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Newsweek Edits 2015 Story on Army Rangers to Conform to New Attack on Tom Cotton

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) questions David Marcus, head of Facebook’s Calibra, during testimony before a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, July 16, 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Over the weekend, Newsweek changed a 2015 article on two women widely hailed as America’s first female Army Rangers in order to conform to a new article at Salon that falsely claims Tom Cotton “repeatedly falsif[ied]” his military record by saying he was an Army Ranger.

Cotton attended the Ranger School, Salon reported on January 23, “but in the eyes of the military, that does not make” Cotton “an actual Army Ranger” because he didn’t serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment. But when Shaye Haver and Kristen Griest graduated from Ranger School in 2015, bipartisan congressional resolutions and many media outlets hailed the two women as the first female Army Rangers. Newsweek was one of those news outlets, but after Salon posted its article attacking Cotton, Newsweek went back and changed its 2015 article to strip the two women of that title: 

Newsweek reported in 2015 that for “the first time in the Army Ranger School’s 64-year history, two women have completed the intense training program and will become Rangers.” The same 2015 Newsweek story that said Haver and Griest “will become Rangers” acknowledged that “the 75th Ranger Regiment does not allow female Rangers.”

Over the weekend, Newsweek picked up Salon’s story attacking Cotton under the headline: “Tom Cotton Blasted for Claims About Being an Army Ranger by Lawmaker Who Was One.”

Cotton’s communications director Caroline Tabler tells National Review that Cotton’s office contacted Newsweek this weekend to point out that Newsweek had identified the female Ranger school graduates as Army Rangers in 2015. Newsweek responded by editing its 2015 story to conform to Salon’s new smear of Cotton. The 2015 Newsweek story no longer says the two women “will become rangers” — the edited version says they “will be allowed to wear the coveted Ranger tab on their uniforms.” (The original Newsweek story can be viewed here.)

When Newsweek edited its 2015 story, it appended this correction: “This article has been changed to note that completion of the course allows one to wear the Ranger tab, but does not make one a Ranger.” Again, there are many military veterans who disagree with that contention:

Retired Command sergeant major Rick Merritt, who served in the 75th Ranger Regiment, told the Arkansas Times over the weekend that Salon’s attack on Cotton was “absurd,” “unfair,” and “almost slanderous.”

“He’s 100 percent a Ranger,” said Merritt. “He will always be a Ranger.”

“It’s a slap in the face for any veteran — any Ranger — to be attacked that way,” Merritt said in an interview with National Review on Monday evening. “It’s not a controversy. It’s a fact that he is a Ranger, just like I’m a Ranger. They’re just playing semantics on the unit in which he served as a Ranger.”

Merritt served for 25 of his 36 years in the Army with the 75th Ranger Regiment. “[Cotton] was a Ranger serving in the 101st Airborne Division. He never said that he was a Ranger serving in the 75th Ranger Regiment. Plenty of Rangers out there are serving in more units than the 75th Ranger Regiment,” says Merritt. “I served with plenty of Rangers in the 10th Mountain Division. My Ranger buddy was General Milley, who is now the chairman of the joint chiefs.” General Milley didn’t serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment, but an article at Army.Mil identifies him as an Army Ranger.

Other military officials also believe all Army Ranger school graduates are Army Rangers. Major general Scott Miller, commander of the Army for infantry and armor training and education, told Ranger school graduates in 2015: “You’ll leave Victory Pond today with a small piece of cloth on your shoulder, but more importantly, you carry the title of Ranger from here on out.”

In 2015, Secretary of the Army John McHugh told graduates of the Ranger school: “Congratulations to all of our new Rangers.” […]

There are surely some Americans who sincerely believe only those who served in the 75th Ranger Regiment should be called Army Rangers. But if several military officials, Obama’s secretary of the Army, every Democrat and Republican in the Senate, and dozens of news outlets — including Salon — thought it was appropriate to refer to all Ranger school graduates as Army Rangers the day before yesterday, then it’s hard to see Salon’s attack on Cotton as anything other than a disingenuous political smear.

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