Letters to the Editor

Reporter needs to get it right

It's clear that several organizations got the history of John Alberti wrong and it's because we want to believe the stories of battlefield glory, and honor "forgotten" veterans.

Unfortunately there are thousands of these phonies out there wearing medals and claiming honors they never earned.

There is no question the American Legion and Tahoma National Cemetery should have spent five minutes online looking up this obviously flawed narrative. Any thinking veteran would have known the history didn't match the "facts" on Alberti's DD214. The document issued to all members of the service when they end their enlistment. The wild claims of a Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, the Bronze Star Medal and five (yep ... count 'em ... five) Purple Hearts before the war in Vietnam actually started should have pegged the bovine scat meter.

I read two lines of that story and knew it was false. It seems so did hundreds of other veterans from the online posts. It should have raised the suspicions of any first-year journalism student, too. Especially someone associated with the Auburn Reporter, which has been burned at least twice before by phony stories of long ago valor and present-day PTSD.

The staff at the Reporter was educated on how to spot this phenomena on more than one occasion and even offered help in vetting stories like this. Previously, they were fooled by a phony who wrote a book about his "secret" exploits after being recruited by the CIA to be a sniper. The CIA apparently recruits from the ranks of disgruntled E-1 aircraft mechanics because that's what this fellas real DD-214 showed he was. He claimed to have been abused by his superiors and tortured by those same people. That story didn't pass the smell test, either. He had been outed by an organization a few years earlier, and five minutes of research would have shown that.

In another story, the Reporter did a feature on a supposed combat veteran (suffering from PTSD of course) who claimed he had been kicked out of a Salvation Army shelter during the Thanksgiving holiday. His story was complete fabrication as his age, unit and supposed combat experience didn't add up. Turns out he was an alcoholic who didn't follow the Salvation Army's rules about no drinking in their shelter. But the best NGO relief agency on the planet had been smeared and no apology from the paper was forthcoming.

I gave the Reporter several sites and books written about what is now codified in federal law as "Stolen Valor." There is no excuse for them not doing what is mandatory for any newspaper, no matter the size of the staff. Especially when they were offered assistance.

The Reporter needs to apologize to its readers in general and veterans specifically for not doing even the most basic of story verification. Their recent article admitting to being duped is not enough. It's another cowardly deflection of responsibility for what is in their publication.

If you're going to print stories that try to honor veterans I know, your readers would be thrilled. But as journalists you owe us a professional effort to get it right. It matters. Especially for the memory of real heroes who have defended your right to publish and distribute a newspaper. They guaranteed it with their blood and you owe them your best effort.

– Tom Marino

Editor's note: The Reporter regrets the "stolen valor" story. We followed with a retraction ("Reports: Phony Navy SEAL buried with military honors", Aug. 1) and have apologized to inquiring veterans throughout the country. We extend our apologies to our veterans community.

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