"Gunny" Bob mischaracterized Clark's comments about Tillman investigation, misled on "anti-war" stance
Research ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF
Newsradio 850 KOA host "Gunny" Bob Newman distorted comments retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark made during an MSNBC interview to falsely assert that Clark claimed Army Ranger Pat Tillman "may have been murdered on orders from the president of the United States." In fact, Clark suggested that the decision to not fully investigate Tillman's death was likely "approved" by someone "all the way to the top."
On his July 31 broadcast, Newsradio 850 KOA host "Gunny" Bob Newman falsely asserted that during an MSNBC interview, retired Army General and former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark "claim[ed] that NFL player-turned-Army Ranger Pat Tillman may have been murdered on orders from the president of the United States." In fact, while appearing on the July 26 edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Clark suggested that "someone approved ... all the way to the top" the decision to avoid a full investigation into Tillman's death, leaving unanswered questions as to exactly how he died. Clark further stated that "the responsible thing for the Pentagon to do and for the Congress to do is to demand that the investigation be reopened and people all the way up the chain of command to the very top discuss what happened, when, why."
Newman also misleadingly asserted that it was "impossible to believe" that Tillman "was anti-war" because "he joined to become an Army Ranger during time of war and gave up three-point-something million dollars to do it." While Tillman did turn down a pro football contract to join the Army in 2002, he reportedly "was critical of President Bush and opposed the war in Iraq, where he served a tour of duty," according to a September 25, 2005, San Francisco Chronicle report.
As Reuters reported on July 31, "Tillman, celebrated as a hero for giving up a National Football League career to join the Army after the September 11 attacks, died on April 22, 2004, from what the Army initially said was enemy fire." The article continued:
Senior officers quickly suspected he had been killed by U.S. troops but kept to the story of enemy fire for a month. Meanwhile, Tillman was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, one of the U.S. military's top awards for gallantry, in a nationally televised memorial service.
Army investigators later reported that Tillman was killed by fellow U.S. soldiers who believed they were engaging enemy forces. Army Secretary Pete Geren said the follow-up to the shooting could not have been more poorly handled.
"There was a perfect storm of mistakes, misjudgments and a failure of leadership," Geren told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.
"But at no time did the Army try to cover up the truth or deceive the American public about how Corporal Tillman died."
However, as the Associated Press reported on July 26, "Army medical examiners were suspicious about the close proximity of the three bullet holes in Pat Tillman's forehead and tried without success to get authorities to investigate whether the former NFL player's death amounted to a crime," according to Defense Department documents obtained by the AP through a Freedom of Information Act request. The AP further reported:
"The medical evidence did not match up with the, with the scenario as described," a doctor who examined Tillman's body after he was killed on the battlefield in Afghanistan in 2004 told investigators.
The doctors -- whose names were blacked out -- said that the bullet holes were so close together that it appeared the Army Ranger was cut down by an M-16 fired from a mere 10 yards or so away.
Ultimately, the Pentagon did conduct a criminal investigation, and asked Tillman's comrades whether he was disliked by his men and whether they had any reason to believe he was deliberately killed. The Pentagon eventually ruled that Tillman's death at the hands of his comrades was a friendly-fire accident.
The medical examiners' suspicions were outlined in 2,300 pages of testimony released to the AP this week by the Defense Department in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
Claiming on his July 31 show that "we have him on video and we have the transcripts of the ... appearance to boot," Newman asserted, "Wes Clark is claiming that former NFL player-turned-Army Ranger Pat Tillman may have been murdered on orders from the president of the United States. I wish I was making this up, but the thing is Clark made the claim on live TV, on MSNBC." He added, "Clark also said that if Tillman was assassinated on orders from the Bush administration but not directly from the president, it might have been former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld who gave the order to execute Pat Tillman."
However, Clark never suggested that Bush or Rumsfeld ordered Tillman's "execut[ion]." Instead, during his interview with MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, Clark was critical of the investigation into Tillman's death, saying that allegations of homicide "should have been fully investigated and proved or disproved":
OLBERMANN: General Clark, let me turn from this story -- we expected to spend all of our time with you tonight talking about this, but there have been two developments in the Pat Tillman story, a fiasco, there is no other word for it now.
And this awful report tonight, parsing through these documents obtained by the Associated Press that indicate that Army investigators were denied permission to see whether or not Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger was a deliberate fragging, was a case of murder, even though the shots were seemingly so close together in his head that they looked to the doctors on the scene that they might have been fired from only 10 yards away.
Not only was their access denied here, but the Army lawyers were congratulating themselves in e-mail traffic from keeping this from becoming a criminal investigation. Do you think this case is still wide open?
CLARK [misidentified in the transcript posted on MSNBC's website* as "WOLFFE"]: Absolutely. And it should be. The evidence of some problems is very, very clear. Mary Tillman and the Tillman family have been incredibly courageous in pursuing the truth in this. And the truth is not yet out. If there is even a hint that there was something like a homicide or a murder in this case, it should have been fully investigated and proved or disproved.
And we don't really know how far up -- was it the secretary of defense's office? Was it the White House? Where did the idea that you shouldn't give any indication of what happened to Tillman -- just go ahead and go through with the burial ceremony, give him the Silver Star, where did that -- where was that idea blessed?
You can be sure that that idea did not originate or stop at the two- or three-star level. That was -- someone approved that all the way to the top because Pat Tillman was a political symbol used by the administration when it suited their purposes. [emphasis added]
Olbermann subsequently asked Clark, "Does it not begin to look more and more like that we're going in the wrong direction in this? That they were not trying to protect something slightly negative from coming out, but in fact protecting the accusation that his mother has made and has not gotten a lot of attention to that perhaps he was indeed murdered? Were we actually underestimating what was being covered up here?" Clark replied, "It's very possible. We just don't know, Keith. I think the responsible thing for the Pentagon to do and for the Congress to do is to demand that the investigation be reopened and people all the way up the chain of command to the very top discuss what happened, when, why. We get to the facts about why the murder charge wasn't fully investigated."
Later, after Newman again stated that Clark "believes that ... it's possible that the president may have been, may have given the order, or Donald Rumsfeld," a caller asked, "Under what scenario?" Newman replied, "The conspiracy theory is ... this: That Pat Tillman, the conspiracy theorists have, have claimed, was anti-war. Even though he joined to become an Army Ranger during time of war and gave up three-point-something million dollars to do it. And the theory goes that he was going to get out after his first tour and become an anti-military activist." However, in saying that it was "impossible to believe" Tillman's "anti-war" stance, Newman ignored reports indicating that while he supported the war in Afghanistan, Tillman was opposed to the war in Iraq.
As the Chronicle reported, "Interviews ... show a side of Pat Tillman not widely known -- a fiercely independent thinker who enlisted, fought and died in service to his country yet was critical of President Bush and opposed the war in Iraq, where he served a tour of duty. He was an avid reader whose interests ranged from history books on World War II and Winston Churchill to works of leftist Noam Chomsky, a favorite author." The Chronicle further reported:
Moved in part by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Tillman decided to give up his career, saying he wanted to fight al Qaeda and help find Osama bin Laden. He spurned the [Arizona] Cardinals' offer of a three year, $3.6 million contract extension and joined the Army in June 2002 along with his brother Kevin, who was playing minor-league baseball for the Cleveland Indians organization.
Pat Tillman's enlistment grabbed the attention of the nation -- and the highest levels of the Bush administration. A personal letter from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, thanking him for serving his country, now resides in a storage box, put away by Pat's widow, Marie.
Instead of going to Afghanistan, as the brothers expected, their Ranger battalion was sent to participate in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. The Tillmans saw combat several times on their way to Baghdad. In early 2004, they finally were assigned to Afghanistan.
The Chronicle also quoted Spc. Russell Baer, who recalled a conversation he had with Tillman during the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. Baer told the Chronicle, "We were talking. And Pat said, 'You know, this war is so f
illegal.' And we all said, 'Yeah.' That's who he was. He totally was against Bush." Additionally, the Chronicle quoted Senior Chief Petty Officer Stephen White, who "said Pat 'wasn't very fired up about being in Iraq' and instead wanted to go fight al Qaeda in Afghanistan."
From the July 31 broadcast of Newsradio 850 KOA's The Gunny Bob Show:
NEWMAN: So, first up is retired Army General Wesley Clark, former Democratic presidential candidate -- who, according to his former boss, General Hugh Shelton, was fired as Supreme Commander of NATO for, quote, integrity and character issues, close quote -- is claiming, Wes Clark is claiming that former NFL player-turned-Army Ranger Pat Tillman may have been murdered on orders from the president of the United States. I wish I was making this up, but the thing is Clark made the claim on live TV, on MSNBC. And we have him on video and we have the transcripts of the, of the appearance to boot. Clark also said that if Tillman was assassinated on orders from the Bush administration but not directly from the president, it might have been former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld who gave the order to execute Pat Tillman. This is a former Army general and NATO's top man suggesting that evil, conservative politicians occupying two of this nation's highest offices might be guilty of ordering the cold-blooded assassination of a low-ranking Army Ranger for political purposes. Although it is clear he will never be president, Wesley Clark is a likely candidate for secretary of defense if a Democrat is elected president in 2008.
Now, at 303-713-8585 -- can you imagine having this bizarre, conspiracy theorist, crackpot as a secretary of defense, especially during time of war? One -- don't you have to ask, gang, how a guy who was fired for "integrity and character issues," and who is claiming President Bush or Donald Rumsfeld may have had Pat Tillman's head blown off in a Bournesque Hollywood-style assassination plot ever managed to make it past the rank of second lieutenant?
NEWMAN: What do we do if this, if, if let's say Hillary [Clinton] or [Barack] Obama, that they become the president and they say, "Hey, I want Wes Clark as my secretary of defense"? Well, what are we supposed to do then?
CALLER: I don't know. Hillary or Obama are scary enough.
NEWMAN: [Laughs] Yeah, indeed.
CALLER: But, I don't think this guy could make it through the confirmation process.
NEWMAN: Ah, but the thing is it's a Democratic Congress. If the Democrats maintain control of the Congress, we have a, a sitting Democratic president, he's in.
CALLER: I just, I just, you know, as mad at him as I am, I don't think even, even a Democratic Congress could come up with the votes to vote for a guy who just accused the president of assassinating some line guy out in the field. I --
NEWMAN: Now, now to be clear, he, he's, he's said that he believes that, that it's possible that the president may have been, may have given the order, or Donald Rumsfeld. He did not come out -- I want to be very clear -- he didn't say, "The president ordered this assassination." He says he believes it's possible that's what's happened.
CALLER: I -- but anybody who has that kind of a stretch of imagination --
CALLER: Under what scenario? Why would Pat Tillman be on, on any kind of a list of people that are --
NEWMAN: Yeah. Here's, here's how the conspiracy theory goes. The conspiracy theory is, is this: That Pat Tillman, the conspiracy theorists have, have claimed, was anti-war. Even though he joined to become an Army Ranger during time of war and gave up three-point-something million dollars to do it. And the theory goes that he was going to get out after his first tour and become an anti-military activist. An Army Ranger.
CALLER: Hard to believe.
NEWMAN: Yeah, it's, it's impossible to believe.
*In MSNBC's transcript from the July 26 edition of Countdown, Clark is sometimes incorrectly identified as "Wolffe."