It’s been a distressing, disappointing and enlightening few days at 2103 N. Queen St.
Our Free Press Sunday Centerpiece was written about Jeff “Rock” Harris, an alleged military hero for whom the book and movie “Black Hawk Down” was based upon. I had been directed to Harris by a friend for whom I held (and still hold) the utmost respect.
Long story short — Harris is a fraud of the most contemptible nature. Not only was he not the person “Black Hawk Down” was about, his claims to have received many distinguished awards from the U.S. government, sniper kill counts and, well, virtually EVERYTHING he told us were blatant lies.
What made that part of it worse is that, when contacted after we were sure he was a fraud, he told our reporter that — on the record — to write it was all a lie, but that — off the record — he was “black ops” and that it was all actually true.
We were sucked into this lie and, for the most part, we — I’m including myself, my publisher/editor and the reporter — bought into this bulls**t, hook, line and sinker.
I take special blame for this, because — although my service was limited and not heroic by any stretch — I am a veteran and should have known better.
There’s no defense for us running the piece. I can tell you the reporter is only 22 and this was the biggest story she had worked on to that point in her young career; I can tell you that we wanted to run an inspirational piece on an American military hero on the Fourth of July weekend and WANTED to believe this d-bag’s story; I can tell you he produced several pieces of documentation that LOOKED real; and I can whine about severe understaffing at my paper right now … but none of those excuses (and about 20 more I could pull out of my ass) would suffice.
Running that story hurt veterans who have served in combat and come back with wounds seen and unseen. Running that story hurt families who have had soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen who were injured in combat.
More than anything, us running that story brought dishonor to the valiant men who fought and died in Mogadishu.
I have been sickened by this entire episode to the point of reconsidering even staying in this field. However, I have found the best thing to do is my best to make this entire situation right — to rectify it to the best of my ability.
And we’re in the process of doing it now. Jane Moon — the writer of the original article — wrote a follow-up for today’s edition
that tells the truth about Harris and his lies. I have been interviewed and quoted in a Fayetteville Observer story
(which has been syndicated nationally) about Harris’ deceit. And Jane is continuing to work on the other angles of this story, including a piece on Doug Sterner’s Stolen Valor Act
, which may help Harris see some much-needed prison time.
An important lesson I’ve learned here is to ALWAYS make sure our sources are properly vetted, even if it means we’re not going to get a story finished in time for a certain publication.
Another thing I’ve learned and started to admire is the brotherhood and love the Army Rangers have for each other. They are pissed about what we did and what this “poser” did — and they’re not going to let it die until justice is served, in one way or another.
Thank you to the dozens of people — Rangers, military people (wives and husbands), readers, etc. — who have called, emailed and Facebooked during this episode. Even when I’ve been rightfully called an idiot and worse, I’ve taken a positive out of each conversation and exchange. I’ve truly appreciated the ones who have listened to the situation and have seen that truly, we are doing our best to make this right.
Finally, I want to give a special thank-you to Friend of the Blog John Johnson. He and I have exchanged literally dozens of emails as this episode was developing. His assistance, guidance and advice have been invaluable. Thanks, JJ.
To our servicemen and women who this episode have affected: please accept my sincerest apology. I hope you have seen what we are doing to rectify this — and we’re far from through. We are going to continue to cover this until the complete story has been told.
A couple of other links for you to check out about this: