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Letter from a reader and reply by Jared Israel
[Posted 17 August 2002]


Regarding "FIREFIGHTERS VOTE TO BOYCOTT TRIBUTE," at http://emperors-clothes.com/news/no-sale.htm

I can't find the Reuters article that you quoted, the one on angry firemen boycotting Bush, at the Reuters website - ?

Instead I found this article which is contradictory to your reprint. It's called "Firefighters to Protest, but Not at Memorial," and it can be read at http://www.reuters.com/news_article.jhtml?type=politicsnews&StoryID=1340893

Among other things, it starts with the statement:

"Dousing what he called rumors and gossip, the head of the biggest U.S. firefighters union declared on Friday that he will not use a memorial service for fallen comrades to protest President Bush for rejecting funding for fire departments."

Don't get me wrong, I can't stand Bush... but what's the deal?

Greg S.
Dallas, Texas



Thanks for the heads-up! Here are a few thoughts.

First, we would *not* justify putting out false information on the grounds that it's anti-Bush or anti-anyone. (Though of course we could make a mistake, etc.)

However, regarding our post of the August 14th Reuters dispatch which asserts that the Firefighters Union voted to boycott the Oct. 6th memorial because Bush planned to attend, we didn't fall for a hoax. Until just an hour ago, you could access the Reuters story at:


Sometime this afternoon that WebPage became unavailable. Now it seems to be available again. If it disappears once more, you can read it at

You might want to save the page...

Steve Friess wrote the August 14th Reuters dispatch. Peter Szekely wrote the August 16th Reuters counter-dispatch.

Szekely's dispatch attempts to ridicule the idea that the Firefighters ever intended to boycott the Bush event, but it's unconvincing. It unwittingly provides evidence that the firefighters did indeed vote to boycott.

As you noted, Szekely begins the August 16th dispatch by stating that Firefighters Union chief Harold Schaitberger belittled the claim that firefighters voted to boycott the memorial as being based on "rumors and gossip."

Further down Schaitberger is quoted saying:

"'We would never consider taking any action at this memorial or any other memorial,' he said. 'To suggest that our people would use our own memorial to honor our own -- it's something that could not and would not ever occur.'" [END QUOTE]

If this "could not ever occur" how is it that the Christian Science Monitor, the Ottawa Citizen and the New York Post published accounts, apparently written by journalists who were in Las Vegas, all reporting the boycott? (We'll post a review of those articles on Sunday or Monday.)

In the very next sentences we are told:

"Although Schaitberger acknowledged that some IAFF delegates *may have considered the vote to be an endorsement of a boycott of the memorial service,* he said [the] essence of what was approved became distorted through rumors and gossip."

How many is "some"? Would that be 10%? 50%? Or does "some" really mean everyone who voted for this unanimously passed resolution?

How could "some" delegates think they voted to boycott the memorial if they didn't? Especially if it would be such an extreme act - i.e., "something that could not and would not ever occur."

Wouldn't delegates be attentive if they thought they were voting for something unthinkable?

It's reasonable that people who were not at the convention would misunderstand a resolution due to rumors and gossip.

But how could delegates who were actually there be misled? Why would they rely on rumors and gossip when they could hear the resolution, read out loud and clear?

Was there something odd in the wording that made extreme misunderstanding possible? Something that allowed gossipmongers to fan out and spread rumors to "some" delegates?

If so, why doesn't Szekely quote the content of the resolution so we can see how it could be misrepresented? Doesn't his failure to quote the text suggest that in fact it was *not* misrepresented?

And come to think of it, why didn't Szekely mention that Reuters own Steve Friess originally wrote that the Firefighters voted to boycott the Oct. 6th event? Indeed, that Friess quoted Mr. Mohler, the delegate who presented the resolution?

If Friess got it wrong, why hasn't Reuters printed a retraction? It's now the evening of August 17th and I just checked the Reuters corrections page. (You can find it by going to the Szekely article (2) and scrolling to the bottom. Then click on "corrections.") As of now I found 26 Reuters corrections for August 16th and 17th. But nothing about firefighters.

If Steve Friess wrote an article (1) stating that something that "could never occur" did occur - and he was wrong - why doesn't Szekely mention this? You know, something like, "Our own Steve Friess wrote that...." Followed by "Meanwhile, Firefighters Union chief Harold Schaitberger commented that..." And so on.

Steve Freiss' August 14th dispatch does not sound like rumor and gossip to me. Here's an excerpt:

"Firefighters and survivors will be urged to skip the Oct. 6 event in protest, said R. Michael Mohler of the Virginia Professional Fire Fighters Local 774. Mohler made the boycott motion before about 2,000 union leaders convening in Las Vegas for the IAFF's first national conference since Sept. 11.

"'The president has merely been using firefighters and their families for one big photo opportunity,' Mohler said. 'We will work actively to not grant him another photo op with us.'"


How could Mr. Mohler, who actually brought forward the resolution, be mistaken about its contents? Or did Freiss lie about what Mohler said? If Friess lied, or if Mohler was mistaken about his own resolution (quite a trick), why doesn't Reuters, which obviously favors the Szekely account, explain how Friess got it wrong?

The obvious reason they don't is that Freiss did *not* get it wrong!

Freiss' dispatch is specific and factual. By way of contrast, Szekely's August 16th counter-dispatch is general and self-contradictory (see above). It reads like a dishonest piece with a purpose.

Here's what I think happened.

When the story broke, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) union leaders came under great pressure, probably including from their Democratic Party allies, to 'correct' the delegates' overly-tough stand.

Once Schaitberger agreed to retreat, Reuters was 'mobilized' to correct their error, i.e., of reporting what had happened. Since Reuters couldn't very well dismiss as rumors and gossip its own writer's *quotes* from Mr. Mohler; and since the dispatch was only used by (at most) a few newspapers, Reuters took the path of least resistance: it eliminated the Friess dispatch. Friess never happened.

By the way, Szekely also doesn't mention that reports similar to the Freiss account appeared in some newspapers. These reports seem to be written by eyewitnesses. More on that in an upcoming article.

Best regards,
Jared Israel
Emperor's Clothes


Yesterday, after I wrote the above, we received an email from one of our sharp-eyed readers, Angie B. in New York. Angie reports that she just read Szekely's August 16th Reuters dispatch and it (at least now) includes an attempt to explain why delegates voted for the Bush-boycott resolution.

I don't know whether the Szekely piece was changed or whether when I read it I missed this "explanation." My vanity tells me I couldn't have missed something as blatantly dishonest as the stuff Angie spotted, but we all make mistakes. Angie found two paragraphs. In one, Szekely writes:

"Not only did Schaitberger, who also serves on the board of the Fallen Fire Fighters Foundation, declare he would not boycott the ceremony, *he said most delegates voting on the hastily passed motion were unaware that the Oct. 6 event was a memorial and the word 'memorial' was never used in the debate*."
[My emphasis]

Huh? The "word memorial was never used"?

Three things about that.

First, by saying most delegates *didn't know* they were voting to boycott a memorial, Schaitberger is admitting that in fact the resolution *involved boycotting a memorial*! Otherwise what would it mean that most delegates weren't informed?

But this contradicts his argument, quoted earlier, that "some" delegates "may have considered the vote to be an endorsement of a boycott of the memorial service" but that this was a mistaken view of the resolution, one which they held due to "gossip and rumors"!

Which is it? Were "some" delegates fooled by gossip into believing they voted to boycott a memorial? Or did "most" in fact vote to boycott a memorial - but only because they were fooled by not being told it was a memorial? I mean come on, guys! Pick one or the other, but you can't go in two opposite directions at the same time!

Second, how is it possible that the delegates voted for a resolution to boycott a memorial to their fallen comrades without the word "memorial" being used? How would such a resolution be worded?

*Resolved: That the International Association of Fire Fighters recommend its members boycott an event Oct. 6th.*

Wouldn't the delegates be curious to know, "What event?"

Wouldn't the delegates be curious to know, "What event?"

And even if we say, for the sake of argument, that the word "memorial" was left out - which is pretty hard to conceive - wouldn't the resolution have to have mentioned "Oct. 6th"? This is important because according to Szekely Oct 6th isn't just any memorial. It is, according to Szekely, the:

"annual tribute to firefighters who died in action in the past year...hosted by the National Fallen Fire Fighters Foundation." ...[And] Bush spoke at the memorial last year..."

Third, if "most delegates voting on the hastily passed motion were unaware that the Oct. 6 event was a memorial," doesn't that mean a minority *were* aware? So now we have three groups: "Some" who, due to gossip and rumors, mistakenly thought the resolution called for boycotting a memorial; "most," who voted for the resolution because they weren't told it did support boycotting a memorial; and some others who voted for the resolution knowing it did support boycotting a memorial. It's amazing that these Firefighters voted unanimously because it would appear they inhabit different planets.

The other paragraph which Angie spotted and which I may have missed (unless it was added) reads as follows:

"IAFF delegates on Wednesday passed a 'sense of the convention' motion advising Schaitberger to consider boycotting the Oct. 6 event in Washington and to protest Bush's funding decision in other ways as well."

So the boycott resolution involved not only a date but also a location - Washington. Are we still to believe that "many" delegates had no clue they were voting to boycott their own annual memorial?

The point of the paragraph is supposed to be that the delegates weren't really voting to *boycott* - just to advise Schaitberger to "consider" boycotting. But assuming you believe the delegates had to know this was a memorial, doesn't this paragraph further contradict Schaitberger's statement that:

"'We would never *consider* taking any action at this memorial or any other memorial,' he said. 'To suggest that our people would use our own memorial to honor our own -- it's something that could not and would not ever occur.'"

Doesn't recommending a boycott involve just that? (Unless of course the delegates didn't know what they were voting for. They were just advising Schaitberger to consider doing it, whatever it was...)

So now we have:

#1 No Firefighter would ever consider boycotting their own memorial;

#2 Some Firefighters mistakenly thought they had voted to boycott a memorial (contradicts #1) but that's because they were fooled by gossip because the resolution did not involve boycotting a memorial;

#3 The Firefighters did vote for a resolution that urged boycotting the memorial (contradicts #2) but that's because "most" didn't know that the Oct. 6th event was a memorial;

#4 It was just a "sense of the convention" resolution anyway, so it wasn't binding (contradicts #1, unless you believe the delegates voted to recommend doing something unknown.)


- Jared Israel

1) For the August 14th Friess article, go to

2) For the August 16th Szekely article, go to http://www.reuters.com/news_article.jhtml?type=politicsnews&StoryID=1340893


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