When I received this email alert yesterday I had strongly conflicting emotions, as a journalist. This is one of those stories that makes a stark fact claim. This claim is either accurate or it is not.
If it is accurate, why in heaven's name is it breaking at the Christian Broadcasting Network? Here is the blog item as it first came in:
CBN Exclusive: Five Muslim Soldiers Arrested at Fort Jackson in South Carolina
CBN News has learned exclusively that five Muslim soldiers at Fort Jackson in South Carolina were arrested just before Christmas. It is unclear whether the men are still in custody. The five were part of the Arabic Translation program at the base.
The men are suspected of trying to poison the food supply at Fort Jackson.
A source with intimate knowledge of the investigation, which is ongoing, told CBN News investigators suspect the "Fort Jackson Five" may have been in contact with the group of five Washington, DC area Muslims that traveled to Pakistan to wage jihad against U.S. troops in December. That group was arrested by Pakistani authorities, also just before Christmas. Coming as it does on the heels of November's Fort Hood jihadist massacre, this news has major implications.
Now, stop and think about this. It is very, very hard for me to believe as a journalist that the source for this story -- as his or her first news-coverage option -- took this material directly to CBN, a niche-news site. Having the story break in this setting automatically labels it, and validly so.
Then there is the matter of the time element. The story claims that the arrest were made before Christmas. How long has the source been trying to draw attention to this alleged event? If the event happened, why was it ignored by the mainstream?
Again, either those arrests were made or they were not. That's a news event, if it is true. It's breaking news.
Now, in the wake of that CBN report we do have a short Associated Press item. Here is the tiny little story that ran this morning in the Washington Post, a paper that one would think would jump on a story of this kind:
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The Army has been investigating five soldiers over allegations of food poisoning at its largest training base.
But Army spokeswoman Julia Simpkins said Friday no soldiers were ever in danger at the South Carolina base. Simpkins says an investigation continues at Fort Jackson, located outside Columbia. She said the investigation involved potentially threatening comments toward fellow soldiers.
On Thursday, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon said the investigation involved allegations that soldiers' food was being poisoned, but no credible information to support the allegations was found.
Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said the investigation has been going on for almost two months. Garver said he was not aware of any arrests.
Again, look at the timing. We have Army quotes from today -- Friday? -- and from yesterday. Are those contacts in the wake of the CBN report?
Once again, please focus on the key facts. Notice that the CBN source says the five tried to poison the food and that AP quotes a military spokesperson as denying that the food was poisoned. The two statements do not contradict one another.
What in the world is going on here?