The “Marketplace” fiasco involving a bogus testimonial from a U.S. Army sniper started with the best of intentions.
Anne Stuhldreher and Doug McGray are fellows of the New America Foundation, an idealistic nonprofit that “invests in new thinkers and new ideas to address the next generation of challenges facing the United States.” Both Bay Area residents, Stuhldreher and McGray wanted to see if they could get a greater representation of economically marginalized people into the media. “It occurred to us that public radio stations hear a narrow range of Americans talking on them,” says McGray.
So they set out to recruit. One day, Stuhldreher went to a philanthropy organization in Oakland. As part of the outing, she joined others in walking through the Occupy Oakland encampment.
One of those present was Leo Webb. “He was talking about his time in Iraq and how hard things had been,” recalls Stuhldreher, who told him about the project that she had launched with McGray.
Presto: Stuhldreher and Webb were soon sitting down to bang out a piece of writing. “Approximately four or five times,” says Stuhldreher. That was enough to put together something very compelling and — well, as it turns out, completely false.
The opus got passed along — from Stuhldreher-Webb to San Francisco radio station KQED and ultimately to “Marketplace,” a production of American Public Media. The fact that the facts within the piece — that Webb served as a sniper credited with 17 kills, that he had pitched in the minor leagues, inter alia — didn’t bear out has embarrassed everyone involved.
To be fair, we don’t know about Webb’s reaction. Stuhldreher says that she’s been unable to reach him in recent days and that he’d had a ”couple different cell phones that’d get turned off.”
“He’s clearly a very disturbed person, and I’m actually worried about him,” says Stuhldreher. “I think he’s kind of assumed this other identity that he really believes and speaks about in great detail.”
Yes, he does, or did — to the point that he fooled a whole journalistic chain of custody. “Anyone connected to this feels responsible and awful,” says McGray. As to whether the pair will continue their outreach efforts: “I don’t know whether we keep doing this or not. It’s something that we haven’t talked about,” says McGray.