The 'Republican strategist' behind the Bergdahl story

Press gather to cover President Barack Obama's announcement of Sgt Bowe Bergdahl's release on 31 May, 2014. Is a Republican strategist trying to help promote soldiers critical of President Obama's deal to obtain the release of Bowe Bergdahl?

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On Tuesday the New York Times published an article about the anger felt by several members of Sgt Bowe Bergdahl's Army unit over the circumstances of his disappearance and capture by Taliban forces.

As reported in this blog on Monday, these soldiers and some other veterans felt that Mr Bergdahl had actually deserted his post, and the resulting search-and-rescue operation had put their lives in danger - and possibly resulted in the deaths of fellow troops.

The Times story, while generally similar to pieces in other media outlets, contained a line that attracted particular interest:

Start Quote

Obviously Ric is a well-known Republican and these guys found him on Twitter and reached out asking for help in getting their story out”

End Quote Brad Chase Capitol Media Partners

"Yes, I'm angry," Joshua Cornelison, a former medic in Sgt Bergdahl's platoon, said in an interview on Monday arranged by Republican strategists.

The Times would go on to quote another soldier brought to them from the same source.

So who were these "Republican strategists"? And was the fact that interviews with individuals critical of Mr Bergdahl's actions might have been offered to media outlets by partisan operatives - a "GOP-run dog-and-pony show", in the words of Gawker's Adam Weinstein - a relevant fact?

"What exactly is going on here?" writes MSNBC's Steve Benson. "The release of an American POW from his Taliban captors in Afghanistan has become a political operation in which Republican strategists direct reporters to specific sources?"

It didn't take long for the media manhunt to find their quarry - former George W Bush administration official and Fox News commentator Richard Grenell.

Buzzfeed's Rosie Gray and Kate Nocera discovered that one of the soldiers quoted by the Times and others, Cody Full, had taken to Twitter to thank Mr Grenell yesterday for "helping get our platoon's story out" in a tweet.

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Mr Grenell can be relied on to take the view that anything that might hurt President Barack Obama is good enough for him”

End Quote Laura Clawson Daily Kos

They called Mr Grenell's public relations agency, Capitol Media Partners, where his partner, Brad Chase, confirmed his involvement:

"Obviously Ric is a well-known Republican and these guys found him on Twitter and reached out asking for help in getting their story out," Chase said. "Ric obviously saw that this is something that needed to be told and came to me and others in our firm, and I and some of the others determined that this was a story that we wanted to work on."

Mr Chase said they offered their services free of charge and the New York Times characterisation of them as "Republican strategists" was "100% factually inaccurate", as Mr Chase was not a Republican.

Mr Grenell - who also briefly served as the foreign policy spokesman for Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign - bristled at the Times's choice of words, tweeting that "this isn't political" and that Mr Chase set up the Times interviews.

"Today is one of those days when you're reminded that reporters just repeat other reporter's stories," he wrote.

The Buzzfeed journalists spoke to the producer of a radio show that featured one of the soldiers, who said Mr Grenell was their point of contact for the bookings. Media Matters's Oliver Willis contacted two other reporters who also identified Mr Grenell as their source.

Mr Grenell's critics on the left continue to question the propriety of the former Republican official's involvement in the story.

"Certainly Bergdahl's release on Saturday raises legitimate questions about the circumstances surrounding his capture, the legality of the exchange and whether it merited the release of five Guantanamo Bay detainees," the Huffington Post's Igor Bobic writes. "But the fact that Republican operatives are shopping around interviews behind the scenes meant to stir opposition to the Obama administration threatens to turn the debate over a prisoner of war into another partisan slugfest ahead of the November midterm elections."

Daily Kos's Laura Clawson writes that "Mr Grenell can be relied on to take the view that anything that might hurt President Barack Obama is good enough for him," while the soldiers he's promoting "seem to be taking the view that Bergdahl deserved to spend the rest of his life, however long or short, as a prisoner".

The conservative Hot Air blog's Allahpundit counters that the whole thing is a "lame story" that implies there's some sort of partisan "dirty trick" being played without explaining what exactly that trick is.

"The 'argument,' such as it is, is that there are Republican fingerprints here and therefore you don't have to pay close attention going forward to these years-old, wholly independent accusations against Bergdahl from fellow veterans," he writes.

The Grenell story may touch a nerve on the left because it harkens back to the 2004 "Swift Boat" attacks on Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, in which several of the senator's fellow Vietnam veterans questioned the his war record in a conservative-backed media campaign.

If there were going to be a rational debate on this story, its boundaries should have been fairly clear. Given what we know about the circumstances of Mr Bergdahl's disappearance and subsequent capture, should the US have agreed to the prisoner exchange to obtain his release? If not, should the US have left him in Taliban hands indefinitely? Could his release have been achieved any other way?

Instead, we are treated to allegations and counter-allegations about the political motivations of all parties involved. Debates about "optics" and rumours of nefarious conspiracies, which spin farther and farther from the substance of the story.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Don't you worry Mr Cynic. The Israelis then round up a few thousand more random Palestinians and stick them in camps. Best of all they are using weapons the US paid for. We probably paid to build the camps too, the materials at least. Slave labor is cheap.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    In this particular case, all 5 were all once very high in the Taliban leadership and will more than likely go right back to those positions. Any one of them could go as far as becoming another bin Laden. Israel might give up many fighters at once, but not this high ranking.
    It's always an uneven trade, by the numbers, but I'm sure the Taliban are all smiling, thinking "We outsmarted Obama".

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Obviously there is no limit to what the TeaBag-FoxNews Axis will crawl on and exploit for political advantage, so why ask if they ever go to far? Any event or non-event is to be exploited for partisan gain and to hell with the real interests of the country. We've been heading this way ever since Nixon sandbagged LBJ's peace talks to help him get elected over Humphey in '68. It's getting worse.

  • Comment number 12.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    No one seems to mind when the Israelis hand over literally hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for a soldier's release. Why this fuss?

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Give 5 high ranking Taliban thugs their freedom in exchange for one of ours? And it was said they had to hurry and get him out, so congress couldn't be given the customary 30 day notice before hand. Why the rush now? It's been 5 years. I want to know more about this story. Something just seems a little fishy.

    From that alone, there just seems more to the story.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    The president decided to negotiate for Bergdahl's release, but members of his unit have their own story to tell. The president has the media's ear, so anything he does gets press. The soldiers in Bergdal's unit were all witnesses and wanted their story told. They have a right to press, too. They went to Grennel, not the other way around. There was no political agenda, no matter how you spin it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I don't find anything at all improper about Grennel's actions. It's a legitimate angle on the story.

    MSNBC's reporting, on the other hand, not so much.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    If the pundits on the left don't like the facts being provided by soldiers in Bergdahl's unit, they should provide contrary commentary from other soldiers in that unit. What do you want to bet there isn't testimony supporting an opposing view, and the real story here is that the leftist pundits simply don't like the facts and the messenger?

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    "But the fact that Republican operatives are shopping around interviews behind the scenes meant to stir opposition to the Obama administration threatens to turn the debate over a prisoner of war into another partisan slugfest ahead of the November midterm elections." - Igor Bobic
    The GOP used to support bringing US POWs home; apparently that’s no longer true.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    4. patent nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    The real story here is an attempt by Obama to overshadow the VA hospital scandal with what was supposed to be a hero's return from captivity. Whoops...

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Fox's veracity (sic) aside: US law has a very grey area re Guantanamo due to Bush Jr/Cheney's torture policy for 'non combatents' (the Yoo memos) which contaminated any possibility of a fair trial for the detainees, and Jr's Federal judge picks pretty well killed any possibility of trials under US law, period:

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Summary: People believe what they want to believe and many of those people tend to be afraid to admit they might not know everything or that they are not perfect. The irony is the more a person relies on faith (belief, no proof) are those who are most informed about this (though they'll deny that). Funny: they'll be the first ones to show others _evidence_ of the Holocaus, etc. True yes. Bias? Yes

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    In today's America, the majority of media outlets are aligned with one or the other of the major parties. People read, view, or click the newspaper, TV channel, or web site that confirms their own views. What once was called journalism is now a race to the bottom chasing advertising revenues, not facts. Only on the BBC do I find the obvious stated as well as in the last paragraph above.


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