April 16, 2003

ON MONDAY night, Media Watch

ON MONDAY night, Media Watch host David Marr casually dismissed the whole "Pentagon flag on Saddam's statue" story as bogus:

MARR: That most enthusiastic barracker for the war, Murdoch's Daily Telegraph, called this a "Moment in history ..." and then made a claim incredible even by the Tele's standards:

DAILY TELEGRAPH: "The Stars and Stripes used by US Marine Corporal Ed Chin to cover the statue in Baghdad's Firdos Square was under the debris at the Pentagon following the September 11 al-Qaeda terrorist attack."

MARR: We asked U.S. Central Command in Qatar if the Tele's claim could possibly be true.

NAVY ENSIGN DAVID LUCKETT: I seriously doubt it

And that's where Marr concludes his investigation - with a solitary abbrieviated quote from the US Navy's media guy, gathered on a date unknown, and serving to imply that the many people who've provided accounts supporting the Pentagon flag story are liars.

You'd think that Media Watch would have contacted several further sources before airing so serious an accusation. You'd think that Media Watch - assembled by 30 or so people, including three reseachers - would have at least contacted the parents of US Marine First Lieutenant Tim McLaughlin, the man who handed the flag to Corporal Chin. In fact, Media Watch didn't have to go to the trouble; the Associated Press already had, days earlier:

''Obviously his mother and I are extraordinarily proud that he is out there in front of things doing what he is doing,'' Philip McLaughlin said Thursday.

He said Tim had sustained a serious training injury and was working a staff job in the Pentagon when the airliner crashed into the building on Sept. 11, 2001.

''Tim actually went back into the Pentagon and assisted after the attack occurred. He was given a flag that day and has kept it with him ever since,'' McLaughlin said. ''In fact, I saw him pack it when I was out to see him in 29 Palms Marine Base in January.''

McLaughlin's local newspaper in New Hampshire also contacted the Marine's parents:

Local Attorney Phil McLaughlin spoke with The Citizen on Thursday ... He responded to his son's reported actions by saying they exemplify the character of a man dedicated to his country.

"I am not the least bit surprised by what was reported ... my son is a combat Marine," he explained.

The father pointed out that his son has been carrying the flag with him ever since it was given to him on Sept. 11.

Marr and his crack team of truth-seekers - don't they read any newspapers besides Sydney's Telegraph? - overlooked this report and interview from Stephen Farrell, in Baghdad for the Times of London:

Watching from the sidelines, Lieutenant McLaughlin took his Stars and Stripes out of a sealed pouch, so that it could be wrapped around the statue's hollow metal head.

The 25-year-old Russian language and poetry graduate explained later that a broken leg had taken him to room 5E678 at the Pentagon, where he was working as a general's aide on September 11, 2001.

"I had just gone for my morning run and I was right at the Jefferson Memorial when the plane hit the Pentagon. I sprinted back because my older brother also works there. After I searched for him and found he was all right I spent the rest of the day at Ground Zero, helping out the ambulance and firefighting guys ...

"This flag was given to me on September 11. Now it is in Baghdad and now I am happy."

Lara Marlowe of The Irish Times provides helpful corroborating detail to Farrell's mention of the "sealed pouch":

"That flag came from the Pentagon on 9/11," Sgt Lambert said with something like awe in his voice. "Lt Tim McGloughlan [sic] was there on the day. We brought it all the way from 29 Palms. We drove our tanks all the way from Kuwait City with the flag in a plastic bag."

The non-Murdoch UK Daily Telegraph and the BBC also carried pieces including the Telegraph's "incredible claim". Why was the Telegraph targeted for mockery?

Marr and his Media Watchers appear to have run with the first opinion they received that supported their prejudiced notion that the Telegraph had fabricated the flag story. They've either ignored or never sought out the articles cited above, and cast as untrue the statements of Lieutenant McLaughlin, his family, and several of his fellow Marines. Media Watch is a disgrace.

Think they'll apologise? I seriously doubt it. Send them a note here.

Posted by Tim Blair at April 16, 2003 02:01 AM