Will Montana’s media finally hold Ryan Zinke to the same ethical standards they’ve established for other candidates during this election cycle? I realize this a very long post that covers some ground I’ve covered before, but I hope you’ll set aside a few minutes to give it a read. –Don
Section 1. Montana’s Media Establishes the Standard for Candidate Conduct
In the past couple of weeks, the editorial boards of many Montana newspapers have laid down a clear standard: serious dishonesty by a political candidate is grounds for disqualification from office. They’ve thundered at Senator Walsh that he should not seek re-election for the Senate, a decision he reached, as you know, today.
According to the Billings Gazette’s editorial board, Senator John Walsh was right to step down from the Senate race because he was dishonest on a term paper:
Haunted by a serious lapse in academic honesty, Walsh is finished as a U.S. Senate candidate.
According to the Great Falls Tribune, dishonesty is reprehensible and destroys political legitimacy:
We think the fact Walsh used other people’s words and conclusions as his own is reprehensible and inexcusable.
According to the Missoulian, John Walsh was right to drop out of the race for the Senate because “of a loss of trust”:
Plagiarism is a big deal. It is an act of deception that has serious consequences – not the least of these being a loss of trust.
I don’t repeat these quotes to be unnecessarily cruel to Senator Walsh, but to establish the clear position of Montana’s editorial boards: candidates who lie about serious matters, no matter how long ago, cannot be trusted and should not run for office. The honorable thing to do would be to step down from the race.
Section 2. Ryan Zinke Accuses the President of a Crime
So let’s talk about Ryan Zinke. After an embarrassing performance in the GOP gubernatorial primary with Neil Livingstone, he was a non-entity in Montana politics until he resurfaced with a Super PAC called Special Operations for America. One of its opening moves was to gain notoriety by suggesting that President Obama had politicized the death of Osama bin Laden.
On July 19, 2012, Zinke told the International Business Times that President “Obama personally put the troops at risk by identifying SEAL Team 6 as the commando unit that carried out the bin Laden raid, and is riding on the coattails of America’s military to politicize his role as commander-in-chief.”
On August 26, 2012, Zinke went further, suggesting that anyone confirming that Navy SEAL Team Six was involved in the raid for political or monetary gain” should face “prosecution.” From his personal Super PAC’s web page:
There’s one problem with Zinke’s story. According to conservative critics of the Obama Administration at the time of the raid, “US government officials have carefully stuck to the line that they will not talk about which units were involved.” According to the very conservative Washington Times, publicly identifying just the fact that Navy SEALS were involved led to the deaths of American servicemen:
Navy SEAL Team 6 has attained international prominence for one reason: They were responsible for killing Osama bin Laden. They are American heroes. Yet, their own government betrayed them. Several days after the bin Laden operation, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. — in a pathetic attempt to spike the football and gloat — publicly revealed their central role in the raid. His revelations put a giant target on the backs of every Navy SEAL Team 6 member. A covert unit, whose mission is to operate in the murky shadows, was exposed as the group that eliminated al Qaeda’s chief mastermind. Mr. Biden’s reckless actions — followed by President Obama’s own words acknowledging the secret unit’s operation — jeopardized the Navy SEALs’ safety. Jihadists bent on revenge began an intense manhunt. The hunters now became the hunted.
Vice President Biden was indeed the first administration official to publicly confirm that the Navy SEALS were the team that killed bin Laden, though he did not mention Team Six. He did so on the night of May 3rd. There’s even video of it.
Section 3. Ryan Zinke Outed Navy SEAL Team Six—and Said A Lot
The problem for Senator Zinke is that, a full day before Vice President Biden made mention of the Navy SEALS, Zinke himself not only revealed the existence of Navy SEAL Team Six, but gave it credit for killing bin Laden, and revealing specific operational details about the raid. From the Helena Independent Record on May 2, 2011 at 12:21 p.m.:
State Sen. Ryan Zinke, a retired U.S. Navy SEAL, said Monday that his former unit, SEAL Team 6, led the assault that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan – but that it had plenty of support from other branches of the military and intelligence community….
The team attacking bin Laden’s compound probably had about 40 people, he said, going in by helicopter. Security would have to be maintained on the outside of the building as mission members entered and tried to find the target inside, he said: “You’re on the clock.”
The Daily Press, a newspaper serving the military community of Hampton Roads, Virginia had more from Zinke, on May 2:
Ryan Zinke, a former Team Six mission commander who is now a Montana state senator, told the Daily Press the assault was led by his former unit. He said the team is comprised of top hand-selected operatives from other SEAL units who are considered the best of the best….
Indeed, other retired SEALs, some of whom served in Team Six, declined to speak about the group.
“I’m sorry — I really can’t talk about that,” said Albert M. Calland III, a retired SEAL who commanded Team Six from June 1997 to June 1999, according to his Navy biography. A former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Calland chairs the Virginia Beach-based Navy SEAL Foundation.
He also reached out to a TV news station in Spokane and spoke to Montana’s AP reporter on or before May 2. On May 4th, he even provided specific details to NPR about how SEAL Team Six trained and the existence of secret training facilities inside the U.S. On May 4th, Zinke was quoted three times in a New York Times story about Navy SEAL Team Six that included this line: “The men, hailed as heroes across the country, will march in no parades. They serve in what is unofficially called Seal Team 6, a unit so secretive that the White House and the Defense Department do not directly acknowledge its existence.”
A timeline that I posted on July 19, 2012 makes it a bit more clear that Zinke, was in fact responsible for outing his former comrades:
Section 4. The Major Media in Montana Have Ignored the Story
In October of 2012, prompted by my post, Shane Castle at the Helena Vigilante wrote a piece about Zinke’s role in outing Navy SEAL Team Six. Castle confirmed that there were no media reports naming SEAL Team Six before Zinke did. While Zinke blamed President Obama for leaking the information, he previously told the Billings Gazette he was receiving calls the night President Obama announced the death of bin Laden:
Zinke said he had no advance knowledge of the raid on the bin Laden compound on Sunday, but was getting phone calls and emails Sunday night from former SEALs who knew people involved with the mission.
You might think that, despite the evidence, this is nothing more than the late night rambling of a partisan blogger. Except that one of Montana’s most esteemed political reporters confirmed the story, when speaking to the Helena Vigilante:
Mike Dennison, the reporter who wrote the story, said he did not recall “hearing any particular thing” about SEAL Team 6 prior to the Zinke interview.
“(Zinke) was talking about it like it was well known,” the reporter said while reviewing his interview notes.
“I think you can reliably report that he was freely talking about SEAL Team 6, what it was and how they might have been involved,” Dennison said.
All that, and the major Montana press has never written a story nor investigated Zinke’s role in outing the team that killed bin Laden, even though it provided the foundation for his political rebirth and was premised on a lie.
Section 5. Why Has the Montana Media Remained Silent?
If we’re to take the editorial boards of Montana newspapers at their word, that academic dishonesty from 2007 is sufficient cause for a candidate to withdraw from a Senate race, what are we to make of a candidate, who dishonestly accused the President of the United States of endangering American servicemen, for, in his own words, “political or monetary gain” that should result in criminal prosecution? A candidate who revealed operational details about his classified former team in media outlets across the country before, a year later, accusing the President of having done it?
There’s no question that Zinke revealed Navy SEAL Team Six for political gain, and no credible way to believe he didn’t do it for financial gain as well.
And what are we to make of a media that is more interested in a matter of academic footnotes than having jeopardized the lives of American servicemen? Senator Zinke told the conservative media outlet Newsmax that identifying the unit that killed bin Laden put those specials forces and their families at risk:
Of special concern, in his view are the leaks attributed to the administration that identified the specific unit that killed Osama bin Laden.
“It put that force, those dependents, at a greater degree of risk,” Zinke said. “And the continuing leaks put our troops that are in harm’s way at greater risk. So there was a point where myself and our board members were compelled to stand and say ‘Enough.’”
I’ll close with another passage from the Tribune’s editorial. They wrote “the fact is: Montanans deserve to know about this.”
That’s the one thing they got right.