NY Times Editors' Note: Woman Featured as Iraq Vet Never in Iraq
By Media Research Center
March 27, 2007
In a lengthy, five paragraph "editors' note" published on Sunday, the New York Times conceded that Amorita Randall, one of the woman featured prominently in the March 18 New York Times Magazine cover story, "The Women's War" about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the alleged sexual abuse of female soldiers in Iraq, in fact did not serve in Iraq as the story contended. Sara Corbett had written in the article which featured a page-and-a-half-sized picture of Randall on a sofa: "Her experience in Iraq, she said, included one notable combat incident, in which her Humvee was hit by an I.E.D., killing the soldier who was driving and leaving her with a brain injury." Earlier, Corbett relayed how "'saying something was looked down upon,' says Amorita Randall, who served in Iraq in 2004 with the Navy, explaining why she did not report what she says was a rape by a petty officer at a naval base on Guam shortly before she was deployed to Iraq."
The March 25 editors' note concluded with strong suggestions of mental issues surrounding Randall: "It is now clear that Ms. Randall did not serve in Iraq, but may have become convinced she did. Since the article appeared, Ms. Randall herself has questioned another member of her unit, who told Ms. Randall that she was not deployed to Iraq. If The Times had learned these facts before publication, it would not have included Ms. Randall in the article."
In fact, as FNC's Brit Hume pointed out in his Monday "Grapevine" segment: "The Navy says it warned the magazine that Amorita Randall may not have ever been in Iraq, before the story was printed, a warning the Times disputes it got. The Navy says it established that the woman had never been in Iraq on March 12 -- that six days before the story's release. The Times could have pulled the magazine, which had been printed, or at least put a correction in the news section of the paper. Or it could have changed the online version of the article. It did none of those things. Instead readers had to wait until yesterday -- a full week after the story came out -- to learn the truth."
This wasn't the first embarrassing mess-up in the past year by the New York Times Magazine. Clay Waters of the MRC's TimesWatch recalled on Monday how in January "a pro-abortion story from El Salvador," run last April, "backfired when one of its main scary anecdotes about the harsh anti-abortion laws in that country turned out to be absolutely false." For more, go to: www.timeswatch.org
Clay also pointed out how the Marine Corps Times chided the paper for insufficient fact-checking on the Randall case:
The Navy, while expressing sympathy to a woman it believes is suffering from stress, is annoyed that the Times did so little to check the woman's story. A Times fact checker contacted Navy headquarters only three days before the magazine's deadline. That, said Capt. Tom Van Leunen, deputy chief of information for the Navy, did not provide enough time to confirm Randall's account of service in Iraq. Nonetheless, Van Leunen said, by deadline the Navy had provided enough information to the Times 'to seriously question whether she'd been in Iraq.'
Aaron Rectica, who runs the magazine's research desk, disputes that. He said that by deadline, the Navy had not given the Times any reason to disbelieve Randall's claim of service in Iraq. Rectica said the Navy only told the paper that Randall's commanders believed she'd been in Iraq but that no one in the unit had been in combat.
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An excerpt from the portion of the March 18 "The Women's War" article which dealt with Randall, reporting which clearly shows that writer Sara Corbett and/or Times editors recognized doubts about Randall's veracity, but plowed ahead nonetheless:
Unaware of the actual numbers, many of the women I talked to seemed, in any event, to have soaked up a larger message about the male-dominated military culture. "Saying something was looked down upon," says Amorita Randall, who served in Iraq in 2004 with the Navy, explaining why she did not report what she says was a rape by a petty officer at a naval base on Guam shortly before she was deployed to Iraq. "I don't know how to explain it. You just don't expect anything to be done about it anyway, so why even try?"...
Amorita Randall lives across the state from Christensen, in a small town outside of Grand Junction. She is 27, a former naval construction worker who served in Iraq in 2004. Over the course of several phone conversations before visiting her in January, I grew accustomed to the way Randall coexisted with her memories. Mostly she inched up to them. On days she was feeling stable, she would want to talk, calling me up and abruptly jumping into stories about her six years in the Navy, describing how she was raped twice -- the second rape supposedly taking place just a matter of weeks before she arrived in Iraq. Her experience in Iraq, she said, included one notable combat incident, in which her Humvee was hit by an I.E.D., killing the soldier who was driving and leaving her with a brain injury. "I don't remember all of it," she told me when I met her in the sparsely furnished apartment she shares with her fiance?. "I don't know if I passed out or what, but it was pretty gruesome."
According to the Navy, however, no after-action report exists to back up Randall's claims of combat exposure or injury. A Navy spokesman reports that her commander says that his unit was never involved in combat during her tour. And yet, while we were discussing the supposed I.E.D. attack, Randall appeared to recall it in exacting detail -- the smells, the sounds, the impact of the explosion. As she spoke, her body seemed to seize up; her speech became slurred as she slipped into a flashback. It was difficult to know what had traumatized Randall: whether she had in fact been in combat or whether she was reacting to some more generalized recollection of powerlessness.
Either way, the effects seemed to be crippling. She lost at least one job and was, like a number of the women I spoke to, living on monthly disability payments from the V.A. Her fiance, an earnest construction worker named Greg Lund, at one point discovered her hidden in a closet in the apartment they share, curled in the fetal position, appearing frozen. "It scared the hell out of me," he said. "I'm like, am I in over my head here?" On another occasion, shopping with Randall at Lowe's, he had to pull her away from a Hispanic man she mistook for an Iraqi. "She was going to attack him," Lund said. "She was calling him 'the enemy' and stuff like that." The biggest tragedy for her was that her daughter, Anne, who is 4, was taken from her custody by the Colorado child-welfare authorities after she was found playing in the road unsupervised one day last June. At the time, Randall and her daughter were living with another family in a halfway house. Randall was inside folding laundry, believing -- she said -- that Anne was being watched by older children in the other family.
There were days when Randall couldn't remember things, telling me her mind felt fuzzy. Accordingly, when she broached a subject that was difficult, her speech would slow down markedly and sometimes stop altogether. "Nothing is ever clear," she explained. "Sometimes I'll just have feelings. Sometimes I'll have pictures. Sometimes it'll be both." Her confusion could be both literal and moral. She blamed herself, in part, for the rapes, saying she felt peer pressure to drink heavily in the Navy, which made her more vulnerable.
Randall's life story was a sad one, though according to the V.A. psychologists I spoke with, it was not atypical. Growing up in Florida, she said, she was physically and sexually abused by two relatives - a condition that has been shown to make a woman more prone to suffer assault as an adult. Eventually she landed in foster care. She told me she joined the Navy at 20 precisely because she was raised in an environment where "girls were worthless." The stability and merit structure of the military appealed to her. Stationed in Mississippi in early 2002, Randall said, she was raped one night in her barracks after being at a bar with a group of servicemen. The details are unclear to her, but Randall says she believes that someone drugged her drink.
A couple of months later, she discovered she was pregnant. In November 2002, she gave birth to her daughter. Less than a year later, Randall's unit was deployed to the war, stopping first for several months on Guam. She put Anne in the care of a cousin in Florida. The second rape happened after another night of drinking. "I couldn't fight him off," Randall says. "I remember there were other guys in the room too. Somebody told me they took pictures of it and put them on the Internet." Randall says she has blocked out most of the details of the second rape -- something else experts say is a common self-protective measure taken by the brain in response to violent trauma -- and that she left for Iraq "in a daze."
Given her low self-esteem and her tendency, as a trauma victim, to suffer from fractured memory, someone like Randall would make an admittedly poor witness in court. Randall claims that after returning from war, she told her commanders about the second rape but says she was told "not to make such a big deal about it." (The Navy says it knows of no internal records indicating that she had reported a sexual assault.) Since her daughter was removed from her custody last summer, she had been going for weekly hourlong therapy sessions with a civilian social worker, paid for by the V.A. She was also taking parenting classes at a social-services agency and petitioning to have the child returned to her care. Overall, she was feeling optimistic that through therapy, her PTSD was beginning slowly to subside. But she also felt it was a case of too little, too late, saying that before losing her daughter, she was receiving what for many women is considered to be a standard course of mental-health treatment in a V.A. system strapped for resources - a 60-minute counseling session held every month. Randall shrugged, describing it. ''We never got very far with anything,'' she said, "The guy would just ask me, 'So, how are you doing?' And I'd look at him and say, 'Well ? I guess I'm fine.'"...
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That is but a small section of the lengthy 12,000-word story. For it in full: www.nytimes.com
The cover article in The Times Magazine on March 18 reported on women who served in Iraq, the sexual abuse that some of them endured and the struggle for all of them to reclaim their prewar lives. One of the servicewomen, Amorita Randall, a former naval construction worker, told The Times that she was in combat in Iraq in 2004 and that in one incident an explosive device blew up a Humvee she was riding in, killing the driver and leaving her with a brain injury. She also said she was raped twice while she was in the Navy.
On March 6, three days before the article went to press, a Times researcher contacted the Navy to confirm Ms. Randall's account. There was preliminary back and forth but no detailed reply until hours before the deadline. At that time, a Navy spokesman confirmed to the researcher that Ms. Randall had won a Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal with Marine Corps insignia, which was designated for those who served in a combat area, including Iraq, or in direct support of troops deployed in one. But the spokesman said there was no report of the Humvee incident or a record of Ms. Randall's having suffered an injury in Iraq. The spokesman also said that Ms. Randall's commander, who served in Iraq, remembered her but said that her unit was never involved in combat while it was in Iraq. Both of these statements from the Navy were included in the article. The article also reported that the Navy had no record of a sexual-assault report involving Ms. Randall.
After The Times researcher spoke with the Navy, the reporter called Ms. Randall to ask about the discrepancies. She stood by her account.
On March 12, three days after the article had gone to press, the Navy called The Times to say that it had found that Ms. Randall had never received imminent-danger pay or a combat-zone tax exemption, indicating that she was never in Iraq. Only part of her unit was sent there; Ms. Randall served with another part of it in Guam. The Navy also said that Ms. Randall was given the medal with the insignia because of a clerical error.
Based on the information that came to light after the article was printed, it is now clear that Ms. Randall did not serve in Iraq, but may have become convinced she did. Since the article appeared, Ms. Randall herself has questioned another member of her unit, who told Ms. Randall that she was not deployed to Iraq. If The Times had learned these facts before publication, it would not have included Ms. Randall in the article.
That's online at: www.nytimes.com
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