For those of you who may have missed it, a fast-moving story out of the flaggers broke less than a week ago with this posting. It was picked up eventually by Kevin Levin at his blog. Brooks soon picked it up, as well as Rob Baker. Brooks was able to contact the Richmond Police, who stated there was no record of the 911 call in question, and the entire story quickly unraveled. Ms. Hathaway stood tall and issued an eloquent and what I believe is a heart-felt apology for being fooled and passing the story on. Well done, Ms. Hathaway. The links provided can give you pretty much the complete story of this entire affair.
My purpose here is not to pile on in any way, but rather I’ve been reflecting on what all of us students of the war can learn from this episode. One of the reasons we study history is so we can use the past to help us in the present. One of the uses of biography is to learn from the experiences of others. This is such a case.
We had an account where two unknown individuals were allegedly in the process of vandalizing a monument while the hero of the tale came to the rescue. It sounded like a great story, right? That’s when we students of the war ought to be even more suspicious. If the story sounds really great, most of us tend to want to believe it. I believe that’s what happened with Ms. Hathaway. The story sounded really great, and like any normal human being she wanted it to be true. I think all of us can empathize with that. But as I said, we need to be even more suspicious. We need to take the story apart and test it. Is it reasonable that someone outside of a TV drama would inflict multiple tasings on someone else and not have some explaining to do to the police? Are there any parts of the story that can be verified?
Well, we have the name of the intrepid hero, the claim he served aboard the USS Cole, and the claim he called 911. Is there any way we can check that out? There is a website for USS Cole crewmembers. Posting a question or emailing one of the registered crewmembers to ask them if they knew the name is one method. One person who claimed to be a former Cole crewmember came forward and said he wasn’t a crewmember, so that was a huge red flag. He could certainly clear this up by providing a copy of his DD-214 and copies of the orders assigning him to the Cole.
Can we check out the 911 call? Brooks contacted the Richmond PD and was able to find out there was no record of the 911 call in the story. If we were faced with the same situation, that’s something we could do.
So these two essential details of the story have no support.
Another thing to consider is, as Brooks pointed out, the fact that the flaggers have been very good at getting coverage for their actions. Internet searches failed to find any news stories mentioning the incident. Brooks attempted to contact the Richmond media outlets. It’s reasonable to think that if the story was true the media would have some of the details. Media outlets routinely monitor police activity, and some reporter would have been on the story, yet there was no published story. Another huge red flag.
The method, then, is to analyze the story for internal contradictions or missing items, look for parts of the story that don’t make sense or don’t pass the “smell test,” test the details and see if they can be verified, and be especially suspicious when the story is so good you really want it to be true.
Let’s apply this to our study of the war. I’m sure there are many stories each of us loves that come out of the war. As good students, we ought to try to verify those stories and be prepared to discard them if they don’t pan out.
Are there any other things that could have been done to check out this story? What do you think?