Questionable (and Weird) Op Ed Contributors on Wikileaks at the NYT

Posted on August 2, 2010

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The New York Times has been caught publishing Op-Eds from questionable authors in the past. Last year, Glenn Greenwald chronicled the use of an Op-Ed by a there-to-for unknown “analyst” Lara M. Dadkhah; an internet search for her revealed no other accomplishments than having landed a job at Booz Allen, the perennial poster corporation for the military industrial complex. Earlier this week, another Op Ed by Andrew Exum, a former fellow at the Center for a New American Security, was published. It was not revealed that one of his former bosses at CNAS has been the DOD Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, specifically creating military policy for Afghanistan, since early 2009.

Today’s NYT Op Ed contributor on the Wikileaks case, Mitchell Lafortune, surpasses these; it’s just plain weird. Mitchell LaFortune’s number one claim to fame is having been a witness for the prosecution in a military murder case. That’s it. Google his name, search for it on Nexis Lexis, this is the only thing you’ll find to his credit. As New York Newsday reported in March, LaFortune was the only soldier not charged in relation to the death of Pfc. Luke Brown in a drunken melee, because:

…Sgt. Mitchell Lafortune, agreed to testify for the prosecution and was not charged.

[Tragedy of 2 GIs: 1 dead, 1 convicted;
Decorated soldier found guilty of killing comrade, but dead man’s family says conviction is unjust
. March 7, 2010 Sunday]

An article in the Fayetteville Observer, noted that LaFortune’s character was questioned at the trial:

One of the defendants testified Thursday that Lafortune asked one of the soldiers to lie to investigators after Brown died. James Culp, a lawyer for two of the accused, asked the judge for permission to call witnesses to testify that Lafortune has a self-serving personality.

In the testimony Thursday, Sgt. Ryan Sullivan said Lafortune asked Spc. Charles B. DeLong to lie. Sullivan said he and others reported that to a first sergeant.

[Character of witness questioned in Luke Brown case, Friday, September 4 2009, Fayetteville Observer]

How then should we evaluate statements such as this, from LaFortune’s first go at a serious military analyst for the Op Ed page:

To counter the spin, we need to add the Taliban’s top propagandists to the high-value-target list and direct military operations at the insurgents’ media nerve centers. A major reason that people in rural areas are so reluctant to help us is that Taliban propaganda and intimidation have created an atmosphere of fear.

Advocating the assassination of “propagandists” in the US’s premier paper of record would be a tough enough sell if the writer had a public record of analysis. But LaFortune’s only seeming qualification for this job is serving as the witness for the prosecution in a murder case. The previous Op Ed by Exum and this one by LaFortune, have been the sum total of the Op Ed writings on the NYT editorial page since the Times participated in breaking the story on Sunday June 25. The first was laughable enough; I’d like to hear the explanation for this one.

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