The Cutline

The New Yorker’s account of the bin Laden raid is amazing–perhaps too amazing

Dylan Stableford, Yahoo News
The Cutline

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The August 8 issue of the New Yorker contains a riveting account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The 8,500-word story, "Getting Bin Laden," was written by freelancer Nicholas Schmidle, who gives a gripping play-by-play of the May 1st operation in Abbottabad, Pakistan, carried out by the Navy SEALs' Team Six and culminating in the killing of the al Qaeda leader.

Perhaps too gripping. Schmidle's sourcing for the story is now coming under fire from several critics, who claim that he and the New Yorker failed to disclose a major fact about the report: Schmidle never spoke with the SEALs directly.

"A casual reader of the article wouldn't know that," Paul Farhi wrote in the Washington Post. "Neither the article nor an editor's note describes the sourcing for parts of the story. Schmidle, in fact, piles up so many details about some of the men, such as their thoughts at various times, that the article leaves a strong impression that he spoke with them directly."

Instead, Schmidle relied on the recollections of those who planned the raid. He did not interview any of the 23 SEALs involved.

"At no point in the piece does Nick say he did speak with the SEALs," a spokeswoman for the New Yorker told The Cutline.

Which takes some of the sting out of the incredible detail Schmidle includes, like this: "On the top stair, the lead SEAL swivelled right; with his night-vision goggles, he discerned that a tall, rangy man with a fist-length beard was peeking out from behind a bedroom door, ten feet away. The SEAL sensed immediately that it was Crankshaft."

And the piece's moment of impact:

A second SEAL stepped into the room and trained the infrared laser of his M4 on bin Laden's chest. The Al Qaeda chief, who was wearing a tan shalwar kameez and a prayer cap on his head, froze; he was unarmed. [...] Nine years, seven months, and twenty days after September 11th, an American was a trigger pull from ending bin Laden's life. The first round, a 5.56-mm. bullet, struck bin Laden in the chest. As he fell backward, the SEAL fired a second round into his head, just above his left eye. On his radio, he reported, "For God and country—Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo." After a pause, he added, "Geronimo E.K.I.A."—"enemy killed in action."

The New Yorker spokeswoman also told The Cutline that Schmidle "spoke to informed sources, some quoted by name, some not, in the military and in the White House security apparatus with knowledge of the raid. All of these sources spoke extensively to two New Yorker fact checkers who carefully vetted the piece."

And the magazine's editor-in-chief David Remnick told the Post he is satisfied with Schmidle's sources. "I know who they are," Remnick said. "Those are the rules of the road around here.

Schmidle--who was kicked out of Pakistan in 2008 over an article he wrote for New York Times Magazine--defended his sourcing in an online chat on the New Yorker website.

QUESTION FROM ERIN SIMPSON: There were a lot of accusations on Twitter this morning that you mislead readers—implying you spoke to Team members by using direct quotes. How do you respond to such questions?

NICHOLAS SCHMIDLE: Hi Erin. Good question. I'll just say that the 23 SEALs on the mission that evening were not the only ones who were listening to their radio communications.

Nonetheless, the non-disclosure led NPR to issue a correction about its "Morning Edition" segment on Schmidle's piece.

"We incorrectly said that reporter Nicholas Schmidle had spoken with the Navy SEALs who participated in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Schmidle used information from others who had debriefed the SEALs; he did not speak with them himself."

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