Yep, someone is taking a shot at Chris Kyle again, and it’s not just Jesse Ventura, who’s suing the Kyle estate in an attempt to garner a seventeenth minute of fame. It’s one Nicholas Schmidle of the New Yorker, who has his own patented Schmidle take on what happened at the rifle range where Chris and his friend . You may wish to read it, but we recommend you read it with extreme caution. It’s an attempt by the New Yorker and Schmidle — about whom we’ll have a lot to say — to capitalize on the release of Chris’s posthumous book, American Gun.
Schmidle appears never to have served in the military, although his father is a well-connected, Washington-desk-variety Marine general. He (the son the writer) has a well-earned reputation for playing fast and loose with the truth, for example in his minute-by-minute recounting of the Osama Bin Laden raid, in which he implied — but never actually said — that his sources included raid participants. Here’s a sample:
The commander of DEVGRU’s Red Squadron, whom I will call James, sat on the floor, squeezed among ten otherSEALs, Ahmed, and Cairo. (The names of all the covert operators mentioned in this story have been changed.) James, a broad-chested man in his late thirties, does not have the lithe swimmer’s frame that one might expect of a SEAL—he is built more like a discus thrower.
(The story was apparently fed to Schmidle by White House flacks, his dad’s Washington-cocktail-commando buddies, and Pentagon political appointees. He never spoke to any of the SEALs; he apparently never met “James”). A too-gentle takedown of Schmidle is available at The Atlantic. A somewhat harsher one at, of all places, Women’s Wear Daily.
Schmidle misled NPR in an audio interview, forcing the network to issue an embarrassing correction: “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.”
Schmidle’s credibility problems extend further than the Bin Laden article. He wrote a book about his two years as a journalist in Pakistan. What sort of journalist was he? Ask Christine Fair of one of our almae matres, the US Institute for Peace (no kidding: the diploma hangs alongside Ranger School, SFQC, and SOT). She points out to whom he was accredited:
In the end, Dr. Shireen Mazari (an outspoken, anti-American polemicist) agreed to host Mr. Schmidle at the think-tank she ran at the time. However, it was a bargain with the devil: he still was not a journalist and he got his visa at the behest of a dubious shill for Pakistan’s intelligence agency.
Fair also caught Schmidle in a lie in a New York Times piece, and a lie which made the whole piece suspect: he claimed to understand a Pashto discussion because he spoke some Urdu (to anyone familiar with the region, like Dr Fair and thousands of USSF, this fails the smell test: it’s like saying you can follow a discussion in Hungarian because you know some French (actually, Urdu and Pashto are more divergent than that; it’s closer to saying you understood Navajo because you know some French).
In the same post linked above, fair points out more credibility problems with his Bin Laden piece. At the time he wrote that piece, Schmidle was a freelancer. On the strength of that piece, which as we’ve noted has been widely marked as full of unsourced, probably fabricated “facts,” he is now a staff writer at the New Yorker.
Bottom line: Schmidle is a fiction writer masquerading as a reporter, and fundamentally dishonest. Do expect his Kyle story to be ripping and exciting; don’t expect it to be fair, accurate, honest or true.
And if Schmidle calls (or anyone from the New Yorker, because writers there use low-paid researchers) asking you to talk on the record, your two best options are to hang up, or to just make something up. After all, that’s what he does anyway.