DECEMBER 18, 2000
Flag-flap vindication
© 2000

For those of us who attempt to dig up news and information that is ignored, abandoned or specifically unreported, it is important to be objective, persistent, prepared to be abused and lucky.

I recently got lucky -- again.

Back on Aug. 23, 2000, I wrote a story for WorldNetDaily that was "outside the mainstream" and sparked a lot of controversy. In fact, I'm still getting grief about it.

Before it was eventually acknowledged that President Clinton was going to visit Vietnam, I had heard from a number of different sources and reported the president was going to Vietnam. Actually there were two parts to the story: First, that the president was going to go to Vietnam after the election and before he leaves office. Second, that there had been instructions from somewhere that our naval regulations were to be changed to accommodate a requirement the Vietnamese have that no flag fly equal or superior to theirs.

My sources were solid. I had the information on real good authority (assorted high-ranking Navy officers and a government bureaucrat), but the guys wanted to remain anonymous because they were fearful of a wide variety of potential bad things happening to them. They feared for their rank, positions, retirement and the usual assortment of abuses they might suffer for coming out as a "whistleblower."

There was a progression (life) to the story that developed over months. However, the original story even now is just making it onto some newsgroups and has been vilified as everything from an urban legend/hoax, to a false partisan attack on the Clinton-Gore administration. The story has been both praised and debunked by assorted veterans groups. Active duty and retired military have both thanked and praised me for uncovering the potential gaffe and called me foul names and ascribed nefarious intentions ad nauseum.

I don't like (and have routinely been critical of) "sources reporting under condition of anonymity." When Harry McKenna at the Providence Journal Bulletin was training me in 1968, the rule was three independent corroborating sources, or you don't report it. I acknowledge the merit in such a rule and would sustain it except that over the past 30 years the rules have changed. I didn't change them. I don't like the new rules/standards, but they are the current reality.

The mainstream routinely reports "officials reporting under condition of anonymity." Not enough attention is directed to the likelihood those "officials" are usually using their media source as a means of distributing "the official" spin without the necessity of attribution. "Officials" get to enjoy plausible deniability while still disseminating the "spin" story. It is an annoying fact of life and nowhere more egregious than within the District of Criminals beltway.

During the cycle of my flag flap story it was eventually acknowledged that there were "discussions" about the flag thing.

So the two key elements of my Aug. 23 story were eventually confirmed: 1) The president was to visit Vietnam after the election and before leaving office; and 2) there were discussions about subordinating the U.S. flag.

However, the criticism continues over my inability or refusal to attribute a source, any source, to the original story.

I recently had the occasion to interview Alan Fields, supreme court chief justice of the Marshall Islands. I didn't originally intend to ask him about the flag flap story. I was interviewing him because I thought it interesting that a retired California judge could end up as the chief justice of the supreme court of a foreign, sovereign country. However, since the Marshall Islands are near Hawaii, and CINCPACFLT is headquartered in Hawaii, I asked Chief Justice Fields what I thought to be a sidebar question: "Did you hear anything about the story in your neck of the woods?"

His answer was surprising, revealing, and a relief. He said, "Yes. And it was confirmed to me by two sources. High ranking Navy officials on both coasts ... both sides of the United States. ... " Cool! He also reaffirmed what I wrote in October: "that there were discussions and these discussions originated not with the Navy but with the Secretary of Defense office."

The chief justice also restated what I have heard from a broad spectrum of military types who were not throwing stones. "I did eventually see your stories from WorldNetDaily, and I suspect without you bringing this forward, it would have quietly been done," he said.

Since August I have been getting two flavors of reaction to the series of stories.

My original sources were spread out over 9,000 miles. They didn't know what I learned until I told them. The feeling in the military was angry. They were angry at the administration for even considering such a gross accommodation, and they were angry with their leaders for not killing the idea when it was presented. Frankly, as I have written previously, I had mixed feelings about the guys telling me their concerns, that they didn't have the courage of their convictions to openly stand on principle and announce in the briefings, "Sir, this is unacceptable, sir." I mitigated (or rationalized) my disappointment and granted them anonymity figuring it would be helpful in the future to have sources who could remain vigilant and trust me to protect their self interests.

To those who still choose to discount the series of flag flap stories and denigrate me, my intentions, my veracity -- fine. However, Chief Justice Fields heard the same story I did and heard it from the East Coast, the West Coast and the Pacific Rim. He was adamant that what I reported in WorldNetDaily was correct. In fact, he said, "I can guarantee you that it did happen. ... I would stake my life on it."

I told him I would write that down, and I have.

Now that the never-ending story of Election 2000 is over and the Bush-Cheney administration assumes office in January, I intend to follow up and contact the Navy (again), Secretary Bill Cohen and others on the long list of Metcalf detractors.

It doesn't really bother me to have critics call me names and try to undermine my work. I have a thick hide and lots of scar tissue. However, if or when any would-be critic chooses to call the chief justice of the supreme court of a sovereign (notwithstanding tiny) nation a liar, it would constitute a "diplomatic incident."

Teddy Rossevlet once observed, "Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country."