Podcast

That time Sen. Mitch McConnell was fooled by 'Duffel Blog'

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You might think that, somewhere along the way, someone in the staff of a senior senator from Kentucky would have figured out what Duffel Blog really was. Instead, in 2012, a concerned constituent actually had the Senator's office send a formal letter to the Pentagon concerning Duffel Blog's report of the VA extending benefits to Guantanamo Bay detainees.


What Duffel Blog is, on its face, is a satirical news website that covers the military. At the very least, we all laugh. We laugh at the brave Airman who sent his steak back at the DFAC and the Army wife who re-enlisted her husband indefinitely using a general power of attorney. We laugh because the stories' absurdities are grounded in the reality of military culture.

Duffel Blog and its writers are more than brilliant. What it does at its best is play the role of court jester – delivering hard truths hidden inside jokes. In the case of Senator McConnell's office sending a letter of concern to the Pentagon over a Duffel Blog piece, the site was hammering the VA, equating using its services to punishing accused terrorists in one of the most notorious prisons in the world.

We laugh, but they're talking about the VA we all use – and we laugh because there's truth to the premise.

Paul Szoldra is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Duffel Blog, former Military and Defense Editor at Business Insider, and was instrumental in the creation of We Are The Mighty. He's now a columnist at Task & Purpose.

Szoldra speaks at the Got Your 6 Storytellers event in Los Angeles, Calif.(Television Academy)

Speaking truth to power is not difficult for Szoldra, even when the power he speaks to is one that is so revered by the American people that it's nearly untouchable by most other media. We live in an age where criticizing politicians is the order of the day, but criticizing the military can be a career-ending endeavor. You don't have to be a veteran to criticize military leadership, but it helps.

"If you go back on the timeline far enough, you'll find a lot of bullsh*t," Szoldra says, referring specifically to comments made by generals about the now 17-year-old war in Afghanistan. "And I have no problem calling it out, highlighting it where need be."

Szoldra doesn't like that the top leadership of the U.S. military exists in what he calls a "bubble" and can get away with a lot because of American support for its fighting men and women — those fighting the war on the ground. Szoldra, who left the Marine Corps as a sergeant in 2010, was one of those lower-enlisted who fought the war. When he writes, he writes from that perspective.

Szoldra as a Marine in Afghanistan(Paul Szoldra)

"If we're talking about sending troops into Syria... I wonder what does that feel like to the grunt on the ground," Szoldra says. "I don't really care too much about the general and how he's going to deal with the strategy, I wonder about the 20-something lance corporal that I used to be trying to find IEDs with their feet."

His work is thoughtful and, at times, intense, but always well-founded. Szoldra also does a semi-regular podcast with Terminal Lance creator, Max Uriarte, where they have honest discussion about similar topics. Those discussions often take more of a cultural turn and it feels more like you're listening to Marine grunts wax on about the way things are changing – because that's exactly what it is, with just as much honesty as you'd come to expect from Paul Szoldra and his ongoing body of work.

Szoldra and Max Uriarte record their podcast.(After Action with Max and Paul)

If you liked Szoldra on the show, read his work on Task & Purpose, give After Action with Max and Paul a listen, and get the latest from Duffel Blog. If you aren't interested in the latest and just want the greatest, pick up Mission Accomplished: The Very Best of Duffel Blog, Volume One at Amazon.

And for a (potentially) limited time, you can get the Duffel Blog party game "WTF, Over? The Duffel Box" by donating to the game's Kickstarter campaign.

Resources Mentioned

3 Key Points

  • The very best of Duffel Blog
  • The times Duffel Blog articles were mistaken for real news
  • Duffel Blog's new party game

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