It was the kind of story that decides elections: a Senate candidate caught asking a friend to write an official-looking military memo praising him, after the Pentagon could not confirm its veracity. But Shane Osborn’s fraudulent Navy memo has been all but ignored by both Nebraska and national media.
On March 24, Omaha World-Herald journalist Steve Liewer broke the scandalous story of a Republican establishment frontrunner using military connections to fabricate a document praising his service. Republicans working for Osborn had been circulating this memo, allegedly from the Department of the Navy, that appeared to clear any doubts that Osborn behaved improperly by crash-landing a plane into the Chinese-controlled Hainan Islands. In doing so, Osborn saved the lives of the 24 men onboard despite the plane, having been shot, missing its nose and having a hole in its wing. But some in the military expressed reservations that Osborn exposed American technology to capture by the Chinese.
The Department of Defense confirmed to both Liewer and Breitbart News that they could not verify the document Osborn supporters had been using to clear his name. Liewer found the author of the memo, who said he was asked to write the document as a favor to Osborn, and did not clear it with superiors.
After the publication of the initial blockbuster story, Osborn’s use of connections to fake a document praising his efforts made several headlines that day, but eventually faded. Some days later, Osborn told the Associated Press that he took “full responsibility” for the situation, and that the handling of the scandal was “regrettable.” And there, it appears, the story concluded.
The story received minimal national coverage–mostly aggregation pieces in the Washington Post, the Weekly Standard, and a handful of other national outlets. While the Omaha World-Herald broke the story, it did not travel very far in Nebraska media. The Lincoln Journal-Star has not covered the memo thus far, instead publishing multiple articles and letters to the editor arguing that Osborn’s actions in the Hainan Islands was heroic. No other local outlets seemed to note the incident, even this rambling, somewhat stream-of-consciousness musing on why Osborn does not deserve the vote from the York News Times.
On television, the incident received even less notice. Research using the television monitoring tool TVEyes reveals that only one report on Osborn’s fake memo appeared on television, and it was not a report at all: an ad for the Road Rage Relief radio show on 1110 KFAB teased the news on Channel 6, an NBC affiliate. Ben Sasse, Osborn’s main rival for the primary spot, appeared on host Chris Baker’s program the next day.
Remarkably, among those that did catch the story was Rachel Maddow, who noted the story on social media. MSNBC’s Steve Benen described the scandal on Maddow’s blog, tongue-in-cheek, as “a bit of a problem.” Meanwhile, a writer at DailyKos–an outlet that has, on more than one occasion, disparaged U.S. soldiers–took grave offense to Osborn’s use of connections to fabricate a military document, calling it “incredible,” “a grave sin,” and “just wow.”
An exclusive Breitbart poll found Tea Party-backed candidate Ben Sasse surging in the polls, narrowing Osborn’s lead with much potential to surpass him. This quarter, for the first time, Sasse surpassed Osborn in raising campaign funds, mostly from individual contributors.