On the October 23 edition of MSNBC's Tucker, host Tucker Carlson repeatedly attempted to justify the Pentagon's decision, in Carlson's words, to "lie" to the family of former pro football player and Army Ranger Pat Tillman about how Tillman died. Tillman was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan, but the Defense Department strongly suggested that Tillman had been killed by enemy fire, stating only that he died in combat "when his patrol vehicle came under attack." Carlson said that he "understand[s]" "the lie" because "[t]elling the truth actually is difficult. Look, let me speak on behalf of anyone who has ever told a lie. Telling the truth is really hard."
In a discussion about a column criticizing the U.S. government by Tillman's brother, Army Ranger Kevin Tillman, New York radio host Sam Greenfield said the government "hid" the cause of Pat Tillman's death and "that stinks so bad, someone's soul should implode." In response to Greenfield's criticism of the government, Carlson said: "[L]et's be honest. That's a tough thing, I think, for anybody to want to tell the parents of a fallen soldier." Moments later, he added: "[L]ooking in the face of parents and saying, 'Actually, your son wasn't killed by the Taliban, he was killed by his fellow soldiers,' you know, I must say -- I'm not defending the lie. I'm merely saying I understand it."
When Tillman was killed on April 22, 2004, in the Paktia province of Afghanistan, the Department of Defense initially announced that he died in combat. An April 23, 2004, press release stated that Tillman died "when his patrol vehicle came under attack." According to a December 5, 2004, Washington Post article, records "show that his superiors exaggerated his actions and invented details as they burnished his legend in public, at the same time suppressing details that might tarnish Tillman's commanders." For example, according to a San Francisco Chronicle investigation into Tillman's death, "all top Ranger commanders were told of the suspected fratricide" on April 23, 2004 -- the same day the Defense Department announced that Tillman had died in combat. The Chronicle investigation also found that on April 29, 2004 -- four days before a nationally televised memorial service in Tillman's honor -- "Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, and other top commanders were told of the fratricide." However, according to the Chronicle, the Defense Department did not release this information to the public, the media, or to Tillman's family until five weeks later.
As Media Matters for America noted, on the May 4, 2005, edition of MSNBC's Hardball, Carlson similarly defended the withholding of details of Tillman's death: "You can understand from a human perspective why his superiors, people at the Pentagon, wouldn't want that information to get out." He added: " I doubt anybody holds it against the Pentagon for not releasing that." Contrary to Carlson's suggestion, Tillman's family had already expressed concern at that point that details of Tillman's death had been concealed. According to a December 7, 2004, CNN.com article, "Army officials said Tillman's mother, Mary, went to Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, seeking details of the roles and missions of other soldiers and officers present during the attack."
From the October 23 edition of MSNBC's Tucker:
GREENFIELD: Let's stick, if we can, if I may, with Pat Tillman. The picture in our minds of Pat Tillman is of his class photo, almost, in the 75th Ranger Regiment. He was, in fact, a long-haired guy, a free spirit. He played football. And, for months and months and months, the United States government used him as a hero, saying he was killed by enemy fire. And they knew otherwise. And they hid it.
And that stinks so bad, someone's soul should implode.
CARLSON: Well, wait a second.
CARLSON: Pat Tillman was a hero. Pat Tillman --
GREENFIELD: No, no, I'm not denying his heroism.
GREENFIELD: I'm -- I'm talking about the sinful, the sinful exploitation of what happened by denying about friendly fire. They knew it was friendly fire.
CARLSON: OK. But, look --
GREENFIELD: And they milked that cow. Shame on them.
CARLSON: I mean, but let's be honest. That's a tough thing, I think, for anybody to want to tell the parents of a fallen soldier.
GREENFIELD: To tell the truth?
CARLSON: That's right.
GREENFIELD: They did it in Vietnam. They did it to my friend Ernie Chambers in Vietnam.
CARLSON: Telling the truth actually is difficult. Look, let me speak on behalf of anyone who has ever told a lie. Telling the truth is really hard.
GREENFIELD: This isn't a lie like --
CARLSON: And looking in the face of parents and saying, "Actually, your son wasn't killed by the Taliban, he was killed by his fellow soldiers," you know, I must say -- I'm not defending the lie. I'm merely saying I understand it.
REV. JOE WATKINS (adviser for President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign): And that doesn't diminish the fact that Pat Tillman was a hero. He's a real hero.
GREENFIELD: If men on the ground, if the military on the ground have to make life -- I'm sorry. Go ahead.
CARLSON: All right.
WATKINS: No, it doesn't diminish at all the fact that Pat Tillman, just like Tucker said, is a real hero.
GREENFIELD: No one's saying he's not.
WATKINS: And his brother is one as well. His brother lives, and is a hero, too.
CARLSON: He is. I'm sorry, gentlemen, we are --