My Regret over Neil Tolley’s Apparent Firing (?)

02.06.12

Categorie: Blog Business, David Axe, Reporters, Special Forces |
Tags: ,

by DAVID AXE

So it appears that Neil Tolley, the general who accused me of fabricating quotes attributed to him, has either been fired or has voluntarily stepped down — though it’s also possible he was due to be replaced in any event.

Some commenters have said I should apologize to Tolley. They’re right. If Tolley has been fired, I am very very sorry. I never wanted him to suffer like that, even as he withheld his own apology to me. I’m sorry for what’s apparently happening to you, General.

If Tolley truly did speak hypothetically, as he and the Pentagon now claim, then I misunderstood him — and I regret that. If I had known more about the politics of the Koreas going into Tolley’s presentation, I probably would have been more skeptical. That’s my fault. Just because U.S. Special Operations Forces are present in 77 countries (according to SOCOM Adm. Bill McRaven) and just because the U.S. routinely violates the sovereignty of nations such as Pakistan and Iran, does not necessarily mean we do that same in North Korea.

It seems to me there was an elegant way to handle this controversy. After reading my report that many now insist is erroneous (though not fabricated), Tolley could have released a statement saying he had meant to speak hypothetically but was still quoted accurately — in essence, the same statement he eventually released only after accusing me of lying … and then being proved wrong.

Update: Steve Herman at VoA reports that Tolley’s replacement was long planned.

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52 Responses to “My Regret over Neil Tolley’s Apparent Firing (?)”

  1. LCpl X says:

    That was like a George Zimmerman apology. Have you ever served in the military? I hope Brandon Webb throat punches you, at the very least you deserve that. See you in July, tuck your chin in.

  2. David Axe says:

    I don’t think Brandon will be punching anyone. We have swapped emails and we’re on good terms. Stay classy, you anonymous flamer!

  3. Mr. Thimble says:

    David, I don’t know if you got your journalism degree from an accredited correspondence course, but try to read this, it might help you:

    ” [Genereal] Tolley was answering a question put to him about deficiencies in US intelligence gathering capabilties in North Korea. He answered that question by stating that signal intelligence and satellites couldn’t really detect what is buried underground. In order to gather that kind of intelligence troops would have be inserted with man-pack intel gathering equipment and comms gear. He then described how a mission like that might work. That is the context of his remarks. Any quote of his that fails to convey that context to the reader is therefore inaccurate and misleading. And that is what occured in this case. What General Tolley was trying to say to an audience of SOF insiders about how technology could aid in gathering intelligence in North Korea was lost in favor of an inaccurate and misleading quote that conveyed to the reader that the US was active in conducting clandestine insertions into the North. ” (from Sean Spoonts at SOFREP)

  4. LCpl X says:

    No, no… seriously. Take it from me, tuck your chin in. I’m just trying to help you out. After this little BS apology, I’m sure ‘good terms’ is a relative term. You fuck with one SOCOM, you fuck with all. Tuck your chin in.

  5. David Axe says:

    Um, yeah. I was there at Tolley’s presentation. He was asked about his command’s equipment needs. He said he needed better radios, sensors and camouflage, among other gear, because “we send” troops into N. Korea owing to gaps in satellite capabilities. He did not said “could” or “would” or “hypothetically.” There was nothing at all conditional about his comments. Rather, he explained here’s what we do — now please supply gear to make these ops better.

  6. David Axe says:

    BTW, I don’t have a journalism degree. Many journalists don’t.

  7. David Axe says:

    Ah, I see. Please tell your revenge-minded SOCOM buddies that I live in Columbia, S.C. at the intersection of Greene and Barnwell, in the basement apartment. Look forward to seeing you guys!

  8. Alejandro says:

    I posted this on another post on this website but feel that it is still relevant to this conversation.

    To be the Devils advocate it is still unsure weather or not the General was aware that the press were allowed at his speech, as Mr. Axe was originally denied entry into the room, as well as the fact that Mr. Axe’s expertise (if one can describe it as such)is covering the various shadow wars and military interventions the United States undertakes.

    A military surveillance mission into North Korea (which is also the only country the United States is legally at war with) is both feasible, rational, and justifiable given the circumstances of the article and the generals position and rank place him on the the list of people who would have knowledge and authority to supervise such a mission should it have occurred.

    Let us take a moment and also reconsider the scale at which the United States conducts intelligence operations in the wake of both the Cold War and September 11 and weight them against the priority of knowing North Korean troop movements and the purpose of North Korean military buildup near the DMZ after the fairly recent death of their glorious leader.

    Considering some of the more recent events in other parts of the globe, the “Abbottabad” Raid, mysterious deaths/assassinations of Iranian Nuclear Scientists, the sudden Ethiopian and more recently Kenyan Interventions/Invasions of southern Somalia, nearly every other major action taken by the Colombian military, Operation Odyssey Dawn, and the support of the Free Syrian Army, it is safe to assume that the department of defense is willing to engage in risky and sudden actions given the opportunity.

  9. LCpl X says:

    Not SOCOM, I’m just an air winger. But I’m a regular recipient of Brandon Webb’s throat punches. I’m just trying to help out a fellow under achiever–”credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena”, yada, yada, yada, that kinda good stuff. Watch your back, Jack.

  10. LCpl X says:

    Hey, Alejandro, if Axe was denied entry, but still got in and reported this (classified?) info, is it possible to charge him with a federal crime?

  11. Alejandro says:

    No because he ask the staff hosting the event and they granted them entry past the security. Also other press was present at the speech. Nothing treasonous occurred apart from the General claiming defamation “which is a crime if provable true/false”. Basically from my point of view David wrote an article based on the Generals speech but when either the General or David failed to mention that the speech may have been or was hypothetical is where the issue is.

    David making a mistake over not realizing that a generals speech was hypothetical is one thing, but the General then claiming that David was responsible for professional Defamation is another all together.

    Again Defamation is a crime as much as claiming it is when it hasn’t occurred.

  12. Alejandro says:

    Personally the Army has the worst record and relationship with the press going all the way back to the revolutionary war.

    There is a reason that General Winfeild Scott never issued a public press conference while assuming command and went on to regard the press as the nations greatest liability. He considered the press useless in predicting the outcome of crisis, a burden to those in power, and a poison to the masses. But they are a necessary to keep powerful men honest and hold the corrupt responsible for their actions.

    The fact that he knew the outcome of the civil war before Fort Sumter and the ordeals facing the nation are proof of his experience.

  13. LCpl X says:

    I see. Thanks, Alejandro. So Axe is like a baby Mike Hastings. He should work for Rolling Stone, and take his act on the road–what a fuck nut.

  14. Tracie says:

    David Axe,
    You are correct, not all journalists have journalism degrees (I’d like some stats before agreeing to your “most” don’t, but perhaps that’s “not your field of expertise) and far fewer bloggers do.

    As a journalist without a journalism degree, I’m extra careful to:
    a) Research the topic before going to report on it – if you know nothing about North Korea, an excuse you used while unsure if you’d reported correctly or not, it’s kinda simple to data-mine some background
    b) Take accurate, extensive inclusive notes – your note-keeping is inadequate and your reasoning is “it’s always been good enough for me.” The mere fact you write partial quotes and write them as full quotes means you are relying on recall, not recording verbatim. Fail.
    c) Consider circumstances. You said yourself you were not initially allowed in the room. Did it occur to you you might have mixed context at the beginning of the session? Did it occur to you to ask anyone.
    d) Clarify. The more important the statement is, the more important it is to check you got it right. People make mistakes and although mistakes might make for a great lead story, I long ago decided I’d rather be on Page 3 with the truth than Page 1 with a beat-up.
    e) Check my ego at the door. See above sentence. This seems a major difference between bloggers (making money by audience numbers) and journalists (paid a wage to report facts). Your response to this whole thing speaks volumes for your character. Or lack thereof.

    I do not dispute that the general said what he did. I do think a true journalist, with a degree or otherwise, would have handled it very differently. But you have achieved what you no doubt wanted, notoriety and audience numbers. Where I come from, we have a different name for that than journalism . . .

  15. David Axe says:

    Thanks for the tips, Tracie. As a “journalist with a journalism degree,” can you prove your assertion that “what [I] no doubt wanted [was] notoriety and audience numbers”? I assure you that was not my aim.

  16. David Axe says:

    I’d LOVE to write for Rolling Stone! Thanks for the tip.

  17. David Axe says:

    Thanks for the advice, LCpL X. What’s your real name? I’d just like to know in case it turns out you’re actually threatening me. My full name is David Timothy Axe. I live in Columbia, S.C., at the intersection of Greene and Barnwell in the basement apartment. Where do you live?

  18. David Axe says:

    Tracie, I did not say “most” journalists don’t have J degrees. I said “many.” Please read more carefully.

  19. Pat Tillman's ghost says:

    I’m with David Axe.

    The General screwed up, he let the pussy cat out of the bag.

    If Delta or the Activity is in Korea, he should’ve kept his mouth shut.

    I’m glad, we have milbloggers, they remind me of hacktivists like the Jester.

    They don’t answer to editors, and shoot from the hip, where it counts.

    You’re doing God’s work, David, don’t let these people tell you otherwise.

    Thank you for your work.

  20. LCpl X says:

    I’m not threatening you, man. Don’t get scared, I’m just telling you that this little stunt, have pissed off the wrong people, now with this little BS apology sure is not helping. Have you ever gotten your throat punched? I suggest doing some swallowing exercises and neck raises to condition your neck, because it’s gonna hurt.

  21. David Axe says:

    LCpl X, please specify who the “wrong people” are so I can bake some cookies and print out invitations for them to visit. I’m assuming from your link that you’re Maximilian Uriarte and you live in San Francisco. You draw a pretty cool Web comic. I like the art. I can’t help but believe you’re actually a decent dude. I’ll be in San Francisco in July, right after my trip to San Diego (I’m making my periodic West Coast tour and passing through SD, LA and SF). I’d love to meet you in person, too, and have a beer or two or five. But before we can do that, you need to cut out all the “throat-punching” stuff. It actually is quite threatening and I’m pretty sure you don’t actually mean it. Guys don’t say stuff like that to other guys unless they’re ready to actually punch some throats.

  22. David Axe says:

    I’ll be at Comicon in San Diego in July. As a comics creator yourself, you should drop by.

  23. LCpl X says:

    You, fuck-tard. I’m just a fan, I’m not Terminal Lance, I’m LCpl X (a totally different franchise). The only way I’d meet you, is if you’d promise to lick my anus hair after 10 minutes of not wiping my ass. You are not a tough guy, bro, don’t attempt to play one.

    Again, I’m not threatening you,

    I’m basically giving you the same treatment you gave to a highly respected General. In this day of age, it’s easy to be a retard, you can write anything you want. Trust me, I know. But it all stops being cool, when actual people with important jobs get affected. You are not important, bro. You’re a critic, you don’t count. I’ve read your articles and they suck–all of them.

    Grow a pair, man up and be responsible. There’s a real world out there, and that’s my point.

    ~LCpl X ( is trademarked and selected for preservation by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” )

  24. David axe says:

    Then who are you? Be a man and hang a name on your posturing. Only cowards hide behind pseudonyms.

  25. LCpl X says:

    Like I said, LCpl X is a franchise, you don’t ask Banksy to spray paint his real name, just not cool, watch “Exit Throught the Gift Shop”. Fuck you, only cowards write apologies like that, you self serving twat. If you are going to see Brandon Webb in July, say hi for me and tell him I want back in, same terms apply-T9′s mine.

  26. LCpl X says:

    And don’t get me started with pseudepigraphy, bro. I’ll get this thread up to 500 comments.

  27. Anon says:

    That General should have been censured anyways for asking for that sort of gear for those kind of situations in a convention of all places. I’d think with the billions of dollars being spent on procurement they’d have other avenues of soliciting that sort of specialized equipment then a goddamn convention.

    LCpl X, just to make it clear it to you since you evidently need it spelled out but you are coming off like a standard internet tough guy. A idiot basically. That throat punching stuff got stupid after the first post then when the man gives you his address and invites you to a meeting you don’t reciprocate. Instead you pussy out and continue to hide behind a false link to a website which you sully by linking to your inane posts. The real kicker is asking the guy to ask someone for a job back yet still not giving him your name.

    So you are either a very elaborate and damn good troll, 10/10 for you. Or you actually are a loser who I’m guessing got kicked out of the military for something stupid and is trying to act all hardcore.

  28. Kevin Knodell says:

    Wow, this is quite a little flame war here. Grand.

    David’s about the classiest guy I know. He’s not a fame seeker, if he was, he wouldn’t be going out to places like Chad on his own dime. He’s not a coward, cowards don’t go broke going to warzones to report on what’s going on out there. He’s not trying to get rich, because as a fellow writer/photographer and contributor on this blog, I can tell you that is NOT where the money is.

    If David made an honest mistake (and if he did so, he’s not alone, the m-fing Army Times heard the same thing he did).

    And as someone who considers several Journalism professors to be mentors and inspirations to him, this history major happens to believe that J-School degrees aren’t the only way to make good journalists. Axe is one of the best.

    I’m not sure what all this throat punching is about. I do know that Terminal Lance is a great comic and everyone should read it.

  29. LCpl X says:

    @ Anon, Wrong on all counts. But good try. I didn’t start the whole throat punching thing, I’m using it as a joke here, metaphorically. Go to SOFREP and search for the “How to Behave Yourself in SOFREP” post. If you still think it’s stupid, then that’s your opinion and I respect that. And yes, Terminal Lance is good stuff and everyone should read it.

  30. James says:

    Well I’m certainly not going to read it now.

  31. KCfromKC says:

    I have a feeling our good “Lance Corporal” is writing all this for his audience, and not to you, David. Don’t feed the troll.

  32. Anon says:

    Yeah no, you strike me as a loser LCpl X. You basically threaten a neck punch, pussy out when a man gets serious, in a non threatening manner no less, then try to play it off as a joke? You are the joke.

    Hey you wouldn’t happen to be the same LCpl X on SOFREP who appears to be banned? I mean, you linked the site and that LCpl X’s comments seem to match the style of the ones on here. Then there is that whole “air winger” crap and the one over there says “As an AF guy I can understand why you haven’t mastered the pimp game.”

    Hah! I thought you were looking for an actual job but you wanted back in with a website? One that you apparently can’t even follow the rules you link to? Man, this is either a real strange effort at dragging a already banned person’s nickname through the mud or you just really suck that much.

  33. aditya says:

    David survived a IED blast and didnt brag about says the kind of guy he is and i think he owns a AK-47, throat punchers BEWARE !

  34. LCpl XXX says:

    I’m flattered you did your homework, man. It is indeed I, LCpl X, the very same. You definitely have a knack for textual criticism and analysis.

    If this is the first time you’ve ever visited SOFREP, I hope you leave this dump, wannabe, of a blog, and set up shop at SOFREP. I give more info and insights on that site as a troll, than David Axe could ever dream of prancing around in war zones, pretending to be a war correspondent. Ask around, I was banned for being too cool for school, nothing more. That site is so jammed pack with info, that even its resident troll, LCpl X, me, is a river of information, no other blog on earth can say that. Don’t be butt hurt, go to SOFREP.

    Of all the quotes, you picked my very own best one, it is both accurate and in context. And I approve. You should be a blogger. BZ.

  35. Kerin says:

    I hate Marines, they are all braggarts. Hang in their David. “This too shall pass”.

  36. ibook says:

    it’s cool how david axe, cloaked like a romulan bird-of-prey, to talk shit.

  37. Mr. K says:

    The dude puts his name out, tells you where he lives, goes to war zones, and bothers to talk to everyone who posts on his blog.

    Yeah, he must be terrified of some random troll on the ‘net who can’t post without a false name and proxy.

    Keep up the good work, Axe.

  38. Steve Weintz says:

    Hey Marine!

    Better keep your honor clean. It’s good you’re not Max Urarte – he’s a fine complement to the Corps. Your behavior suggests that you’re not.

  39. LCpl XXX says:

    There’s no honor on the web, man. There’s only agenda and personal mandates. Axe’s obviously is to sell books, and get his site hits up, at any cost.

    Could he have talked to Gen. Tolley’s staff to clear up some confusion, instead of burning the guy and kindling all this BS, of course, but that would’ve been the journalistic, honorable, common sensical thing to do, but that kinda shit just doesn’t sell shit anymore. Web 2.0 allows pussies like you guys to not hold down real jobs. I understand you have to be creative to bring numbers in and sell books. All I’m saying is, there’s a real world out. I’m not threatening Axe, I’m not going out on a date with him.

  40. LCpl X says:

    I’m not another fuckin’ blogger who you can invite out and drink beers with, hoping this little reverse psychology might work, leading to some sort of catalyst to an online relationship of mutual masturbation. I’m the guy that tells you the truth, I’m a truth troll. Spade, you’re a spade; Kettle, pot, you’re both black. That kinda shit. If you had a truth troll, like in SOFREP, you’d never had written that article. ~ LCpl X

  41. Long-time read, first-time poster says:

    David-
    I’m not sure you’re aware of it, but your apology comes off as petulant, whiny, and self-congratulatory. The tone is all-wrong. You’ve won the argument—now for heaven’s sake be humble in victory. You told truth to power; the system worked as expected. Go America. A highly-decorated, three decade veteran’s career is over. But, the apology and the flame war you indulged in above paints you as a fan boy more concerned with image than outcome. If you want your readers to treat you as a serious professional, this is thin gruel.
    -TJ

  42. Alex Cohen says:

    David,

    You should’ve gone over to talk to Gen. Tolley’s staff first or maybe their media rep for clarification. Due diligence, prior to actually printing. This was after all SOCOM, not ComicCon. Something this big, should’ve been cleared up first, before printing. That’s where you were wrong. All the events that transpired after, you have my full support.

    Alex Cohen

  43. Alejandro says:

    Wow, missed allot over the night. :P

    As far as procurement goes, we have reached a point where every general wishes for custom made gear as the current military industrial complex is incapable of fielding either a new fighter, bomber, self propelled artillery piece, or even side arm and rifle without at least seven competitions, eight different contests to the contract and eventual cancellation of the program due to cost overruns. (how many times has the army tried to replace the M113 and M109?)

    The gear General Trolly requested could be best described as theater grade. Microwave Energy Transmitters which have been in development for some time could fill the niche of power supply, while a E-LORAN array would be the only accurate navigation option when dealing with both possible enemy interference, and mapping subterranean structures. The North Koreans regularly jam American manned spy aircraft navigation’s systems and recently forced one of the Airforce’s Crazy Horse spy aircraft to make an emergency landing.

    It is for these reasons that their are still U-2 Spy Planes in Korea and will be till 2023. (Spy Drones are notoriously easy to bring down as they rely on GPS compared to their manned counterparts.) Basically the General has little to do in South Korea as his troops just perform regular excersises with the South Koreans.

    If war breaks out SOCOM will most likely just be sitting the war out as the first month will just be a massacre as the North and South slug it out with artillery and armored divisions. Civilian casualties are expected to be anywhere from 2-5 million on both sides and a few brigades will do little to change anything in a Total War.

    The only way the United States and South Korea will hold off a sudden North Korean Invasion is if they employ scorched earth tactics in Seoul on day one, begin mining all open pieces of land by the second day, and destroy all forms of mass transit by the end of the week, stranding close to 10 million civilians in-between a swampy mountain range and an advancing North Korean Army.

    The Air Force does not have enough bombers, mines, armor, or artillery to prevent a pyrric victory in Seoul, and it will be some time till the South Koreans or U.S. Navy can properly respond.

    Everyone knows that if the North Koreans were to invade that the “trip wire” force in Korea will suffer HEAVY casualties. (SOCOM included) But Since the items and gear needed for the Korean Peninsula are division grade equipment (Strategic Bombers, ASW aircraft, MBT’s, Self Propelled artillery Pieces, Amphibious landing vehicles and ships, oh and a lot of landmines) their is no way General Tolly will get his futuristic gear before stuff that the military needs for the regular military (which they won’t get either).

  44. Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

    Internet Tough Guy(tm) losers are hilarious. Always with the meaningless threats and associated nonsense. What a bunch of feebs.

  45. Greg Miles says:

    How dare you label Mr. Axe an internet tough guy, he’s been blown up, waded through the thickest jungle, gone thru TSA check points so much that he’s now fluent in ebonics, and still manages to visit military and trade conventions just to give us the scoop, the low down, from the hoe down. He’s not an internet tough guy, he’s an internet guy, tough on the stories. You don’t like his gumshoe, rubber meets the road reportage, go to SOFREP. You like comics, stay here, tough guy.

    How do you get that kinda avatar, tough guy?

  46. Vance says:

    “Air Wing”

    *snrk*

    Hang in there, David. As my Dad used to tell me, “Don’t let the turkeys get you down.”

    You proved to me that you reported accurately, including checking with the other reporters to ensure that they heard the same thing you heard.

    As a vet, I’ve noticed that sometimes we think because we served we’re infallible.

    To quote Blue Öyster Cult, “History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of men. Go, go, Godzilla.”

  47. Pepe Rosales says:

    War is boring? THIS blog is boring!

  48. Brian says:

    This whole thread is weak. Lets move on to the news. Shit happens. Learn from it. Drop it. MOVE ON.

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