Hopes for NY Times Reporting Questioned After MRAP Story
The photo at the top of this article never fails to grab our readers’ attention. As it should. Taken on the front lines in Iraq, it depicts a v-hulled Force Protection Cougar (MRAP Class II) vehicle, shortly after a deeply buried land mine believed to contain over 200 pounds of explosives blew up under the vehicle. That’s a shocking big boom, and even MRAP vehicles do not guarantee protection against a blast that size. Indeed, US MRAP tests at Aberdeen Proving Ground are considered vicious because they use 30-50 pound charges – a test set that has failed at least 3 MRAP contenders. Amazingly, the Cougar in this picture did what it was designed to do, minimizing the impact of the blast by deflecting it to the smooth v-hull’s sides, rather than catching the full impact on a Hummer’s flat bottom and multiple “blast trap” niches. The engine was thrown over 100 feet from the vehicle – but the crew lived. The challenge then became removing the vehicle wreck, instead of finding enough crew remains to provide a burial.
This picture provides a certain level of perspective, as one contemplates the recent NY Times article “Hopes for Vehicle Questioned After Iraq Blast“. While Australia’s DoD has a standing “On the Record” section of the site that takes issue with media reports they believe to be misleading or flat out wrong, the US Department of Defense hasn’t quite caught up yet. It did issue a direct response in this case, however, and the contents are interesting…
US DoD DefenseLINK, Jan 19/08: “Pentagon Officials Remain Confident in MRAPs Despite First Casualty“:
“An Army gunner died, and three other soldiers were wounded when a “very large, deep-buried” improvised explosive device detonated underneath their MRAP in southern Baghdad on Jan. 19, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said during a news conference at the Pentagon today… “I think what’s remarkable about the attack is the fact that the crew compartment, despite how large the bomb was, was not compromised by the IED, and that the three crew members inside walked away with, I believe, cuts and broken bones in their feet,”… But an article in the New York Times today suggested the first fatality to occur in an MRAP attack dashed all hope that the vehicles represent an achievement in force-protection technology.
“That attack has not, as reported in the headline of a leading newspaper today, caused anyone to question the vehicle’s life-saving capacity… Defense Department officials are in preliminary stages of reviewing the bombing attack, which sent the vehicle airborne and caused it to overturn [emphasis DID's]… (The gunner) was positioned atop the vehicle, outside the vehicle, or partially exposed on top, and we’re trying to determine now whether or not the force of the blast is what claimed his life or whether the rollover itself took his life,” Morrell said.”
To review: The blast was big enough to send the vehicle (later identified as a Navistar MaxxPro) airborne, an impressive feat when the vehicle is built to deflect such blasts and weighs well over 20,000 pounds. It rolled the vehicle over. Even so, 3 soldiers inside that vehicle survived the experience, and the 4th might have survived if the vehicle had not rolled. To which the response is a headline “Hopes for Vehicle Questioned After Iraq Blast.”
Over at WIRED’s Danger Room, Noah Shachtman notes a couple other omissions and mistakes the article that suggest a serious lack of expertise and accuracy, including the implication that a forensic team on site was unusual, and the notion that a deeply buried IED land mine could not be triggered by remote control. Noah’s article also questions the statement of US military spokesman Rear Adm. Greg Smith, who stated that the attack was “the first death resulting from an I.E.D. attack on an MRAP,” and his argument is persuasive.
In fairness, the rest of the New York Times article is better than the title. Nevertheless, that title raises legitimate questions about the NY Times’ journalistic practices. Especially coming as it does on the heels of their recent article “War Torn: Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles“, which portrays US veterans as damaged and dangerous despite a murder rate that’s actually considerably lower than the rate for equivalent US population as a whole. That NY Times article has also been sharply questioned by local papers who went out and did substantive research instead.
The New York Times’ standards for reporting on the US military and the defense industry have become a legitimate news issue of their own, and a deserving subject of coverage. There are certainly more than enough legitimate controversies and debates in the USA that revolve around military procurement programs. There is no need to make them up.