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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 07:17 AM ET, 02/02/2012

‘Marketplace’ feature is a complete fabrication

American Public Media’s “Marketplace” has a silo where it stores all manner of compelling first-person narratives. It’s called “My Life is True,” and it’s essentially a series of stories “from people living on the edges of the economy.”

Good, topical stuff, provided that the “true” part is true. That’s the trouble that “Marketplace” ran into Monday, when it ran a “My Life is True” installment from one Leo Webb. The headline was “Returning veteran has few marketable skills,” though those words undersold the package that Marketplace put before listeners.

Mr. Webb, according to the piece:

* Claims to have served as an Army sniper in Iraq, with 17 kills to his credit. “I didn’t see their faces.”

* Claims to have participated in Occupy Oakland.

* Claims to have pitched in the Chicago Cubs’ farm system.

* Claims to have a daughter who recently told him, “You’re a hero.”

* Claims to have witnessed a killing outside a Rite-Aid pharmacy while doing his Occupy Oakland thing .

All sound a little implausible? The old retired-sniper-turned-Occupy-protester come off a little trite? You guessed it — check out the retraction from “Marketplace,” posted today:

Editor’s Note: A commentary by Leo Webb, ”Returning veteran has few marketable skills,” prompted questions from listeners about Webb’s account of his service as an Army sniper in Iraq. A subsequent investigation found that the Army has no record of Webb. Webb also said he pitched for a Chicago Cubs minor-league team. Inquiries to the Cubs and to Minor League Baseball found no record of Webb. Marketplace has an obligation to provide accurate information. That was not met in this commentary. It has been retracted and the text and audio have been removed from the web site.

Radio station KQED, which originated the show, has also posted a retraction.

“Marketplace” deserves props for correcting the record, though not for the manner in which it wiped out its digital imprint of the offending material. It’s only thanks to the Web site This Ain’t Hell that we have any record of the Leo Webb piece. The outline of Webb’s claims above derives entirely from the work of This Ain’t Hell.

“Marketplace” also deserves credit for soliciting such tales, or at least the factual ones. Our media professionals can drone on all they like about the economic dislocation of recent years, yet a first-person account can cast a far deeper impression. The underside is that crafty and resourceful cheats can try to sneak apocryphal stories past the editors.

Too bad “Marketplace” cannot possibly claim that Leo Webb is one such crafty and resourceful shyster. Whoever did this to “Marketplace” left far too many Google-able facts in the text to ever gain the respect of accomplished sneaks. The baseball thing is Web-checkable, the Rite-Aid killing thing is Web-checkable, and the Army sniper thing is easily verifiable. In a comment posted Tuesday on the American Public Media site, a suspicious listener pointed out the story’s holes:

And if you google “Rite-Aid Leo Webb veteran” there are no hits that would match a news report about that. And it is no different if you change the search to “Rite-Aid Leonard Webb veteran.” Replace the word “veteran” in the search to “shooting” and you still get nothing.
Forgive my skeptical nature, but the entire report sounds bogus to me.
It my be “truth-like.” It may be that situations such as this do exist (but if they did, wouldn’t it be best to find the real ones?), or it may not.... but THIS story, at least as presented here, does not seem to be accurate.

Yet the story moved at least one person out there:

Another uncounted cost of the wars. Not only do we tie up a huge portion our our labor at a time when they would be learning the basis of what would become their future careers, but we get people that are effected the rest of their lives by their experiences in our wars of convenience. Many of these folks will become war casualties by their own hand in the years to come.

Perhaps “Marketplace” should track down that individual and tell him/her to retract any opinions stemming from the Leo Webb story. That’s one of the many questions I have for American Public Media, from whom I am awaiting a response.

*Story updated to load in the KQED line.

By  |  07:17 AM ET, 02/02/2012

Tags:  american public media, leo webb, army sniper, my life is true

 
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