The article was in fact so detailed that it left the unmistakable impression that Mr. Schmidle had interviewed at least a few of the SEALs involved in the raid. During an NPR interview, Steve Inskeep explains that indeed Schmidle had spent time with the SEALs who were on the mission to get Bin Laden. NPR subsequently issued a correction for reasons noted below.
If not Navy SEALS, then perhaps he met some Navy Otters?
All of this makes for a gripping read. Too gripping I thought to myself. As it turned out, there is one very serious problem with Mr. Schmidle’s account: Schmidle never met any of the SEALs involved, as reported (with great tact and restraint) by Paul Farhi on August 3.
Farhi reached the same conclusion as I had: “a casual reader of the article wouldn’t know that [he had not interviewed the SEALS]; neither the article nor an editor’s note describes the sourcing for parts of the story. Schmidle, in fact, piles up so many details about some of the men, such as their thoughts at various times, that the article leaves a strong impression that he spoke with them directly.”
Surely a journalist or an editor with a commitment to informing—rather than amusing—a public would understand that disclosing this simple fact is critical to allowing readers to determine how much credibility they should put into this account. In the absence of such disclosure, we are left asking whether this was second or third-hand information? Who are the people that he spoke to and how credible is their information?
Such an egregious exercise of incaution raises a number of questions about the entire report. More:
Reuters asks what happens when reports out of Pakistan assume that there are no people in that country. Read that analysis here.