Tag Archives: Military Reporters & Editors

Winners of the 2015 MRE Journalism Contest announced

Congratulations to all those who submitted their work to the MRE Journalism Contest. Below are the winners, and the judges’ comments.

The Joe Galloway Award

David Wood of Huffington Post for a powerful, fascinating, thoroughly reported, humanized and particularly well-written, well-produced three-part multimedia package examining the prevalence, complexity and impact of “moral injury” that plagues so many who have fought sought since 9/11. “Moral injury is a relatively new concept that seems to describe what many feel: a sense that their fundamental understanding of right and wrong has been violated, and the grief, numbness or guilt that often ensues,” Wood wrote in his introduction to the series. “However we individually feel about the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, these enduring moral wounds, to young Americans who fought on our behalf, must be counted among the ultimate costs.”

The James Crawley Award

Lance Bacon, reporter; Andrew deGrandpre, digital news director; Alex Neill, executive editor of Military Times, for their investigation into whether a Marine Corps order that removed Marine Corps Times publications from prime locations at the front of base exchanges around the world was the result of reporting it was doing “detailing whistleblower allegations suggesting the service’s commandant, Gen. James Amos, abused his authority and interfered in several high-profile criminal cases.” The order was eventually rescinded and the papers returned to the prime locations, while further Military Times reporting “obtained and authenticated emails linking Amos to the newsstand move, raised troubling questions about the Marine Corps’ attempt to limit troops’ access to an independent news source.”

Overseas Large Newspapers Category:  Betsy Hiel, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review foreign correspondent Betsy Hiel filed a series of eye-opening, deeply reported stories from Iraq in 2014 detailing the people and conditions as ISIS swept toward Baghdad. One of the first Western reporters on the ground after ISIS invaded, she reported on Christians who found temporary refuge from ISIS in an ancient monastery before fleeing as the terrorist group advanced; she explained Kurdish soldiers’ belief that the next target of ISIS is the United States; and she shed light on the sectarian divisions that stand in the way of achieving peace in Iraq.

Overseas Small Newspapers Category: Drew Brooks, Fayetteville Observer

Drew Brooks’ detailed and emotionally stirring series of stories on the Green Berets from Fort Bragg who led the war effort in Afghanistan for 13 years provided an inside glimpse of the lives of Green Beret soldiers deployed to Afghanistan as well as an analysis of why they ended up in such a dominant role and the toll of large numbers of casualties.

Domestic Large Newspapers Category: Mike Wereschagin, Adam Smeltz and Carl Prine, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The two-part series by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review disclosed that emails and documents obtained through a FOIA filed by the paper show that congressional testimony given by Veterans Affairs officials investigating a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that left at least six dead in Pittsburgh was, at the least, obfuscatory and basically contradicted information in the private documents. The work is investigative reporting at its best.

Domestic Small Newspapers Category: This award is shared by Meghann Myers of the Navy Times and Hope Hodge Seck of the Marine Corps Times

Meghann Myers of Navy Times and Hope Hodge Seck of Marine Corps Times separately covered two aspects of a critical gender issues facing today’s military.

Meghann Myers revealed that some of the first women to serve in the submarine force were secretly filmed undressing by their shipmates. The Navy Times story, first reported online, drew immediate attention by Pentagon officials and created national attention.  The commander of the submarine force condemned the tapings as a “breach of trust” and Myers pursued the story and its consequences not only for the sailors but also for the entire service.

Hope Hodge Seck wrote a more complex but equally important Marine Corp Times story about concern that the Marine Corps is under so much pressure to prosecute alleged sexual assaults that the accused are no longer innocent until proved guilty. Sensitive to the reality that sexual assault cases were too easily dismissed in the past, Seck wove actual legal cases with new policy initiatives to explain how the Marines are trying to deal with a significant problem.

Photographer Small Paper Category: Andrew Craft, Fayetteville Observer

Andrew Craft’s collection of domestic and overseas images give a sense of dimension, depth and flexibility as a visual storyteller. Entries included a well-composed, solemnly powerful image of a flag-draped casket being carried; a playful shot of an Army officer horsing around with his young sons before heading on a 9-month deployment and a wide landscape shot of a soldier standing guard over the rugged terrain in Kabul.

Commentary: Marketta Davis, Pensacola News Journal

Marketta Davis is a military brat and military wife whose Pensacola News Journal column, “Military notes,” has an authentic, all-in-the-family tone that is both engaging and enlightening. Writing on everything from stolen valor issues to a 100-year-old veteran reminiscing about World War II, Davis is open in sharing her reactions and feelings and then translating them into larger lessons about military life.

Domestic, Large Broadcast Category: ESPN

ESPN’s compelling Outside the Lines,“Friend Who Fired,” told the story of the Army Rangers involved in the fatal accident that killed Ranger and professional football player Pat Tillman. None of the Army Rangers who fired upon him spoke publicly about the episode until ESPN found Steven Elliott, who agreed to break the silence. William Weinbaum is the producer; Mike Fish and John Barr are the reporters.

Honorable mention: Chas Henry’s Almost Equal: The U. S Military Three Years After Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” at 99.1 WNEW radio.

Online Reporting: Jeremy Schwartz, Austin-American Statesman

Jeremy Schwartz’Lost Opportunity” explores the “failure of good intentions” surrounding an expensive, powerful mobile MRI that was believed to be among the most powerful in the world and was planned to scan the brains of troops before, and after, combat, as part of overall traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress syndrome research by the Veterans Administration as part of its $2 billion in yearly research spending. A “fiasco” is what it proved to be, leading to an “inglorious decline” that included no appreciable research, few actual scans, a chronic lack of technical expertise and a key fatal flaw: moving what was to be a portable machine meant for several bases and hospitals required expensive re-calibration after each move, so it stayed put. Now, “The scanner idles 24 hours a day because it’s more expensive to turn an MRI machine off and on than to keep it running.” One use suggested for the unit that houses it: Housing for lab rats. The online package is crisp, well-written and illustrated and nicely designed with intuitive navigation and flow.  Given the topic, it could well have been deadly dull and bureaucratic, but was not in the least; instead, it was driven by good context, insight, perspective and tight writing.

Blogging: Beth Ford Roth, Home Post

Beth Ford Roth’sHome Post” blog entry included a diverse and interesting collection of posts, ranging from whether Marines should be able to roll up their sleeves (wives, the blog says, find this sexy; the Marines declared it is OK again to roll them up); an essay from a dad whose sailor son was lost as sea; and a post about famous people who fought on D-Day.

Medill NSJI, MRE and SPJ send letter to Army Secretary

WASHINGTON — Military Reporters and Editors, the Society of Professional Journalists and Northwestern University’s National Security Journalism Initiative sent a joint letter to Army Secretary John McHugh on June 19, requesting the immediate declassification of the investigation into Staff Sgt. Robert Bales’ horrific crimes in Afghanistan in March 2012.

Bales was sentenced to life in prison in August 2013 for murdering 16 Afghan civilians, including many women and children, during two solo nighttime raids in small villages in Kandahar province. The gruesome murders—dubbed the Kandahar massacre—sparked angry protests and forced the U.S. military to temporarily halt combat operations in the region.

“Bales pleaded guilty to his crimes and will spend the rest of his life in prison. His clemency request has been denied and U.S. forces are no longer operating at the combat outposts where he committed his crimes. We see no reason why the investigation should remain classified,” said MRE President Amy McCullough. “The reasons U.S. Central Command gave to some of our members for denying repeated FOIA requests no longer apply, and the public has a right to know if there was anything that could have been done to prevent this tragedy. I sincerely hope Secretary McHugh will do the right thing and declassify this report before his tenure ends.”

“The Pentagon has examined the events leading to Staff Sgt. Robert Bales’ crimes in Kandahar province, but the public has only the military’s word that it has done everything possible to learn from the incidents,” said Ellen Shearer, co-director of Northwestern University’s National Security Journalism Initiative. “The continued lack of transparency in this case is a shameful example of denying the public its right to know the truth about an important, terrible event in the war in Afghanistan.”

The letter reads, as follows:

June 19, 2015

Dear Secretary McHugh,

We write to draw your attention to an important document regarding SSgt. Robert Bales’ crimes in Kandahar province that has been concealed despite his conviction and the historic significance of the atrocities he committed. These obstacles are troubling to Military Reporters and Editors, the Society of Professional Journalists, and Northwestern University’s National Security Journalism Initiative. The gravity of Bales’ crimes argues for transparency in all aspects of his case. We ask you for your assistance in declassifying an Army regulation 15-6 investigation into Bales’ killings before your tenure as Army Secretary ends.

Since Bales’ was sentenced to life in prison in August 2013, three news organizations from the Puget Sound region near JB Lewis-McChord have submitted multiple Freedom of Information Act requests for an Army Regulation 15-6 investigation commissioned to look into whether anything could have been done to prevent Bales’ massacre in March 2012.

The News Tribune of Tacoma, The Seattle Times and NPR Seattle affiliate KUOW have had their FOIA requests denied and their appeals delayed. Normally, investigative documents used during courts-martial may be released through FOIA following the resolution of a case. That has not happened with the Bales 15-6.

U.S. Central Command rejected The News Tribune’s first request for the Bales 15-6 in January 2014. The reasons listed by Central Command included:

  • JBLM’s I Corps headquarters had not yet considered Bales’ clemency
  • Releasing the 15-6 could jeopardize ongoing operations for frequently deployed
  • Releasing the 15-6 could obstruct a law enforcement
  • Releasing the 15-6 could impair Bales’ rights to a fair and impartial

The News Tribune filed an appeal to this denial. CENTCOM has not yet considered it. CENTCOM has confirmed that The News Tribune’s appeal is No. 235 in line for further consideration, but has repeated the reasoning it offered to The News Tribune in denying FOIA requests from The Seattle Times and KUOW.

In the 17 months that have passed since CENTCOM’s denial, facts have changed that warrant an immediate reconsideration of CENTCOM’s withholding of the Bales 15-6.

  • I Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza has denied Bales’ clemency request and upheld his sentence.
  • S. forces are no longer stationed at combat outposts near where Bales committed his massacre, according to open-source news reports published by the Army. Moreover, testimony at Bales’ court-martial revealed how he twice walked out of his outpost to kill civilians. Releasing more information about that aspect of this incident could do no more harm to U.S. forces than has already been done.
  • Bales has been convicted and sentenced to life in prison. There is no pending law enforcement investigation that could be influenced by the release of the 15-6.
  • The FOIA exemption that protects a defendant’s right to a fair and impartial hearing is intended to ensure that military juries are unbiased. Bales is past the point when a jury may consider evidence in his case. His fate now rests solely with military appeals

Marine Corps Gen. John Allen commissioned the report just after the massacre. He discussed it in press interviews from Kabul, assuring the public the military would do everything it could to learn from Bales’ killings.

“I will be satisfied when I get the report that we have looked closely at the potential contributing factors that might have permitted this event to have unfolded tragically,” Allen told reporters in March 2012, two weeks after the killings.

Bales committed a terrible crime and is serving his sentence. The public and the press still deserve the answers to the questions Allen aired when he announced the 15-6.


Amy McCullough, MRE President
News Editor, Air Force Magazine

Isaac Cubillos, MRE Vice President
 Editor, Military Media Group

Otto Kreisher, MRE Treasurer
Freelance Reporter

Bryan Bender, MRE Board member
Defense Editor, Politico

Kristina Wong, MRE Board member    
Defense Reporter, The Hill

Dan Lamothe, MRE Board member 
National Security Reporter, The Washington Post

Alex Quade, MRE Board member 
Freelance War Reporter

Greg Mathieson, MRE Board member
Combat Photographer

Jenn Rowell, MRE Board member
Military Reporter, Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune

John Grady, MRE Board member
 Freelance National Security Reporter

Ellen Shearer, Co-Director National Security Journalism Initiative
Professor, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism

Dana Neuts, SPJ President     
Freelance Journalist

Paul Fletcher, SPJ President-Elect
Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, Virginia Lawyers Weekly

Karen Peterson, Executive Editor        
The News Tribune

Kathy Best, Editor
The Seattle Times

Patricia Murphy, Military/Veterans Reporter

2015 MRE Conference is Oct. 9

The 2015 Military Reporters and Editors conference will be held Oct. 9, 2015 at the Army and Navy Club in downtown Washington, D.C.

Speakers will include retired Gen. John Allen, special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL; Rep. Adam Smith, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee; Rep. Rob Wittman, chairman of the HASC readiness subcommittee; a panel with Gulf-area ambassadors discussing anti-ISIS operations; and a panel with top military public affairs officers.

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