On Jan. 22, Salon published a piece that critics say was an attempt to smear Cotton by suggesting he claimed on a campaign flier while running for Congress to have "volunteered to be an Army Ranger."
Cotton is a Ranger school graduate and was awarded the coveted Ranger tab upon graduation. He later served with the famed 101st Airborne Division, seeing combat in Iraq. He has never claimed he served in the 75th Ranger Regiment -- separate from Ranger school -- a Special Operations unit.
"I graduated from the Ranger School. I wore the Ranger tab in combat with the 101st Airborne in Iraq. This is not about my military record. This is about my politics," he told Fox News anchor Bret Baier on "Special Report" Monday when asked about the accusation.
"Ranger Regiment legends like Gen. Scotty Miller or Gen. Craig Nixon have used the term to describe both alumni of the Ranger Regiment and graduates of the Ranger School, as did the secretary of the Army, as did most of my buddies in the Army... as did most of the liberal media, until a conservative veteran was using the term that way," he said.
"But if some people disagree, that's fine. I respect their views. But what's most important, I respect the service of all Rangers and, indeed, all soldiers who volunteered to serve our country," Coton added.
Cotton's communications director, Caroline Tabler, told Fox News: "To be clear, as he’s stated many times, Senator Cotton graduated from Ranger School, earned the Ranger Tab, and served a combat tour with the 101st Airborne, not the 75th Ranger Regiment."
The former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command and a former battalion commander in the 75th Ranger Regiment, retired Gen. General Raymond Anthony Thomas, called the debate "dumb" on Twitter.
"First, wear your beret correctly," he wrote in response to Colorado Congressman Jason Crow, who called Cotton out on Twitter -- and who says on his website that he himself is a former Army Ranger.
"Second, you are a Congressman now, act like it," Thomas wrote. "This is a dumb debate (feel pretty qualified to say that). Need you to focus on more important things for the good of the nation. You and @SenTomCotton get together and work like 'Ranger buddies.'"
Others had begun sounding off on the article and the alleged smear on Twitter, including The Dispatch Senior Editor David French.
"On Tom Cotton’s military service — He was a Ranger-qualified and led troops in combat," he wrote. "When I served I heard Ranger-qualified soldiers described as 'Rangers' all the time. Cotton’s service was brave and honorable. He’s described his service fairly and accurately. Move on."
There is a distinction in the military between graduating from the Army's prestigious -- and exceptionally difficult -- Ranger School, based in Fort Benning, Ga., and earning one's Ranger Tab, and serving as an Army Ranger in the 75th Ranger Regiment, a special operations unit. However, as many in military circles note, calling oneself an Army Ranger is often used interchangeably, albeit often debated.
John McCormack, Washington correspondent at National Review, reported that Newsweek has already changed its characterization of the first female graduates of Ranger School, stripping them of the title "Rangers"
"Stolen Valor: @Newsweek strips America's first female Army Rangers of their honor in order to support a smear of Tom Cotton," he wrote, sharing screenshots of how the outlet reportedly went back and changed its phrasing from two women "completed the intense training and will become Rangers," to the women "... will be allowed to wear the coveted Ranger tab on their uniforms."
According to the biography on his website, Cotton "served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne and in Afghanistan with a Provincial Reconstruction Team. Between his two combat tours, Tom served with The Old Guard at Arlington National Cemetery. Tom’s military decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, and Ranger Tab."