The recent WorldNetDaily exclusives about the American Flag, Navy warships and Presidential junkets have sparked a lot of controversy. There are two stories on which this column is based. The first is the original lead story about allegations of President Clinton planning two trips aboard Navy ships:. One trip to the People's Republic of China and another to the People's Republic of Vietnam. The Vietnam trip allegedly would require an amendment to Navy regulations in order to permit the U.S. flag to be flown in a subordinate position. The Navy has issued a statement which is a denial -- kinda, sorta.
"The Navy is not aware of any planned trips by the President to China or Vietnam aboard a Navy ship." Please note they said they were "not aware." I have little doubt the responding officer was and is not aware of the alleged planned trips. However, there are officers within the Navy who do know.
The reaction from readers and listeners has been overwhelming. A small percentage has been critical of the story and its author (me). Scott wrote, "Why did you bother to quote the poll? You admit that the original article was untrue! Who cares what people's opinions are when they have been fed a lie by an unscrupulous Internet rag? No trip to Vietnam is planned; therefore the original article was a lie; therefore WorldNetDaily should apologize, not quote polls!"
We have nothing to for which to apologize. We did not "admit the original article was untrue." We reported the official Navy denial of the claim. There is a difference. A big difference.
When everyone reported President Clinton "did not have sexual relations with that woman," they did not admit the original stories were untrue. They reported the president's denial. There is a long litany of official government stories, which do not stand scrutiny despite protestations to the contrary. Consider as examples the following:
Another e-mail I received came from someone using the e-mail suffix @hq.sublant.navy.mil: "Should President Clinton decide to alter (either temporarily or permanently) Navy regulations that prohibit the U.S. flag to be flown in a subordinate position to another country's colors, I think the entire Navy would spit on the commander in chief. Essentially, the morale aboard a Navy ship is independent of politics. If the president were to board a U.S. Navy ship and make it sail into a port flying its most prized symbol of freedom in a subservient position to the host communist country's flag, I believe that the morale of that ship, and the Navy in general, would sink like a Russian submarine ... fast and out of control. If the president wants to see how low he can actually make the morale in the Navy, he's on the right track. It won't be long before he hits rock bottom. We already have no respect for him ... now he is asking us to have no respect for the country we defend. This is outrage!"
Tom Glover, CDR USN (ret.), sent a note he distributed to his veterans organization in which he wrote, "The author (a retired LTC) has assured me that his sources are highly placed, authoritative and also highly agitated. Active duty people have to keep their mouths shut ... not so for us retirees. This is an issue, which should have our undivided attention. We owe it to the 50,000 men and women whose names are on the Wall."
I've done several interviews in the wake of the original story and although several have said, "We need to catch these bastards," frankly, that kind of payback is almost immaterial. If the attention we have brought to this issue kills the plans for the trips and the modification to the regs, that's enough. If it's not enough, it's the best we can hope for right now.
Maybe someday after they retire, someone who actually sat in the briefing will have the courage to write a book, give an interview and tell the real story.
I have to believe the original brain flatulence has to be a function of gross underestimation of the potential reaction. The contempt and lack of respect this administration has displayed to the military is only overshadowed by the reciprocal loathing the military has for the civilian leadership.
I was looking at a plaque in my office with my old unit motto, "De Oppresso Liber" (To free the oppressed). Who ever would have thunk it -- the oppressed needing assistance would be the U.S. military.
Joseph Farah sent me a copy of an e-mail he received, "Dear Mr. Farah, I would like to personally thank you and your staff for breaking the story of the 'Navy flag fiasco.' I have no doubt that it was your diligent reporting that saved my shipmates from yet another despicable self serving act of the Clinton administration. Respectfully, (name deleted) former CDR MC USNR.
One irate veteran wrote, "I am a retired U.S. Army Officer (36 years). I take great umbrage at insults to the flag. I did a little checking on your story. It's bulls---! The NAVCHINFO-OCNO (U.S. Navy Chief of Information -- Office of the Chief of Naval Operations) has written to me saying that there are: 1) no plans for the president to visit any Asian country via Naval vessel; and, 2) no changes in the works for either the NavRegs, UCMJ, or federal code provisions that prohibit the U.S. flag to be dipped in the manner your story implies.
"It took me less than 20 minutes to spike this story. How long did it take you to make it up?
"Who is your 'highly placed Naval source' who validated this crap? He should be horsewhipped in public, and I'll be happy to do the honors.
"There are enough problems with half-truths from the legitimate press without you illegitimate SOBs making it worse."
I responded, "You received your response in 20 minutes in the wake of my multiple requests the day prior. Before our deadline, the last message I received from the Navy was '... we can't meet your deadline but we will run this story to ground and get back to you tomorrow.' And they did, and the response I received from Alan Goldstein is the same one you apparently received."
To those who reject the story, accept the official denial, and continue to think it was scurrilous rumor inadequately controlled, fine. You can revile me, and write this whole episode off as pure BS. I've got a thick hide and can live with your scorn. However, this story was not done lightly or as some tabloid scam to flog readership. I neither want nor seek bragging rights if the airing of these allegations serves to kill the planned trips and insult. I have often noted it is not WHO is right or wrong but WHAT is right or wrong that is significant.
Judge Robert H. Jackson, in May of 1950 wrote, "It is not the function
of our Government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the
function of the citizen to keep the Government from falling into error."