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PostWatch: An irregular correction to the Washington Post

Brought to you by Christopher Rake


Monday, October 28, 2002
5:47 PM

Not that great a shot.... a John McCarthy from Florida Today writes to's letters section:

Bad sniper speculations didn't end with the capture of the two suspects. Nearly every lead I read mentioned Muhammad's marksmanship badge and military service as a Gulf War vet. I can only guess they put this info in the lead because they deemed it an important part of the story.

In reality, though, the marksmanship badge is a very low-level award given to recruits who perform well in basic marksmanship training, which every recruit takes during Basic Military Training. To refer to him as a "sharpshooter," as the Washington Post did repeatedly, is a stretch. Did the Army teach him to shoot a rifle and shoot it well? Absolutely. But it doesn't appear he had any more than the same basic marksmanship training millions of other veterans had. And since Muhammad was a combat engineer, it is very unlikely he saw any combat in the Gulf. As a matter of fact, he probably didn't handle a weapon very often after Basic, other than for annual qualifying.

Gotta say the Post hasn't struck me as misleading on this issue, unless I missed one big story where they hyped it. There have been a few references to Muhammad as a "sharpshooter," but this seemed pretty generic to me and not hyping his abilities--which some other outlets definitely have been guilty of. This Post story even gives some room to downplay his abilities:

He was a mediocre soldier who was once convicted of striking a sergeant in the head, and he wasn't "anything special" as a marksman, according to a former platoon leader.

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