Last week, amid great fanfare, Fox News announced that they would be airing a special presentation that features a Navy SEAL who claims to have fired the shot that killed Osama Bin Laden. The press release for the program that Fox calls “an extensive, first-hand account of the mission,” contains this description:
“The two-night presentation will feature an exclusive interview with the Navy SEAL who says he fired the shots that killed terrorist leader Usama Bin Laden. […] Revealing his identity and speaking out publicly for the first time, the Navy SEAL, also known as “The Shooter,” will share his story of training to be a member of America’s elite fighting force and explain his involvement in Operation Neptune Spear, the mission that killed Bin Laden.”
There are, however, a number of problems with this project, beginning with what Fox says in their own press release. The first paragraph describes Robert O’Neill as “the Navy SEAL who says he fired the shots.” While he may “say” that he fired the shots that killed Bin Laden, there is no confirmation of that from anyone else. Not his fellow SEALs, not his superiors, not any eyewitnesses, not the Pentagon, no one. Fox News has to rely solely on this person’s account of the mission for their story.
Relying on this one account is also troubling because simply by coming forward the person is bringing into question his own credibility. First and foremost, Navy SEALs are bound by non-disclosure agreements that prohibit them from talking about the details of their missions, particularly those that are confidential and involve national security. The Pentagon has taken notice of this and urged that he comply with his obligations and honor his duty. A Pentagon spokesperson told a reporter at Business Insider that…
“Navy SEALs continue to serve and fight bravely around the world, accomplishing critical missions that keep our nation safe. The major details of the bin Laden mission are well known, many of them a matter of public record. We urge any former SEAL to abide by the SEAL Ethos, particularly the core tenant, ‘I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions.'”
By appearing on Fox News O’Neill, if he is who he says he is, is violating his oath to the Navy SEALS and, quite possibly, the law. In a previous instance of a SEAL going public with information about the Bin Laden operation, Matt Bissonnette is currently undergoing a criminal investigation for publishing a book that he failed to vet through the Defense Department. Fox News is well aware of this as they reported his legal jeopardy two years ago. They also reported that his fellow SEALs were upset that he had published a book that could endanger them and future missions. What’s more, it was Fox who outed Bissonnette, whose book was published under the pseudonym, Mark Owen. By revealing his identity Fox subjected him and others to death threats. The network was criticized harshly by members of the military and media ethicists.
There is no reason why the new Fox News program on Bin Laden would not have the same consequences. The Pentagon has already weighed in, and the risk to other SEALs is just as plausible. By disclosing his own identity he could inadvertently lead revenge seekers to discover the identities of his associates. Should any of them or their families be harmed, the responsibility lies with him.
And for what? There is no apparent news value in what he may have to relate. Sure, there is curiosity about a first-hand account of the operation, but there is nothing that is pertinent to the public’s understanding, while there are real risks to individuals and future missions.
He is nothing but a glory hog who is grabbing attention for himself at the expense of his comrades who participated equally in the dangerous operation, but who are honoring their oaths. His contribution to the record consists mainly of soap opera melodrama that appeals to the tabloid set as demonstrated by Fox’s press release:
“Offering never before shared details, the presentation will include ‘The Shooter’s’ experience in confronting Bin Laden, his description of the terrorist leader’s final moments as well as what happened when he took his last breath.”
Spoiler Alert: Bin Laden’s final moments were probably him wondering who these dudes were in his bedroom for about a second and a half before he took a bullet to the head. And you didn’t need a two night Fox News ratings gimmick to learn that.
This program is abetting potentially unlawful activity and endangering lives. And there is no way of verifying its authenticity. Under the circumstances, a legitimate news enterprise would never consider airing it. Fortunately for Fox, legitimacy has never been a part of their business plan. As for the alleged SEAL, he should keep his mouth shut until such time as the story can be told responsibly with credit going to everyone who deserves it.
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[Addendum 1] Phil Bronstein wrote an article for Esquire if February of 2013 that purported to be the story of the “shooter.” It was shortly thereafter criticized as “a giant fraud.” Also, now promoting a new book, Bissonnette has admitted that he was wrong to publish classified material about the Bin Laden operation.
[Addendum 2] Fox News gets scooped by the UK’s tabloid Daily Mail. They published an article identifying the “shooter” on November 5th, a week before Fox’s big “exclusive.”
[Addendum 3] CNN also scooped Fox by airing an interview with O’Neill prior to Fox’s broadcast. This brought out the jealousy of Fox News as anchor Shepard Smith complained that after Fox announced the project “everybody and their mother jumped on this,” and he singled out CNN saying that it’s “really kind of embarrassing for them.” Smith went on to say…
“Others have had input on this cause I’ve seen them over on the hater channels. People on the hate channels are like ‘He should never have done this.'”
The “hate” channels? Is he sure he wasn’t watching Fox? And the people he is talking about are Navy SEALS who have had the integrity to honor their oaths to their comrades. Don’t let anyone tell you that Smith is somehow different than the other hacks on Fox.