The Archangel Group, Ltd. is a private consulting group “providing training and consulting to U.S. military, law enforcement and government agencies, in addition to schools of all levels in the fields of terrorism, security and combat tactics.” Following the shootings at Virginia Tech, the group took the initiative to investigate the Blacksburg tragedy. No government agency requested or paid for the group’s research. Their findings were published on September 5, 2008, in a report entitled: “AFTER ACTION REVIEW: An Evaluation and Assessment of the Law Enforcement Tactical Response to the Virginia Tech University Shootings of Monday 16 April 2007.”
On September 13, 2008, Washington Post staff reporter Theresa Vargas wrote an article on the report entitled, “Report Hails Va. Tech Police Response.” The following is an examination of Ms. Vargas’s article.
This is the first of several articles the author plans on doing related to the Archangel Group’s report on Virginia Tech. To sit by and say nothing when faced with Archangel’s biases, self-serving analysis, and intellectual dishonesty, would be unconscionable.
THERESA VARGAS: DID YOU READ THE REPORT?
Washington Post staff writer, Theresa Vargas’ coverage of the Archangel Group’s “After Action Review” of the shootings at Virginia Tech is an extreme disappointment. Anyone reading her article is left wondering, “Did you even read the 144-page report, Ms. Vargas?”
Ms. Vargas blithely accepts many of the reports assertions, does not investigate or compare the Archangel report with the findings of Governor Kaine’s review panel, and finally she accepts the report at face value. She does not give any indication that she critically examined the credentials of the people writing the report. Whatever happened to investigative reporting?
By engaging in such superficial journalism, Ms. Vargas has done nothing but help Virginia Tech and the police cover-up their shortcomings and weaknesses. She has played into the hands of school and police officials who engage in circular reasoning and disingenuous analysis.
Let me ask you Ms. Vargas—if the Archangel Group makes its living by selling its services to police and security forces, do you really expect them to be critical of the Blacksburg, Virginia Tech, or Virginia State Police? Let me pose this to you—Governor Kaine’s report on the shooting states that the Virginia State Police and ATF “declined” to turn over documents on Seung Hui Cho’s application to buy weapons. Why didn’t the Archangel Group report that? Others have described the refusal of the Virginia State Police and ATF to cooperate with the Governor’s investigation as “despicable.”
Ms. Vargas—look at the Archangel’s manipulation of the facts when it comes to discussing why neither Virginia Tech nor any of the police departments called for locking the campus down after the first shooting. Archangel asserts that a lockdown would create “better mass killing conditions.” If that is true, why is the state university system of New York implementing a lockdown system on all its campuses? Indeed, the SUNY campuses at Binghamton and Oneonta already have such systems in place—four strokes on a key board and they can lock down nearly all campus buildings. You needed to delve more deeply into the idea of campus lockdowns to determine whether or not the Archangel Group is making a valid point. Your reporting would have been better served and more ethical if you had given the other side of the “lockdown” argument.
I am puzzled why Ms. Vargas’ article in the Post doesn’t talk about the fact that the line of reasoning in the Archangel report is internally inconsistent—first, according to the report, you cannot use hindsight to criticize the police and university. Then the report uses hindsight to justify the actions of both police and university officials. The report cannot have it both ways. No where does Ms. Vargas’ story indicate that the underlying tone of the report wanders back and forth from matter-of-fact, to shrill, to defensive and then back again.
Perhaps the most glaring omission from Ms. Vargas’ article is her failure to look at the report’s conclusions. The Archangel report is about Virginia Tech, yet the second paragraph of the summary deals with al-Qaeda. Using blatant scare tactics, the report asserts that “al-Qaeda and its associated groups have monitored this situation.” This is absolutely incredible. There is no connection between the Virginia Tech shooting and al-Qaeda. To put that connection in the conclusion is an incredible violation of intellectual honesty!! The al-Qaeda reference is sensationalism at its worst!
The report makes several references to the shootings at Columbine; that is fine. But no where does the report compare the shootings at Virginia Tech to the shootings at the Appalachian School of Law. No where does the report look at the parallels between the feeble actions of police and school officials to the events before, during, and after the two shootings—at both schools. If the Archangel Group wanted to do a thorough analysis of the Virginia Tech shooting then they would have looked at the similarities between the Virginia Tech and the shootings at the Appalachian School of Law. Such a comparison would have been far more insightful than only a comparison between Virginia Tech and Columbine.
Ms. Vargas—your story has let all of us down. You have done a disservice to the victims of school shootings everywhere. Your failure to follow the basic tenants of good journalism—to investigate and to analyze—has given a boost to the cover-up of the real story of the shootings at Virginia Tech and the Appalachian School of Law.