Last week’s New Yorker article about the Navy SEAL raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan was hailed as one of the best magazine pieces of the year so far and a likely ASME contender. But according to WWD, its author, Nicholas Schmidle, has come under some scrutiny after it was revealed that he didn’t actually interview a single Navy SEAL from the raid—a detail that was left out of the article.
The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi first reported last Tuesday that the article, titled “Getting Bin Laden: What happened that night in Abbottabad,” was made up of secondhand accounts from mostly anonymous government sources. He also suggested that the piece led readers to mistakenly believe that it was based on firsthand reports.
After picking up Farhi’s piece, critics piled on Schmidle and his article. Max Boot, a former Wall Street Journal columnist and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, called it “troubling that a supposedly reputable magazine such as The New Yorker is passing along secondhand (at best) reports as if they had come straight from the horse’s mouth,” while Maureen Dowd wrote in the Sunday New York Times, “The White House clearly blessed the dramatic reconstruction of the mission.”
One possible explanation could be that Schmidle spoke to one or more Navy SEALs off the record, but other reporters pointed out to WWD that SEALs “don’t talk,” and even if Schmidle spoke to them on background, he therefore wouldn’t be able to say in a blanket statement that he didn’t talk to any of them.
New Yorker editor David Remnick defended Schmidle, telling WWD in an email, “The piece does not say that Nick interviewed the SEALs. . . . In all, he interviewed officials with direct access both in the military intelligence and in the White House; some of those officials are quoted by name, some not—hardly unusual. All of these sources were known to Nick’s editors and spoke extensively with two experienced New Yorker fact checkers.”