New Yorker freelancer scores coup with account of bin Laden raid

Washington Post | The New Yorker
Nicholas Schmidle‘s gripping account of the Navy SEALs’ raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout is packed with new and compelling details, writes Paul Farhi. The piece in this week’s New Yorker — built on about two dozen interviews — has been widely praised online: “Got the chills half dozen times reading @NewYorker killing bin Laden tick tock. ….exquisite journalism,” tweeted “Frontline” digital director Andrew Golis. Farhi explains how the story came together:

Schmidle was working on a different article for the New Yorker when news of the bin Laden raid broke May 1. He discussed writing a reconstruction of the raid with his immediate editor, Daniel Zalewski, who took the idea to David Remnick, the New Yorker’s top editor. Remnick agreed to shelve the other story and go full speed ahead: “It doesn’t take a very intelligent editor to know that’s the story we had to do,” he said Tuesday.

Schmidle wasn’t able to interview any of the 23 Navy SEALs involved in the mission itself, so he relied on the accounts of others who had debriefed the men.

But a casual reader of the article wouldn’t know that; 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.

New Yorker editor David Remnick tells Farhi he’s satisfied with the accuracy of the account. “The sources spoke to our fact-checkers. I know who they are.” Schmidle will discuss his piece today in a New Yorker chat at 3 p.m. ET.

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