It may have seemed that I have been MIA from blogging for the month of November, but believe me, I was blogging up a storm. Just not here. I’ve been over at the website of my Navy SEAL and author friend whose book was released November 8th. It was an adventure that started when I offered to build his website, then ramped up to warp speed when a punishing launch and PR schedule had him doing what seemed to be an interview or appearance every hour 24/7 — all of which needed to be embedded in or linked to the website. Then things really got, shall we say, interesting. Not the least of which was the point where the Department of Defense, SOCOM, Homeland Security, the CIA, the FBI and the White House West Wing were crawling all over my friend’s site and mine hourly. More on that later. First let me give you some background on how I came to be the blogging equivalent of Jason Bourne — hunted down by government agencies in the mistaken belief that I was a possible rogue double agent.
I’ve mentioned here that Chuck Pfarrer is probably my oldest friend. So, of course, when he asked me to help out with his author website, I was going to reschedule my life to make sure I could serve as Webmistress. But I still tweaked him about our different politics. I don’t think anyone is under the illusion that I am anything but a Left Coast Liberal. Chuck? I’d have to classify him as conservatively apolitical. As a former Naval officer, he respects his Commander in Chief as a man, but retains a typical military man’s disdain of “politicians” in the abstract.
As the media schedule shaped up, it began looking alarmingly heavy in Fox News style appearances. Then the PR firm put out a teasing press release that included verbiage such as “blows holes in the White House account”. I warned Chuck that, if he was going to become a tool of Right Wing Media, or worse yet, diss my boyfriend Barack Obama, he was going to find a technical staff in revolt. His response: “Oh, you know those PR types. Just trying to drum up some controversy to sell books and book interviews.” Which I accepted because I knew SEAL Target Geronimo had very little to do with politics and everything to do with honoring Navy SEALs. We laughed about how pissed Sean Hannity would be when he thought he’d booked an Obama-basher on his show and Chuck showed up talking arcane details of military history.
Sure enough, that’s about how it played out. Various hosts would lead Chuck with questions such as “Didn’t Obama LIE TO US about the details? Didn’t he blow all the intel by announcing the mission?” Well, if you wade through all the interviews posted here, you’ll see Chuck fell into no one’s political agenda. Chuck’s disdain falls on “politicians of all stripes” for the many conflicting versions of the raid that he feels muddied the real story and made a heroic SEAL team come off like crew of disorganized hitmen. And he’s upfront saying, if he were President, he would have delayed the announcement of the raid for perhaps a week or a bit more to allow for mop-up operations based on the data, computers and other files discovered in Bin Laden’s compound. Although, he acknowledges that, since we’d crashed a helicopter blocks from Pakistan’s West Point and a local Pakistani was live Tweeting the event, the news was going to come out sooner rather than later. As little use as Chuck has for politicians trying to make hay out of the accomplishments of the military, even he agrees with me that it was probably a good thing that our President was able to get his word out before the Prime Minister of Pakistan did.
But unfortunately, Chuck’s actual words in interviews came AFTER various government types started getting pretty hot under the collar. I’ve got some Secret Squirrel IP detecting software, so I can see who is landing on the site. It’s especially easy if the IP is a named IP. Surprisingly, DoD, Homeland Security and the West Wing all have named IPs. As do the IRS and various Congresspeople’s offices. There were also a number of visitors that my software identified only as “blocked IP address”. But when they come out of Langley or Quantico Virginia, well, you know who’s looking. We’re not just talking about a few visits. We’re talking about hundreds of different visitors a day from those IPs, each spending an average of half an hour to 45 minutes on the site and viewing every page. And they weren’t just trawling through Chuck’s site. They quickly started combing multiple pages on mine. But their interest there soon waned — perhaps because of such Administration-friendly posts such as the one where I invite Obama to come visit us in Sonoma or offer to help him get a Smooth Fox Terrier or beg Michelle to be my gardening girlfriend. Clearly, I had drunk a healthy amount of the Kool-Aid and was a minimal threat.
But then I can’t believe with all the stuff on his plate, Obama himself could spare even a minute to be in anyway involved in orchestrating the shit storm that was about to break over us. Chuck thinks, when all the leaks and conflicting factoids about the mission came out immediately after Obama’s announcement, the White House Press Corps, rather than refuting them or clarifying the record, just clamped down on everything. So they had a vested interest in NOT having someone talking in detail about the mission — especially someone with close ties to the SEAL community who interviewed people directly involved in planning and executing the mission. Best keep a lid on the whole embarrassing media event. Shut down all discussion and leave it at “Osama’s dead. ‘Nuff said.” My additional personal theory is that, despite the many pageviews on the website, none of our esteemed visitors bothered to listen to Chuck’s interviews — especially his long form interviews which were hardly anything for any politician to be upset about. Instead, I think the reaction was to the “noise” around the book — the various spins put on it, especially by some print journalists and bloggers who clearly hadn’t read SEAL Target and chose to print that the book supported whatever agenda they felt they wanted propped up.
Chuck had mentioned long before the book was published that there might be pushback. While working on SEAL Target, he had approached the White House Press Office with requests for information and verification and was basically told the equivalent of “Good luck with that.” At the same time, Director Kathryn Bigelow, who is making a movie about the raid to kill Bin Laden, was given her own office at SOCOM. So clearly there was a preferred list. What Chuck didn’t expect was how vicious the blowback would be — and how it would be exacerbated by the sorry state of news gathering today.
Kimberly Dozier of the AP was given a denunciation of the book from SOCOM, yet that denunciation was very odd especially by virtue of what it didn’t denounce. While the PR flak called SEAL Target “a fabrication” and denied that Chuck had had access, SEAL head Admiral Bill McRaven, who was directly responsible for planning and orchestrating the mission had only this cryptic on the record comment: he was “concerned the book would lead Americans to doubt the administration’s version of events” [my italics]. Hmmm. Not that the book was wrong. Or misguided. But that it might cause Americans to doubt one of a dozen conflicting versions of the story that came flying out of the West Wing and various politicians’ offices after the raid and were never officially sorted out and clarified. Yup. We Americans might have some doubts, but Chuck’s book could hardly be the only cause of those doubts.
Dozier had gone on the record with her own version of what happened in the raid, so she could be said to have a vested interest in debunking Chuck’s version — which conflicted with hers. I had thought of her as a credible journalist, but what she did in her story was beyond tabloid journalism. In the course of getting Chuck’s reaction to the SOCOM statement, she began peppering him with questions about his health. Now Chuck’s valiant fight against cancer isn’t a secret. He chronicled it in his bestselling autobiography, Warrior Soul. But since then, like many Americans who still need to provide for their families and fear being dropped by their insurance companies, he’s been mostly silent on the subject. Finally, and perhaps foolishly, Chuck tried to shut down the topic — after stating that it was irrelevant to his book — by telling her a bit about his health with the proviso that it be strictly off the record.
Here’s how she dealt with it in her interview:
He insists the money he earns will barely cover his medical bills for a long and losing battle with colon cancer. His ruddy complexion and expansive girth belie an illness the personable Pfarrer says has now spread to his lungs.
The thinly disguised inference here is that he hasn’t really had cancer. That’s certainly how it was spun in all the periodicals that picked up the piece and further modified it without bothering to do any primary reporting — such as, at bare minimum, contacting Chuck to get his reaction.
Even more despicably, Dozier showed up, in of all places, the reviews section on Chuck’s Amazon page to add more innuendo in comments to various reviews. When another commenter responded to her with the above point that McCraven hadn’t actually said Chuck’s version was false, Dozier responded in effect: “Oh, he did actually but for space reasons I had to cut that bit out.” Hmmmm. What would have been a central fact of the story — McCraven calling the version a lie — had to be cut for space, but a whole paragraph speculating on whether or not Chuck really looks like a cancer patient had to be kept in? I smell an agenda. Any serious reporter would. Yet, in today’s era of slashed reporting staffs and shrinking news budgets, only one news outlet bothered to investigate and analyze. In all other versions, the story was just rerun with ever more inflammatory adjectives and flat out embellishment.
I wish that was the end of it, but as any veteran of a playground fight will tell you, there’s always someone who wants to pile on. In this case, sad to say, it was a fellow Navy SEAL who — quel ironie — has his own autobiography in development at Chuck’s same publisher, St. Martin’s, and who competes with Chuck on the SEAL related lecture, article and talking head circuit. I suppose the temptation was too much for a weak man. He marshalled the readers of his blog to flood Amazon with negative reviews of Chuck’s book. Luckily, his minions were so inarticulate and their reviews were so closely variations on the “I haven’t read the book but I know it’s crap” variety, that it sparked a backlash of support among readers who actually had read and enjoyed SEAL Target.
So that’s how I spent my November. Charting the progress of a perfect media shit storm. I wish I could say it was all one big conspiracy orchestrated by sinister government operatives. The truth, I fear, was more like the aforementioned playground pile-on, where different people and groups with different and unrelated agendas all converged independently in roughly the same direction.
That said, I’m still bracing for the the complete audit, the revocation of my husband’s green card and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms raid on Two Terrier Vineyards. I just hope they don’t send some of those Navy SEAL canine operatives to take on the terriers. They’re only German Shepherds and I’d hate to have true American canine military heroes suffer a Fox Terrier Beat-Down.
I wish I could say the media never fails to surprise me, but that’s not true. What a horrible way to treat someone who has helped his country so much. I can’t believe someone who would act like this works for the AP.
Wow. Careful, you don’t want to end up like Ellsberg with Cuban waiter’s trying to put LSD in your soup!
Waiters. Stupid iPhone…
I am the aforesaid mentioned Chuck Pfarrer, and I to tell everyone what a friend I have in Lisa Paul. I hope you’ll forgive me if I wax rhapsodic. Lisa and I have known each other for more than three decades, and became friends while our fathers were professors at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. For those of you who’ve not had the pleasure to meet Lisa in person, I can tell you that she is a dynamo—a diminutive woman who is by the force of her personality and intellect, very much larger-than-life. She is ferociously intelligent, broadly read and scrupulously well-informed. She is, bar none, the best writer I know– and I know some pretty damn good writers, New York Times best selling, Pultizer Prize winning writers. I know more than a few ink stained wretches who could better themselves by reading Lisa’s posts. As I’m sure her readers know, she is witty, insightful and gets her point across with elegant precision.
You can see what kind of a friend Lisa is. When the entire world seemed to turn upside down and dump on SEAL Target Geronimo, she did not run for cover. She took the challenge by the nose, busted lazy journalists for not checking their facts, combed through quotes to find out what exactly people said, and satisfied her self as to the veracity of what I wrote.
Nor was her defense of me and my work blindly reflexive. Lisa’s held me accountable for each of the small historical errors I made in the background section of my book, and she is not the sort of reader who will let sloppy prose pass without criticism. Lisa has worked as a journalist and a news director, and the facts (meaning what actually happened) are important to her. It has been an incredible experience to take on not only the White House but a pretty good chunk of the US news industry, and I say industry because often what they put out is not journalism but simply product, filler that does little more than space out their commercials.
It was Lisa who put together my website, and patiently taught me the difference between a Tweet and a Blog. Counterinsurgency and counterterrorism I know–social media I don’t. Without Lisa’s help I would’ve not been able to get a word in edgewise in my own defense—it is thanks to her that I was able to point out not only the contradictions in the government’s version of the raid, but also the duplicity, word twisting and underhanded tactics of the book’s detractors. The facts, folks, are the facts.
I have been in some tough places in my life. I’ve been a combat officer and I am battling cancer; I know the value of a friend. And when it all hits the fan, Lisa is the kind of person you want in your corner– but I’ve known that for 30 years.
Wow, Lisa, just wow. I’d want you on my side for that mess too. Nice meeting you, Chuck. And yes, the readers of this blog are spoiled beyond belief by her skill and art and genuine approach to sharing the world of Left Coast Cowboys.
Call me a “left coast liberal” too… I purchased and read every word of SEAL Target Geronimo anyway. It’s been a while since I have read a book as well researched as this. My understanding of what really happened is greatly enhanced.
Lisa… I am so impressed with your push back. Like wow. Get back to Belize when you can… so we can do Sunday brunch at the Maya Beach Bistro!
To Chuck and Lisa, I was drawn to this blog because of the cute dogs. I stayed because of the great writing. I’m impressed (but hardly surprised) by Lisa’s intelligent and well-organized defense of your book, but I’m truly pleased that you got her back in return. I’ve never met Lisa in person, but through her blog and her Facebook presence, I count her as one of my most literate and truly interesting friends. I’m so pleased she has a true friend in you. Can’t wait to read your book. My husband was career Navy (Command Master Chief, Surface Warfare, not SeALs)and we’re all one team, one fight. Nolite tes bastardes carborundurum.
SOCOM has made a concerted effort to discredit SEAL Target Geronimo. Why? PFARRER’s version of what happened is more favorable than the other versions out there e.g., The New Yorker’s, about which he made no comment.
The answer is that SOCOM finds himself sitting atop a leaky organization and, by God, he’s going to plug it up. Remember Nixon’s Watergate plumbers? It’s the same furious organizational reaction.
PFARRER’s sources have probably all denied talking to PFARRER and NCIS (Dick MARCINKO called them the Admiral’s Gestapo) can’t penetrate their solidarity. In a parallel effort the admiral’s staff weenies slammed the book and PFARRER personally (Liar!)
There’s been entirely too many SEAL books published lately; which in the aggregate may disclose information which could be used against us. Therefore, an object lesson to the entire retired SEAL community that if you try to publish based on insider access, this is what is going to happen to you and your old buddies. SOCOM says I’ve got a Public Information section in my staff and if you want to publish you’ve got to work with them.
Nevertheless a careful reading of the 16 November AP interview that SOCOM’s PAO used to rake SEAL Target Geronimo reveals that the admiral himself didn’t dispute the truth of PFARRER’s narrative he was just, “concerned that the book would lead Americans to doubt the administration’s version of events”. The invictive came from the staff PAO, and was embellished by a gleeful AP hack.
So if you want the most creditable account of what happened at Abbottabad and what lead up to it, pick up a copy of SEAL Target Geronimo.
In protest, I suggest everyone buy a copy of SEAL Target Geronimo. Bonus: It’s a great read!
well, that’s a fine mess you’ve gotten into. Disappointed about Kimberly Dozier. Wasn’t she the reporter that was badly injured in Iraq. “expansive girth” seems like quite the low blow by a ‘veteran’ journalist. I wish your friend well with his book and that your webmistress duties don’t place undue stress on you. You need to keep up with terriers, wine and Spanish lessons, too!
Good grief, I do hope this mess clears up soon.. both for your sake and for my own selfish reasons; I MISS YOUR BLOGGING!!
Meanwhile, a Very Merry Christmas to you all.
I see you’re still Tweeting occasionally, so I’m assuming the black helicopters didn’t come for ya!
Miss ya and hope you and yours have a very Merry Christmas, indeed!
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