U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald was touring downtown Los Angeles, helping volunteers count homeless people, when he encountered a man living on the street who said he had served in the Army Special Forces.
"Really," McDonald said. "I was in the special forces."
Turns out McDonald wasn't in the special forces. The false statement was captured on video as a CBS Evening News crew followed McDonald around L.A.'s Skid Row in the wake of a VA plan to "help end veteran homelessness in Greater Los Angeles."
The false claim happened in the wake of NBC News anchor Brian Williams' own battle with the truth. He was taken off the air for at least six months for falsely claiming that he was in a military helicopter that was shot down during the Iraq war in 2003.
Fox's Bill O'Reilly was taking rhetorical fire this week, too, after saying that he reported from active battle zones during the 1982 Falklands War. He covered protests 1,200 miles from the Falkland Islands, in Buenos Aires, but insisted this week, "I covered the Falklands war."
McDonald's misstep resonated in the loftiest halls of power this week. The White House issued a statement:
We take him at his word and expect that this will not impact the important work he's doing to promote the health and well-being of our nation's veterans.
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Here's what McDonald himself said:
While I was in Los Angeles, engaging a homeless individual to determine his veteran status, I asked the man where he had served in the military. He responded that he had served in special forces. I incorrectly stated that I had been in special forces. That was inaccurate and I apologize to anyone that was offended by my misstatement.
The secretary served in the 82nd Airborne Division, says the VA. The Huffington Post caught the lie and first published a story, forcing the Obama administration to respond. The 82nd Airborne is legendary and perhaps elite. But it's just not the special forces.