EDITOR’S DESK: More than one fraud here
Some of you may have noticed that the Gazette and Denver Post ran identical stories Sunday, June 7 about a man who had been fraudulently representing himself as
decorated Marine Capt. Rick Duncan, Naval Academy graduate, survivor of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon and casualty in Iraq.
Some of you may also recall that this was the same guy who was threatening a lawsuit last fall against the city over alleged constitutional violations of transient veterans' rights in its monthly homeless-camp cleanups.
His allegations, incidentally, were a major part of why the city, fearful of the legal challenge, stopped cleaning up the camps for half a year, leaving garbage strewn across parts of the Westside Highway 24 and I-25 and giving an increased sense of empowerment to people who contribute nothing to our town.
As for the "Duncan" saga, It's pretty rare, actually, for two newspapers that are ostensibly competitors to join forces on a story. And the fact that each newspaper put the same story at the top of its Page 1 shows how important they believe this fraud is.
Or does it?
Last fall, the idea of someone standing up for homeless veterans was pretty exciting for the Big Media, print as well as electronic. The Gazette even used the opportunity to editorialize repeatedly how - under some goofball definition of freedom - the homeless have a right to camp wherever they want. Now to be fair, no publication does a background check on every source used in every story; it's just not possible, and there is a reasonable level of trust going in. Yet, despite the importance they attached to the story, no media outlets took the time to verify "Duncan's" credentials… let alone to call him out on his charges that City Police and the city-contracted cleanup agency, Keep Colorado Springs Beautiful, were "targeting" homeless veterans.
Well, there was one partial exception to the above. It's true that the Westside Pioneer did not check his "credentials" either. But it's also true that we never printed them. In quoting "Duncan" in three stories, we referred to him only by the name he provided and the organization he represented (Colorado Veterans Alliance - CVA). The rest of it seemed irrelevant to the issues at hand. For our story Nov. 6, we asked him to provide "targeting" examples. In response, he said he no longer believed the alleged problems were intentional and, when we noted that the CVA website still said so, he said he would change the wording (which he did).
The joint slant of the Gazette and Post now appears to be that even though "Capt. Rick" is really just a poseur named Rick Strandlof, he's not all that bad because his heart is in the right place.
I see a different slant. Mine is that this is a classic example of why big dailies continue to lose circulation. They root for pet causes (such as the chronically homeless), even when it's at the expense of the neighborhoods where their would-be readers live. Let's consider, for example, if someone calling himself a Marine captain had instead come forward as a vigilante, barging into vagrants' tents along the creek, yanking wine bottles and syringes from their hands and throwing their trash in their faces. Don't you think it likely the Gazette and Post would have done a full nelson on such a guy, probing through his qualifications, looking for a "gotcha"?
Do you know how the truth about Duncan/ Strandlof came out? It's buried on paragraph 93 (literally) of the article. Someone who'd been working with him and was starting to wonder about him called the public affairs office at the Naval Academy and found there had been no graduate named Rick Duncan for about 30 years. Wow. Some hotshot detective work there. Good thing the word eventually got passed along to the Big Media - watchdogs of the community that they are.