Fallen Soldier MSNBC Used for 'Gotcha' Game With Rep. Blackburn Did Not Live in Her District

UPDATE -- SHUSTER APOLOGIZES: At 6:44 PM EDT, MSNBC broke into the Tucker Carlson show to air a terse apology from Shuster. See "My Take" below.

View video of Shuster apology here.

Here follows the text of Shuster apology.

DAVID SHUSTER: On Monday evening while guest-hosting the 6 p.m. evening hour, I conducted an interview with Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn. The congresswoman spoke at length about a newspaper ad that criticized General Petraeus. In what I believed was an effort to examine Representative Blackburn's priorities, I then asked her to name the last soldier from her congressional district killed in Iraq.

She responded "the name of the last soldier killed in Iraq from my district, I do not know." After that response, I identified who I believed to be that fallen soldier, a Tennessean killed in Iraq last month. But according to Pentagon documents, that young man came from a town inside a neighboring congressional district, not from Representative Blackburn's, and for that, I apologize for that mistake.

Read past the jump for the rest of the story..

A couple days ago, describing here the way MSNBC's David Shuster used a fallen soldier to play a tasteless "gotcha" game with Rep. Marsha Blackburn, (R-Tenn.), I surmised that things couldn't "get much lower."

I was wrong. They just did.

As it turns out, Pvt. Jeremy Bohannon -- the soldier whose name Shuster attacked Blackburn for not knowing -- had not, contrary to the MSNBC reporter's claim, lived in her district.

By way of background for those who hadn't read the earlier item, Blackburn had been invited onto "Tucker" ostensibly to discuss MoveOn.org's "General Betray Us" ad. But Shuster, serving as substitute host for Carlson, suddenly sandbagged Blackburn with this "gotcha" question.

SHUSTER: Let's talk about the public trust. You represent of course a district in western Tennessee. What was the name of the last soldier from your district who was killed in Iraq?
MARSHA BLACKBURN: The name of the last soldier killed in Iraq from my district? I do not know.
SHUSTER: OK, his name was Jeremy Bohannon. He was killed August the ninth, 2007. How come you didn't know the name?

Even after Blackburn expressed her appreciation for our soldiers' sacrifice, and detailed the extensive outreach she and her office does to military families in her district, Shuster continued to attack her for not knowing Private Bohannon's name.

SHUSTER: Well, you weren't appreciative enough to know the name of this young man . . . I still think it's a little bit surprising that you didn't know the name of this last soldier killed in Iraq who's only 18 years old yet you do know so much about the MoveOn.org ad and the tactics you didn't like.

It now turns out that Army Private Jeremy Bohannon had not, contrary to Shuster's claim, lived in Rep. Blackburn's congressional district. As blogger Conservative Belle brought to NB's attention, and as she has written about at her site, Private Bohannon lived in Bon Acqua, TN. Checking his nine-digit zip code reveals that he in fact lived in Tennessee District 8, represented by John Tanner, a Democrat.

I have now spoken with an aide in Rep. Blackburn's office, who confirmed that Pvt. Bohannon had not lived in the congresswoman's district.

A voicemail message left for Shuster inviting his comment had not been returned as of the time of posting this item.

A source informs me that MSNBC might be issuing a statement later today acknowledging its mistake. If so, we'll bring it to our readers ASAP.

Next time David Shuster wants to play this ugly kind of game, he should at least get his facts straight. In the meantime, Shuster owes an apology to Rep. Blackburn, and above all to the family of Private Bohannon, whose memory Shuster exploited for his partisan purposes.

My take on Shuster apology: Whether it was MSNBC that wanted to shield Tucker Carlson's show from the taint of Shuster's mistake, or a Tucker Carlson angry that his show had been undermined by Shuster, the way in which the apology was aired was very telling. Tucker made no reference to the fact that the apology was upcoming. Instead, the show came back from a commercial break, and suddenly, there was Shuster in a separate studio making his statement.

Note also that Shuster claimed that he had made his false accusation while "guest-hosting the 6 p.m. evening hour." But he wasn't hosting a generic MSNBC news hour, he was guest-hosting Tucker's show, as is clear from the graphic in the screencap above of Shuster with Rep. Blackburn. Again, looks like an attempt to shield Tucker from the fallout from this fiasco. Don't look for Shuster to be guest hosting "Tucker" again any time soon.

Finally, Shuster's on-air apology, which had all the spontaneity of a hostage video, differed from what he had said in a presumably more candid email earlier today. As noted at National Review's Media Log, Shuster had replied to criticism from a reader by emailing this:

the story was about blackburn's hypocrisy... it wouldn't matter whether the soldier's name was David shuster or Crazy Water [the email name of the reader]. she didn't know the name, period.

Regards,
D

Translation: Who cares about the soldier? I just want to make my point.

Update 9/28, 07:35 | Mark Finkelstein. The story is getting considerable media attention. Brit Hume featured it in last night's "Grapevine" segment of "Special Report." View video here.

A number of commentators have also weighed in with criticism of Shuster's lamentable "gotcha" game, including Mike Gallaher, Investors Business Daily and, notably, Rich Galen, who observes:

This is journalist crapola. Anyone can find a fact - important or not - which the subject of an interview is not likely to know and then beat him or her over the head with it.
Do you think al-Anbar province is important to the stabilization of Iraq? You do? Name the current provincial leader. Can't do it? HYPOCRITE!
You voted against raising the minimum wage. What's the average hourly wage in your district? Don't know? IGNORAMOUS!
See what I mean?
. . .
I will not impugn Shuster's motives because I don't know what they were - although I am willing to speculate that the words "Guest host for Keith Olbermann" enter into it.

What I will do, though, is suggest most strongly that Shuster is guilty of practicing faux journalism at its worst. This isn't "gotchya" journalism. This is on the level of a grossly unprofessional and ugly Three-Stooges-Whoop-Whoop-Nyuk-Nyuk fraternity prank.

. . .

As it happens, Shuster was wrong. The Newsbusters.[org] website found out that the soldier Shuster named had not lived in Blackburn's district after all.

Here's what NBC should do: Suspend Shuster until he agrees to take his parents (if they are still alive) with him to the home of the soldier's parents and apologize to them, not for some staffer having mis-read a ZIP code map, but for having abused their son's memory to perpetrate a despicable on-air stunt.

What if someone on the Fox News Channel had done this to a Democrat who had been defending the MoveOn.org ad? The Popular Press would demand the offending "journalist" be removed from his or her job. And rightly so.

We're waiiiiitttttting.

Update 17:20 | Mark Finkelstein. Here is a link to the Department of the Army's "Casualty Announcement for Governors and Members of Congress" announcing Pvt. Bohannon's death, indicating that it was sent to Rep. Tanner and not to Rep. Blackburn.

Update 15:52 | Matthew Sheffield. This was hardly the first time that Shuster has played fast and loose with the facts to suit his liberal viewpoint. Some of his biggest blunders:

  • Last month, he called the Larry Craig scandal a "moral insult" to Hurricane Katrina victims.
  • Shuster collaborated with left-wing fabulist Jason Leopold to spread false stories about the Bush admin.
  • Giving play to wild accusations of "voter intimidation" in the 2006 elections (in case GOP won them)
  • Relying on skewed, left-wing sources, Shuster falsely predicted that Bush aide Karl Rove would be indicted in the Valerie Plame investigation.
For more of NB's coverage of Shuster's shenanigan's, click here.
Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.