February 1, 2012

American Public Media’s “Marketplace” program has retracted a commentary it aired this week from a man who’s been camping out at Occupy Oakland and claimed to be an ex-Army sniper.

Leo Webb’s commentary, “Returning veteran has few marketable skills,” said he had 17 confirmed kills in Iraq and was once a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs Double A club. (The post was tagged with the phrase “My Life Is True.”) Neither his Army service nor his claim about the Cubs was true. Here’s the editor’s note now posted to the site:

Editor’s Note: A commentary by Leo Webb, ”Returning veteran has few marketable skills,” prompted questions from listeners about Webb’s account of his service as an Army sniper in Iraq. A subsequent investigation found that the Army has no record of Webb. Webb also said he pitched for a Chicago Cubs minor-league team. Inquiries to the Cubs and to Minor League Baseball found no record of Webb. Marketplace has an obligation to provide accurate information. That was not met in this commentary. It has been retracted and the text and audio have been removed from the web site.

Webb’s claims raised flags for some listeners and readers prior to the retraction. For example, one reader posted this comment to the story on the Marketplace website:

Before we get too concerned about what “*real* support” might exist for “veterans like Mr. Webb,” let’s make sure Mr. Webb actually exists.

The essay gives relatively few details allowing any checking, but there are a few, such as the guy’s name, that he supposedly was a pitcher in the Chicago Cubs minor league system, reaching as high as AA ball before having arm problems, that he was a military sniper in Iraq, and that he was present during a fatal shooting back in the states just outside of a Rite-Aid store…. somewhere. Nothing resembling a city or state.

… Forgive my skeptical nature, but the entire report sounds bogus to me.

This Ain’t Hell, a blog run by a group of veterans, also raised questions early on. The phrase “watched half my squadron die” rang false for them (“whatever the hell a squadron is”). They reached out to Marketplace to raise concerns about the piece and received this response from Mark Trautwein, who edits the Perspectives listener feedback series for KQED:

Mr. Webb has been subsequently placed in a VA live-in care facility specializing in PTSD so I’m unable to seek his response to your comment at this time.

The Webb commentary on the Marketplace site is identified as being part of a series called Perspectives. I emailed Trautwein to ask for additional details about how the piece was put together and was retracted. I’ll update with any response.

After this post was published, I heard from Clay Lambert, who blogged about the questionable claims in Webb’s commentary on Jan. 13, after Webb’s piece first aired on KQED on Jan. 11. The station has since removed the audio from its site and added a note stating:

KQED has since learned that efforts to locate records to support either claim have been unsuccessful and significant elements of his commentary cannot be confirmed. We apologize to our listeners.

You can also see a couple of reader comments that raise questions about Webb’s story.

Lambert wrote on his blog:

I listened to a very heart-felt opinion piece on the radio from this guy. He claimed to be an Iraq war veteran, saying that he returned only to find more violence in the streets during Occupy protests. He claims he was wrongly arrested. That being a soldier taught him to drink. He also says he was once a promising pitcher in the Chicago Cubs organization. Well, that is something that can be checked. So I did.

Thursday, a Chicago Cubs media guy told me that the name Leo Webb didn’t “pop up on any of our electronic databases.” To be fair, that isn’t the final word. He promised to check paper files and get back to me with the definitive word. I fully suspect Webb is telling the truth. In fact, by checking, I have an opportunity to lend credence to the rest of his story. Or call into question everything else he says in his piece.

As the Marketplace editor’s note explains, the text and audio have been removed from the site, but This Ain’t Hell grabbed a screenshot:

Thanks to @ivanoransky for the tip!

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Craig Silverman (craig@craigsilverman.ca) is an award-winning journalist and the founder of Regret the Error, a blog that reports on media errors and corrections, and trends…
Craig Silverman

More News

Back to News


Comments are closed.