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Jimmy Massey, Ron Harris and Ambush Journalism

When I wrote Hideous Dream, a memoir about the 1994 US invasion of Haiti, I noted a book by Bob Shacochis entitled The Immaculate Invasion, that I only read after I’d completed my own book. In my introduction I praised Shacochis for his engaging rococo prose describing the places he’d been in Haiti for the first few months of that occupation. I also took him to the woodshed for over-identifying with the troops he ate and slept with in Special Forces; because behind his lively writing was a piece of pure military hagiography. Shacochis was an embedded reporter before we knew what embedded reporters were. By living with these troops, and on a few occasions depending upon them for his physical security, he had set himself up to fall in love with them.

His book became such a fine paean to Special Forces, and one that papered over much of their sheer racism and nastiness, I have to wonder if it wasn’t The Immaculate Invasion that led the Department of Defense to adopt the whole notion of embedded reporters. It really is a propaganda masterstroke. In 2003, “The Measurement Standard,” a K. D. Paine & Associates Public Relations journal, stated (March 28, 2003):

“The current war has been called the best-covered war in history, and certainly the visuals and reports from ’embedded’ reporters have been spectacular, bringing war into our living rooms like never before [T]he embedded reporter tactic is sheer genius. … The sagacity of the tactic is that it is based on the basic tenet of public relations: It’s all about relationships. The better the relationship any of us has with a journalist, the better the chance of that journalist picking up and reporting our messages. So now we have journalists making dozens — if not hundreds — of new friends among the armed forces. And, if the bosses of their new-found buddies want to get a key message or two across about how sensitive the U.S. is being to humanitarian needs or how humanely they are treating Iraqis, what better way than through these embedded journalists? As a result, most (if not all) of the dozens of stories being filed contain key messages the Department of Defense wants to communicate.”

On April 9, 2003, Ron Harris, a St. Louis Post Dispatch writer embedded with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, posted a story about Resheed, an Iraqi military base near Baghdad, wherein he described a dramatic daylong battle which included RPGs hidden away in civilian clothes and guerillas “hiding behind civilians.” The battle, as the story turned out, was the apologetic context for the description of Marines firing into a car full of civilians, wounding all of them. Quoting the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Belcher, Harris wrote, “You’re seeing drive-by shootings, suicide bomb attempts, and they’re even trying to use civilians as shields.”

Researching other stories done by Harris over 2003 and 2004, the guerrillas hiding behind civilians becomes a recurrent topic. He was also as enamored of florid prose as Shacochis. That’s what happens when you are writing about those you love.

The problem was, according to former Marine Staff Sergeant Jimmy Massey, who was interviewed at the Boston Veterans for Peace Convention in 2004, Harris’ description was heavily embellished. Contact that day was thin and sporadic.

“As his Marine unit entered Iraq it came upon empty Iraqi military bases with weapons lying on the road. ‘We shot it up with everything we had, and we were laughing and having a good time. The Iraqis let us in the country; we didn’t take it.’

“Upon entering Baghdad his unit came upon an unarmed pro-Saddam demonstration. His unit killed several of the demonstrators. ‘I knew that we caused the insurgency to be pissed off because they had witnessed us executing innocent civilians.’ Massey told us how the U.S.-embedded reporter, Ron Harris, from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote that there was a ferocious battle between his unit and the Iraqi military, but it never happened. The reporter was writing what the Marines wanted him to write.”

Readers need to note the date of this publication: September 4, 2004. This was when Ron Harris was described as an embedded reporter doing precisely what PR experts said embedded reporters are designed to do.

If I were Ron Harris and I read that on the internet, I’d be madder than hell–even if I were guilty as hell. This is not a good time to be seen as an embed, what with the exposure of New York Times hack Judith Miller as a virtual employee of Rendon Group and its pet Iraqi embezzler, Ahmed Chalabi. “Journalists” these days are seen about as credible as Texas Republicans.

Jimmy Massey didn’t meet Harris that day, or ever, because while Harris was embedded with Lima Company 3/7, Jimmy was assigned to Weapons Company. In fact, Ron Harris has never so much as called Jimmy Massey on the telephone or attempted to send Jimmy Massey an email until he called several weeks ago to tell Jimmy to retract all his claims or be “exposed.” The reason I bring that up is that two days ago, Harris published an ambush piece on Jimmy Massey, a year and a half after Massey dissed Harris on his Resheed battle story, and just one month after the release of Massey’s devastating book, Kill Kill Kill, relating his experiences in Iraq, and naming names.

Don’t look for the book here. American publishers ran from this book like it was a rabid skunk. It has only been published in France in French. That’s why Jimmy Massey is pretty sure that Harris hasn’t read it.

Harris hasn’t read the book nor has he called Jimmy Massey except once to demand he retract his claims, but that didn’t deter him from writing his hit-piece–about which I will write more further down–nor did it deter him from getting on CNN yesterday morning and claiming that Jimmy is making mad money from lies on the jimmymassey-dot-com web site, where Jimmy is said to be vigorously hawking $100 copies of his story on CDs.

CNN, by the way, had Jimmy in an Asheville studio yesterday waiting for his opportunity to answer Harris. But, alas, Harris had his day and Jimmy was sent home without so much as ten seconds of airtime to respond to Harris’ accusations.

So let’s set the record straight. Www.jimmymassey.com is not owned or operated by Jimmy Massey, but by filmmaker Nancy Fulton, who posted the following message yesterday on her web site:

“Ron Harris, of the Washington Post-Dispatch has (apparently) volunteered to promote this set of DVDs for us in print and on CNN. It is worth noting that total revenues to Jimmy Massey from this project have been around $250 and 10 DVDs. This domain is registered to the owner of Metropole Filmworx LLC, which are the producers of the Back from Iraq documentary which will feature several soldiers discussing their service in the war in Iraq. Ron Harris didn’t contact us to find out who owned the JimmyMassey.com website or to determine our financial relationship with Jimmy Massey.

“This means Ron’s reporting on the ‘Jimmy Massey’ story is living up to the ‘high standard’ of his reporting in Iraq which failed to mention so much. If you want to know what Jimmy Massey has to say, we recommend that you purchase this set of DVDs. We consider Jimmy a leader in the pro-soldier/antiwar movement. Watch the DVD’s then determine for yourself if a man accusing himself of murder is actually executing some clever ploy for fast cash. — Nancy Fulton, Metropole Filmworx LLC.”

Oops! Ya messed up there, Ron.

In January, 2004, the Marine Corps charged Gunnery Sergeant Gus Covarrubias, 39, of Las Vegas, with making false statements when he told a reporter that he’s shot an Iraqi soldier in the back of the head. Covarrubias could not corroborate his story, so the Marine Corps charged him for making accusations of war crimes he said he had himself committed.

If the actual claims–which must be distinguished from the representations that Harris has made against Jimmy Massey–made by Massey were indeed incapable of withstanding close scrutiny, it seems more than a little odd that no one has charged him even in civil court, yet Massey has been talking for well over a year about his experiences.

Not a single legal charge has ever been leveled at Massey; and I’ll wager there won’t be any charges. That would risk too many exposures and too many questions, and Abu Ghraib is about to pop back into the news when the courts release a new set of photographs, whereupon we can all be reminded again of the humanitarian nature of this occupation.

Scandal is on the administration and the military like hungry ducks on hapless June bugs. They do not want to charge Jimmy Massey, because what he has been telling people–that civilians are being killed by the thousands in Iraq–is straight-up true.

Instead, the Marine Corps is refuting Jimmy Masseys allegations with the conclusion of its own “investigation” into the claims Massey has made, which according to Harris were made available to him, and which he repeated in his hit-piece in the Post-Dispatch as well as his one-man monologue on CNN yesterday.

The Marine Corps investigated itself and exonerated itself. Shocking! Lock up Massey right now and throw away the key!

Harris claims that Jimmy Massey said:

“Marines fired on and killed peaceful Iraqi protesters.”

That is a bald-faced lie. Massey said “unarmed” protesters.

“Americans shot a 4-year-old Iraqi girl in the head.”

You can google-search “jimmy massey 4 year old child” if you like. You will not find this quote from Jimmy Massey anywhere. Harris writes himself that Massey says that he once witnessed a dead 4-year-old in the road, not that he saw her shot in the head. But even with this backpedaling embedded equivocation, Harris got it wrong. This statement, according to the only stories I could scavenge off the internet, was made by another Marine and only cited by Massey.

Pretty different, I’d say.

Harris goes on in the same hit-piece to claim that Massey said he had personally killed a 6-year-old. But Massey says that this was a misquote that grew legs. There was a child among the dead when demonstrators were shot in Resheed. The original statement was “I brought these series of events up through the chain of command. Each time I was told they were terrorists, or they were insurgents. My question to the marine corps at that point became, how was a 6-year-old child with a bullet hole in its head a terrorist or insurgent?”

Reads a bit differently that Harris’ smear-job, doesn’t it?

If anyone doubts that reporters do in fact fuck up as well as misquote people, I will say for myself that I have been misquoted more than quoted in the last ten years, but let’s let Harris’ own accuracy be put to the test in this very article.

Harris says, “While touring with Sheehan in Montgomery, Ala., he told of seeing the girl’s body.” Sheehan did not join that leg of the three-bus tour until Atlanta. She was never in Montgomery. I just got an email from Cindy confirming that. No big deal in most circumstances. Just a minor error. But since what is good for the Massey-goose is examination with an electron microscope, let’s just say its sauce for the Post-Dispatch’s embedded-gander.

Second-hand scuttlebutt from blogs misquoting out of context does not strike me as very sound journalism, but then I’m not a journalist. Those are the only place, however, where you can find anything resembling Harris’ peculiar and venomous construction of Jimmy Massey.

Massey never claimed, as Harris reports, that he shot a 6-year-old boy either. He never claims to have shot a 6-year-old at all.

I have no way of knowing why Harris is doing what he is doing, or who may have put him up to it. Maybe he has cobbled his lurid war tales from the 2003-4 embedded period into a book of his own–“Ron and Lima Company’s Excellent Adventure–Traveling with the Jarheads and Watching Iraqi Terrorists Hide Behind Women and Children.”

Here may be some excerpts (taken from his “news” reports):

“What a difference embedding makes.” (1-13-2004, Post Dispatch) [He really made this the opening statement in a breathless and appreciative article about Donald Rumsfeld’s military. I couldn’t have made anything that rich up on my own. A bumper sticker maybe? ­SG]

“For this new offensive, journalists would travel as the men and women of the Navy, Air Force, Army and Marines did. They would eat what they ate, sleep (or not sleep) as they slept, bathe (or definitely not bathe) as they did.

“They could talk to all of the troops in their unit, from privates and corporals and sergeants to lieutenants and captains and colonels, and on some occasions, even to generals.” (Oh, gee whiz, even to generals!) The truth is that much of what journalists saw or did or the information that they gathered through conversations wouldn’t have happened without the assistance of the units they were with It was through the relationship that we established that they shared their stories, food, water and concerns with us. It was Capt. George Schreffler who urged us off the ground during a sandstorm for fear that we would get run over by a vehicle during the night.” (4-26-2003, Post Dispatch)

The story of Resheed wasn’t the only place he expressed himself about the terrorists “hiding behind civilians.” He likes that bromide, and though this seasoned reporter steeped in virtuous skepticism has never thought to ask himself how unusual it is that cities have civilians in them. He not only used this notion to excuse the shootings of civilian vehicles in Resheef, he eagerly rebroadcast this claim again when spinning a drama about “the road to Ramadi.”

“‘We’re trying to get the snipers in position for a shot,’ Major George Schreffler told the other commanders through tactical radio communications. “They’re looking at guys in blue uniforms and others with black clothes and black masks. Some are using children to shield themselves.'”

Great stuff! True grit and big brass balls!

Jimmy Massey’s sin is that he hasn’t transformed Iraqis into extras on the set of a modern-day frontier masculinity script. Though Harris yesterday on CNN claimed that Jimmy is motivated by “profit,” Jimmy and his wife have been living pretty close to the margin since Jimmy was released from service with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Contrary to this scurrilous assertion, Jimmy Massey has been trying to tell anyone who will listen that a hell of a lot of civilians are being killed in Iraq the very thing that Harris has worked so diligently to excuse. Little wonder that the mirror that Jimmy Massey holds up to reporters who compulsively justify these killings is one they need to break.

The real sin, of course, is opposing the war. This is part of an escalation against war opponents. The LA Times just reported that one of the biggest churches in Pasadena was warned by the IRS before last year’s elections that it could lose its tax exempt status if it preached against the war.

Harris, a Black man, who right-wing bloggers love to love when they are doing a yeoman’s task for God, the Market, or the War, has now become the darling of these white nationalist internet denizens. These puerile neo-fascists gleefully blasted Harris’ November 8th hit-piece through the blogoshpere faster than you can say Free Republic.

But not everyone was so happy.

“Vanity Fair” was cited by Harris, and so was “USA Today.” Not exactly bastions of anti-imperialism, both publications reportedly called Harris on the carpet yesterday for misrepresenting Massey interviews they conducted, and for claiming that neither had checked their sources.

“He began turning up in the media last spring,” wrote Harris of Massey, “with stories about military atrocities. Massey’s primary thrust has been that Marines from his battalion–some of whom, he told a Minneapolis audience, were “psychopathic killers”–recklessly shot and killed Iraqi civilians, sometimes, he said, upon orders from their commanders.”

Evidence to the contrary, says Harris, is the fact that the Marine Corps denied it. Give that man the Seymour Hersh Muckraker Medal!

During the Marine Corps’ extensive investigation of Jimmy Massey’s claims, there was one person the Corps never once attempted to contact for a statement: Jimmy Massey. Whoever that investigating officer was, promote him immediately. Make him the commander of CENTCOM.

Jimmy has been diagnosed with a debilitating case of PTSD. In public presentations, he has repeatedly advised audiences that his memories are not clear. But since Ron Harris never attended a single presentation by Jimmy Massey, he doesn’t know that either. He does make a claim that Jimmy made statements in an interview with the Post-Dispatch that he couldn’t back up with documentation, but Harris himself does not provide documentation of the interview where Massey allegedly did this.

Here is what Dr. Craig E. Abrahamson, a PTSD researcher said today in response to an email:

“I am presently in Vietnam, and am conducting research regarding family violence, not just in this country, but in others as well. Just to give you some back ground, I have worked with veterans of the Vietnam War, Desert Storm, and now the War in Iraq. I also work with victims of domestic violence, both women and children. My belief and findings indicate that indeed initial memories of trauma are very vague, and in the process of flashbacks, nightmares, and talking, the memories become more vivid.”

“None of the five journalists,” says Harris, “who covered the battalion said they saw reckless or indiscriminate shooting of civilians by Marines, as Massey has claimed. Nor did any of the Marines or Navy corpsmen with Massey who was interviewed for this report.”

Let’s think about this for a second. A tactically dispersed 900-man battalion with five journalists, at least three concentrated in one company, and the members of the units do not shoot any civilians with journalists watching. Pretty unbelievable, eh? And no corroboration from the “MARINES AND NAVY CORPSMEN INTERVIEWED FOR THIS REPORT.” Well, hell, that’s just definitive, two years later no less.

Two people who Harris obviously didn’t interview were Andrew Howard and Ryan McFarland, two members of Massey’s platoon (not some distant sister company) who gave testimony to Jimmy’s publisher corroborating Jimmy’s claims.

Harris didn’t interview Brad Gaumont either, or if he did, Gaumont didn’t repeat what he said into a Danish reporter’s tape recorder last year: Referring to civilians who were killed, “They had it coming anyway; Iraqis are scumbags.”

Harris also missed Jeffrey Fowlers, who disliked Jimmy and told people Jimmy Massey had been “fired. “Jimmy is trying to slander the MC because they fired him but he was just as much a part of what we were doing [killing civilians]. We were assuming they were terrorists. There were no explosives but it’s highly probable there could have been weapons. We were all pissed off [at shooting women and children]. Nobody was doing it on purpose.” But they were doing it. They were killing civilians. Plenty of them.

Let’s just quote Harris’ (April 9, 2003) article, where Jesse Schutz of the 3/7 says, “We’re not trying to shoot civilians. If they don’t stop, then we fire a warning shot, and if they still don’t stop, it’s either them or us.’

See, I’m sitting here with a computer and a telephone for one day, and I seem to be able to do a better job of digging up the truth than Ron Harris was, and he was there with the 3/7.

“What a difference embedding makes.”

STAN GOFF is the author of “Hideous Dream: A Soldier’s Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti” (Soft Skull Press, 2000), “Full Spectrum Disorder” (Soft Skull Press, 2003) and “Sex & War” which will be released approximately December, 2005. He is retired from the United States Army. His blog is at www.stangoff.com.

Goff can be reached at: sherrynstan@igc.org

 

 

 

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