'Thickset' Navy captain exposes media malpractice on Gitmo

What does a Navy Captain’s physique have to do with Guantanamo’s image? Perhaps not much at first glance, but scratch below the surface, and the answer is… everything.

In one of the most bizarre newspaper corrections of all time, The Washington Post reversed course on an Oct 14 feature story regarding Gitmo claiming its chief spokesman, Navy Captain Robert Durand was “thickset” – a polite code word for grossly overweight.

Confronted with the facts from numerous recent photos depicting a trim, athletic Durand, since his image was first published in the U.K.’s Daily Mail, The Washington Post noted in its Oct 23 print edition “he should have been described as muscular.”


Ironically, the Style section feature was entitled “Guantanamo Bay prison camp still hard at work on its image” and focused on Durand’s role in leading a team of 20 public affairs professionals.

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Washington Post reporter Billy Kenber met Durand at Gitmo, and sat near him during the recent interview -- thereby obviously observing his stature.  And although Kenber is from the U.K., “thickset” means “heavyset” in London, too. Nothing lost in translation.

So what’s the big deal?

If reporters representing a leading newspaper like The Washington Post visit Gitmo and then publish demonstrably false and derogatory characterizations, how can anyone trust anything ever published about Gitmo by that newspaper?

Simply put, we can’t.

In fact, the opposite is true.

From my experiences as the Pentagon spokesman for the Western Hemisphere from 2005-09, including over 30 visits to Guantanamo with press, I observed countless journalists gleefully advocating for its closure. Front page news reports often seemed better suited for the Op-Ed pages.

Corrections were routine, including one infamous 316-word mea culpa from the Los Angeles Times after a Page 1 feature from 2008, “A Day in a Detainee’s Life” by Carol Williams.

But even the most egregious corrections paled in comparison to the focus of reports and related spin.

Gitmo’s tarnished reputation was largely built on establishment media reports narrowly focusing on a handful of incidents of detainee abuse from poorly trained military interrogators in the early years, or alternatively about the rocky road of military commissions – which was ravaged by the best defense lawyers in the business and purportedly human rights organizations.  And contrary to left-wing pundits and comedians, waterboarding was never even conducted at Gitmo.

Yet in 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama made closing Gitmo a signature issue of his presidential campaign.

Though he downplayed key details, like how Gitmo detainees killed thousands of civilians in a dozen countries, including on Sept. 11, 2001; how nations routinely detain enemy combatants during wartime under the law of war; and how the recidivism rate of released detainees approached 30%.

However, according to the international left’s false narrative on Gitmo, which he supported, Al Qaeda and the Taliban were cast as the victims, deserving of Constitutional rights.

Though Mr. Obama and his Democratic Party allies in Congress sold the country a bad bill of goods, blatant media bias and journalistic malpractice paved the way.  The Washington Post has shown us how.