothing, while Moran attempted to move on, no pun intended, stating: "That wasn't in the form of a question, it was a statement."

It was indeed a statement; a statement from both a constituent and a veteran that should have elicited something more than silence or a dismissive comment highlighting a supposed breach of protocol. This exchange, captured on video (it was on C-SPAN), has since been forwarded from base to base in military circles. It has not been well received there, and it only raises the already high level of frustration among military personnel that their opinions are not being heard.

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