Last weekend, Salon, an online magazine whose best days were probably 15-plus years ago and now appears to be little more than a low-rent, clickbait version of Mother Jones, published a hit piece on Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) accusing the man who served one tour in Iraq and another in Afghanistan—and was awarded a Bronze Star—of stolen valor.
In his first run for Congress, Cotton leaned heavily on his military service, claiming to have been "a U.S. Army Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan," and, in a campaign ad, to have "volunteered to be an Army Ranger." In reality, Cotton was never part of the 75th Ranger Regiment, the elite unit that plans and conducts joint special military operations as part of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
Rather, Cotton attended the Ranger School, a two-month-long, small-unit tactical infantry course that literally anyone in the military is eligible to attend. Soldiers who complete the course earn the right to wear the Ranger tab — a small arch that reads "Ranger" — but in the eyes of the military, that does not make them an actual Army Ranger.
There's a plethora of problems here, many of them recounted by National Review's John McCormack. Yes, "anyone" can attend Ranger School, but relatively few complete it. "Anyone" can submit something to Salon for publication, but only braindead hacks can actually get jobs there.
And then there's the line that's the crux of the entire charge against Cotton: Does earning the "Ranger" tab make you a Ranger, or is it only if you have served in the 75th Ranger Regiment? The hack "journalist" Roger Sollenberger cites no military authority for his contention that the Ranger tab is some sort of consolation prize given out to scrubs who graduate, but don't serve in the 75th, instead he leans heavily on "fact-check" by The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler, who gave two pinnochios to another GOP Senate hopeful in New Hampshire who also graduated from Ranger school, but did not serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment (nor did he claim to have).
Sollenberger's piece also includes this stunning bit, three paragraphs from the bottom:
Kessler went to the retired colonel who headed the Ranger School between 2014 and 2016, who said the difference was indeed a matter of debate, but concluded: "Should [Messner] say he was 'Ranger-qualified' in his ads? Probably. Maybe."
Probably? Maybe? This is what Kessler hung Two Pinocchios on and Sollenberger believes is stolen valor?
As McCormack's piece lays out, there is plenty of evidence that the belief that you have to have served in the 75th to truly be able to call yourself a Ranger is at best a minority view.
Retired Command sergeant major Rick Merritt, who served in the 75th Ranger Regiment, told the Arkansas Times over the weekend that Salon’s attack on Cotton was “absurd,” “unfair,” and “almost slanderous.”
“He’s 100 percent a Ranger,” said Merritt. “He will always be a Ranger.”
Both Maj. Gen. Scott Miller and then-Secretary of the Army John McHugh called all graduates of Ranger School in 2015 that they had the right to call themselves Rangers.
To qualify for the U.S. Army Ranger Association's "Ranger Hall of Fame," service in the 75th is not required.
To be eligible for selection to the Hall of Fame, a person must be deceased or have been separated, or retired from active military service for at least three years at the time of nomination. He must have served in a Ranger unit in combat or be a successful graduate of the U.S. Army Ranger School.
McCormack's piece also references a plethora of media outlets, including Time, CBS News, NBC News, Fox News, and Newsweek referring to Ranger School graduates as "Rangers."
Newsweek, the defunct print outlet that appears to exist mainly to drag journalism through the muck, went through the trouble of updating a nearly five-year-old story to erase two women's accomplishments in the service of smearing Cotton. Courtesy of the Internet Archive, here is the lede on the story as it appeared as recently as October 24, 2020:
For the first time in the Army Ranger School's 64-year history, two women have completed the intense training program and will become Rangers.
The story as it appears today:
For the first time in the Army Ranger School's 64-year history, two women have completed the intense training program and will be allowed to wear the coveted Ranger tab on their uniforms.
And the appended "correction":
Correction: This article has been changed to note that completion of the course allows one to wear the Ranger tab, but does not make one a Ranger.
Working for Newsweek (or Salon) allows you to pretend to be a journalist; it does not make you one. (Also for the record, I still have received no response from Newsweek on my request for a retraction on their "fact-check" from last week.)
This is reminiscent of Merriam-Webster's quick action to label Justice Amy Coney Barrett's use of "sexual preference" as "offensive" after she used the term during her confirmation hearing.
As recently as last month, Webster’s Dictionary included a definition of “preference” as “orientation” or “sexual preference.” TODAY they changed it and added the word “offensive."
Insane - I just checked through Wayback Machine and it’s real.
— Steve Krakauer (@SteveKrak) October 14, 2020
This sort of behavior should be embarrassing. Instead it is what is required for "mainstream media" nowadays; more and more it is no longer mainstream.
The U.S. Army Ranger Association has released a statement taking Sollenberger and Kessler to task for attempting to take what the Ranger Association called a "good natured barracks debate" and turning it into a cudgel to attack their political foes.
I use that last term advisedly. Neither Sollenberger nor Kessler is a disinterested truth-teller. They are partisans working at "mainstream" media outlets.