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Journalism with a Smerc: Gullibility and Fiction at the Philadelphia Inquirer

 

Let me state from the outset: I have no problem with soldiers who inflate or embellish their war stories, any more than I am bothered by anybody who likes to spice up the tale of a youthful exploit.

It’s different though, when exaggerations our outright fictions are exploited for personal gain, like what Connecticut's Attorney General Richard Blumenthal successfully campaigned for the US Senate on the outrageous claim that he was a Vietnam War combat veteran, when he really wasn’t.

My grandfather, William Lindorff, earned a Silver Star in World War I, where he was an ambulance driver on the front lines in France. My father, a Marine in World War II, says that his dad never once talked about that medal. Now, I’d say that’s a real hero.

David Christian, on the other hand, who ran twice unsuccessfully for a seat in Congress in Pennsylvania, has talked a lot about his own heroism as a soldier in Vietnam. In fact he’s written (with author William Hoffer), a book about his exploits, titled Victor Six. A cover blurb from the Philadelphia Inquirer touts him (perhaps a bit excessively, given Marine Gen. Smedley Butler’s unparalleled two Congressional Medals of Honor), as “this country’s most decorated war hero.”

I’m not going to challenge Christian’s tales of his heroic actions in Nam, where his website claims he won two Silver Stars, but some of his other stories, particularly one  he recently told to blustery conservative radio talk-show host and local newspaper columnist Michael Smerconish, do merit a little examination, and raise questions about what Stephen Colbert would call his general “truthiness.”
David Christian, Michael Smerconish and Kevin FerrisDavid Christian, Michael Smerconish and Kevin Ferris

On May 20, in a column in the Inquirer headlined “Vietnam hero cures an old Rutgers wound,” Smerconish hails Christian for bravely returning to the Camden campus of Rutgers Law School this year and finally, more than three and a half decades late, earning a law degree he had tried unsuccessfully to earn after returning from Vietnam.

According to Smerconish and Christian, the Bristol, PA native, reportedly the youngest second lieutenant in the Army at 18 (a rank he says he attained only a year after he had enlisted at 17), was driven to “drop out” of law school, reportedly “a few credits shy” of graduation, because of the “unfriendly environment,” which he says included abuse by an administration and faculty who Smerconish says “made a circus of his attempt to earn a law degree.”

Sounds horrible, no?  But Christian’s astonishing claims of administration and faculty abuse don’t really stand up well on close inspection--a standard journalistic procedure that the shamelessly credulous Smerconish and his equally credulous editor Kevin Ferris simply dispensed  with.



story | by Dr. Radut