The "is-Tom-Cotton-really-a-Ranger" controversy is the perfect Washington DC story in that the passion it engenders is inversely proportional to its importance .
I would normally ignore it since it in no conceivable way affects your life.
But then Newsweek had to go all 1984 on it, and there's a disturbing amount of that going on lately.
First, the meaningless controversy.
And the push back.
Instead of addressing multi-trillion dollar deficits and a growing threat from China, people in power are fighting over the precise circumstances under which the term "Ranger" may be validly applied including the specific phrasing of the assertion and overall context in which such an assertion is made.
We're not talking about a draft dodger here who faked a Medal of Honor. Cotton was in the 101st Airborne and served two combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As Snopes put it in their fAcT CHeCk:
Cotton did complete a two-month Army Ranger training program, allowing him to be termed "Ranger qualified" and put a Ranger "tab" on his uniform. Such a training program, however, is not the same as being an actual Army Ranger, a term associated with an elite set of troops "traditionally reserved for soldiers who served with the 75th Ranger Regiment based out of Fort Benning, Georgia,"
This is about as exciting to me as watching two lawyers argue over a mortgage agreement and the impact a codicil regarding interest rate adjustments might have in the event of a duration change and whether an acceleration clause could be triggered given the MAC covenants.
(Based on past experience I imagine that in military circles this is controversial, but that should probably remain their controversy, not ours.)
It gets dumber as reporters spend valuable time digging into his past to expose the times he may have used the term imprecisely.
And that's where Newsweek comes in.
It's one thing to argue over whether or not the term "Ranger" has been used sloppily in the vernacular, but it's another when you go back and alter an article you published five-and-a-half years ago to buttress a political attack.
And that's exactly what Newsweek did, as exposed by The National Review. Shortly after Cotton cited an article in Newsweek that appeared to support his contention.
Here's the original text Newsweek printed back in 2015 (courtesy of the Wayback Machine).
For the first time in the Army Ranger School's 64-year history, two women have completed the intense training program and will become Rangers.
Here is how it reads now.
For the first time in the Army Ranger School's 64-year history, two women have completed the intense training program and will be allowed to wear the coveted Ranger tab on their uniforms.
The original version served the "I am woman hear me roar" political narrative of the day.
But, the narrative has changed, and so history must change with it.
As the typically reliable James Lindsay put it in a comment to the tweet above:
It gets better.
It appears Newsweek didn't think it was important to let anyone know that they had changed the wording in an article published five-and-a-half-years-ago to precisely match that of Cotton's political opponents.
They were caught, apparently not fully understanding how these intertube thingies work, and added this to the top of the article:
Editor's Note: This story has been the subject of serious allegations.
Guys, it's not the story that's been the subject of serious allegations, it's your journalistic ethics, to the extent that term has any meaning, that are the subject of serious allegations.
To clarify: It was not changed in order to "fit a narrative."
Of course not, that's crazy talk.
A recent story about Senator Tom Cotton brought this 2015 story to the fore; upon further investigation, it became clear that a sentence was inaccurate in the 2015 story. The original version said "two women will become Rangers." That sentence was corrected to say the women "will be allowed to wear the coveted Rangers tab."
We appended a correction note to the bottom of the story.
The better to hide the intent.
We regret any appearance of journalistic impropriety or any confusion this may have caused Senator Cotton's staff.
Changing a story from 2015 and burying a note about it at the bottom of the piece does not appear to be journalistic impropriety, it is journalistic impropriety.
It gets, yes, even better.
Here is a little more about that Newsweek story that they "corrected."
"I'm proud of everything each of these Rangers has endured and I am confident they will go on to serve our Army and our nation. For those who have made it through this arduous course, you know that there is only one standard: The Ranger standard."
"You carry the title of Ranger. From here on out, your subordinates, your peers, your leaders, will always expect you to be able to handle the toughest tasks."
Now, for the final denouement.
The former head of the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) General Raymond Thomas had some words for a Democratic Congressman, and former Ranger, who had joined in on the Cotton bashing.
General Thomas, was himself a former member of the 75th Ranger Regiment.
Yes, let's do that instead.