“Sua Sponte”: Critics and Veterans Slam Media Attack On Sen. Cotton’s Service Claims

There is an ongoing controversy triggered by an article in Salon suggesting that Sen. Tom Cotton had lied about being an Army Ranger in describing his military service. The Salon article by Roger Sullenberger claimed that Arkansas senator Tom Cotton “felt compelled to repeatedly falsify that honorable military record.” It is an accusation that borders on a claim of stolen valor and could not be more insulting, particularly for someone with a highly distinguished military service record. The article has been denounced as part of a smear campaign by conservative sites like National Review but also veterans as unfair and inaccurate.

Ironically, the regimental motto of the Rangers is the Latin phrase sua sponte, or “of their own accord.” There appears debate on whose accord is controlling on such questions.

Cotton volunteered to serve and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He was deployed with the 101st Airborne in Iraq and was promoted to first lieutenant. He also served in Afghanistan. He was awarded a Bronze Star, two Army Commendation MedalsCombat Infantryman BadgeRanger tabAfghanistan Campaign Medal, and Iraq Campaign Medal.

False or exaggerated military records have been raised over political claims in the past.  Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., claimed on repeated occasions that he served in Vietnam when he had been in a Marine Reserve unit that was never sent overseas. In one article in May 2008, Blumenthal claimed that “when we returned from Vietnam, I remember the taunts, the verbal and even physical abuse we encountered.” There is no ambiguity on that claim.

However, Cotton not only went to Ranger School and received a Ranger badge but went into combat. Cotton received his Ranger badge and then served with the 101st Airborne Division. As a military history nut, I have discussed the “Screaming Eagles” in prior columns as one of the most storied and revered forces in United States military history.  Cotton was in combat with one of the most elite units in the world.  He never claimed claimed to have served in the 75th Ranger Regiment. Instead, he claimed that he “volunteered to be an Army Ranger” and referred to himself as a ranger on occasion.  Sullenberger maintains that that does not make him an “actual Army Ranger,” but that is not a view shared by some other rangers.  There is no balance in the article. Such countervailing views appeared in coverage following the Salon article.

The Arkansas Times interviewed Command sergeant major Rick Merritt, who served in the 75th Ranger Regiment, who denounced the premise of Salon’s article as “absurd,” “unfair,” and “almost slanderous.” Conversely, Rep. Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat who served in the 75th Ranger Regiment, criticized Cotton for referring to himself as an Army Ranger, tweeting a picture of a Ranger in uniform with “Hey @SenTomCotton, unless you wore one of these berets you shouldn’t be calling yourself a Ranger. Truth matters.”

The National Review takes apart that claim and notes that veterans insist that Cotton was a Ranger. Moreover, it noted that major publications have referred to graduates of Ranger school as rangers in the same way as Cotton did. Notably, critics pointed out that Newsweek slammed Cotton after the Salon story but in 2015 used the same description of graduates from the school who did not serve in the actual Ranger regiment. Rather than change its criticism of Cotton, Newsweek quietly changed the 2015 article to remove the reference to being a Ranger.

As the site military.com noted, “the 75th Ranger Regiment requires its soldiers to complete its own eight-week selection process. Upon completing the course, soldiers are allowed to wear a distinctive tan beret with their uniform.” Cotton took the U.S. Army’s Ranger School, a roughly eight-week leadership course on light-infantry tactics. While Salon dismissed the school as a course that “literally anyone in the military is eligible to attend,” military.com wrote

To be clear, serving in the 75th Ranger Regiment or completing the Army’s Ranger School are both significant accomplishments. The vast majority of service members have neither served in a special operations unit nor attended Ranger School, both of which are physically and mentally grueling tasks. Neither are required to be eligible for the other — the only exception being that 75th Ranger Regiment leaders, such as commissioned officers, are required to complete Ranger School.

This does strike me as unfair. Salon as a long history of such hits pieces, particularly against Cotton. For example, the Arkansas Times noted prior pieces entitled “10 frightening facts about Tom Cotton” and “Chair of the imbecile caucus: Sen. Tom Cotton proudly stands at the vanguard of shameless Republican obstructionism.” This latest article was entitled in a way to be used by an Internet mob to suggest a type of stolen valor: “Sen. Tom Cotton campaigned on his “experience as an Army Ranger” — but he didn’t have any.”  This was a man who earned his Ranger badge but served with an elite airborne division.  The headline makes it sound like he was back in the states with the motor pool.  Normally, this type of issue would warrant a parenthetical in a profile piece.

I have no problem with raising this issue. Indeed, I find it interesting. This appears to be a long-standing matter of debate. Frankly, I do not see why Cotton did not just identify himself as Airborne with the Screaming Eagles, which is an enormous distinction. However, the Salon piece is typical of the slanted and sensational coverage that is now common among publications. Articles are designed to thrill audiences in our siloed media where people expect nothing confirmation of their own biases. These sites on the left and the right contribute to the anger and divisions in the country.

236 thoughts on ““Sua Sponte”: Critics and Veterans Slam Media Attack On Sen. Cotton’s Service Claims”

  1. A Bronze Star and a CIB is all I need to know. There were Marines who worked in finance who got attacked and fought during the Tet offensive. They didn’t have Ranger tabs but so what?

  2. For some reason this email never made it to my inbox and seemed to disappear so I am posting again. Sorry for the double posting if it ends up appearing twice. Has to do with heinous claims against Cotton’s military service and Ranger status.

    Anonymous the Stupid is unable to comprehend. Where does it say one has to be a member of the 75th to be a Ranger? You have posted this link multiple times and that still hasn’t helped your comprehension. You have used links to other sites, cut and paste, meaningless words, quotes that do not say what you think they say. You have made a Stupid mess of your arguments to impugn the integrity of a Ranger with an incredible military history.

    You do everything but go to the source. That requires brains and you are Anonymous the Stupid for a reason. You are Stupid and arrogant, a bad combination.

    One can be selected for the Ranger Hall of Fame under the following conditions:

    “The selection criteria is as unique as our Ranger history. To be eligible for selection to the Hall of Fame, a person must be deceased or have been separated, or retired from active military service for at least three years at the time of nomination. He must have served in a Ranger unit in combat ******* or be a successful graduate of the U.S. Army Ranger School.******* ”


    At the graduation of female Rangers Maj. Gen. Scott Miller said to the women:

    “You’ll leave Victory Pond today with a small piece of cloth on your shoulder, but more importantly, you carry the title of Ranger from here on out”

    Anonymous the Stupid, what do you think “YOU CARRY THE TITLE OF RANGER FROM HERE ON OUT” means? Are you too Stupid to comprehend that simple sentence?

    I don’t care that you don’t know what you are talking about and provide links that prove you to lack reading comprehension skills. Stupidity can be addressed. What cannot be addressed is your arrogant and heinous desire to impugn the integrity of anyone you happen to disagree with. In this case you did it to a man who served with honor in combat in the military while receiving multiple medals. What that man wipes his butt with has more character than you will ever have.

  3. Power Line has the full explanation of Cottons claims, vs what Slate reported.

    In short, The Rangers say that every graduate of ranger school is a Ranger.

    Cotton never claimed to have be deployed as a Ranger.

    Go to Powerline, all the links and quotes are there and you can reach your own informed opinion.

    At the very least, Slates story is dishonest and lies by omission.

  4. The weird thing is, if Joe Biden suddenly announced he identifies as a woman, the Left would crown him the first female American President. But when Senator Cotton claims to have served in the military as an Army Ranger, they will spend eternity picking the fly $hit out of the pepper to discredit his honorable service to this country.

    1. Excellent.

      Sen. Cotton identifies as a ranger – does the left require us to respect peoples chosen identities ?

      Sen. Cotton should list ranger as one of his prefered pronouns.

      This is a stupid fight for the left. The distinction being made is petty. It has more to do with the patches on can wear on their uniform – and Cotton has plenty of those.

    2. It’s very common for people to be mislead when someone says he has a bronze star, leaving people to believe this is one hell of fighter. It seems the receipts never bother to say , no i dont have V for combat. They just let those who don’t know assume they are the real deal of combat. Notice how no one says mr,cotton doesn’t have the V. I wonder why ?

      1. Even mentioning the other citations that Cotton has would destroy this stupid argument.

        Cotton could as easily have said “I was a screaming eagle” and it would have had the same impact on voters.
        Cotton is a warrior. He is entitled to that respect.

        There are real warriors entitled to more respect than Cotton – Cotton has not claimed to be them, and they have not pissed on Cotton.

        Thus far there is no evidence that Rep. Crow is as much of a warrior as Cotton.

        While no one should piss on Crow’s service in the 75th, and he got a bronze star for something. he does not appear to have a fraction of the citations that Cotton does.

        Crow’s fixation on Beret’s is real thin – cloths do not make the man.

        Real soldiers know what each and every citation on your uniform actually means.

      2. I wonder why ?

        I don’t. Senator Cotton served this nation with honor. The majority of those that do will live the remainder of their lives in relative obscurity and no one will question their fitreps, awards and medals. But in our current age of rage, if you dare to be a conservative Republican and you pop up on the cancel culture’s radar, you will be forced to defend your military record from initial entry to discharge (resignation). The fact is Senator Cotton is a rising star for conservatives and the Left wants to do to him what enemy combatants failed to do.

        1. Look at the nonsense attacks – Cotton is also attacked for being a Nazi white supremacist.

          Because – well all republicans and half the country are Nazi white supremacists and nascent domestic terrorists.

          I thought that Cotton’s argument to use the Insurrection act was a bit too strong – and then the left went full bull goose loon over the insurrection act because somebody stole Pelosi’s laptop and members of congress almost ended up having to rub elbows with the Prols.

  5. The argument about a graduate of Ranger school who does not serve in a Ranger Battalion being entitled to claiming to be a Ranger is undone by the way Rangers choose Inductees for the Ranger Hall of Fame.

    Read the profiles of those selected by their Peers for the Honor of being in the Ranger Hall of Fame….we are blessed to have such Men among us.

    When you complete Ranger School….and fellow Rangers pin that Tab on your shoulder…..you are a Ranger.


  6. 157 comments on this nonsense, including 10 from MollyG and 14 from Gainesville (under two different handles).

      1. Of you are investing to “stick it to the man” – you are likely to get slaughtered.

        Make your own reasoned assessment of the actual value based on YOUR criteria.

        The only thing any of this demonstrates is that value is an abstract rather than concrete concept.

        “All money is a matter of belief.” — Adam Smith

        All VALUE is a matter of beleif.

    1. this is an actual example of real free markets at work.

      There is NOTHING wrong with what the short sellers are doing.
      There is NOTHING wrong with what those on Reditt are doing.

      There is absolutely no reason to regulate EITHER.

      Sagar and Ball are complete idiots with respect to economics and markets.

      But they accidentally trip over a core principle of economics.

      The ONLY true value of anything is what a willing buyer and a willing sellor agree to.

      There is no other actual value.

      Short Sellors are betting that the value of something declines. The very act of short selling on a large enough scale cases that value to decline. Conversely ordinary buyers willing to pay a higher price drive the value UP.

      These changes in value ARE real. As real as the value of a car.
      It is entirely possible the value of Gamestop is much higher than the market percieved several days ago.
      It is also possible that the recent SM driven rise in value will collapse.
      That can not be known in the moment.

      If the social media stock warriors are profiting at the expense of hedge fund short sellers – Great.
      It is also possible that in the long run the “winners” will be the hedge funds if the market ultimately finds the stock value is way too high.

      It is not possible to know. Value is determined by peoples choices and those change.

  7. Contrast what is said in this article and what lefties like Joe Friday said. Joe has been wrong on almost everything and to this day doesn’t admit it. This set of releases are from Page’s and McCabe’s own notes.

    The video “ transcript shows FBI knew Carter Page allegations were false before FISA”

    How can our local lefties keep on singing the same old and dirty songs?

    Obstruction boomerang: FBI knew DOJ was preparing to fire Comey long before Trump ordered it
    Rosenstein offered to wear wire on Trump, wanted fired Comey’s advice on special counsel, newly declassified memos show.

    Newly declassified FBI memos provide startling new details that undercut the frenzied 2017 effort to investigate Donald Trump for obstruction, revealing the FBI knew Director James Comey’s firing had been conceived by Justice Department leadership long before the president pulled the trigger during a key moment in the Russia probe.

    Continued with documents at: https://justthenews.com/accountability/russia-and-ukraine-scandals/obstruction-boomerang-fbi-knew-comey-firing-was-planned?utm_source=daily-newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter#article

    1. We keep hearing about “right wing conspiracy theories”.

      What shocks me is that the truth is so much WORSE.
      While I grasped that the collusion delusion was total idiocy in 2017.

      Today it is not only idiocy – but the FBI KNEW it was idiocy AT THE TIME and went ahead anyway.

      The arrogance, Hubris, of this is beyond beleif.

      One of the recently declassified documents proves that Fiona Hill – who testified against Trump in the first impeachment hearing, refered the person the FBI knew to be a Russian spy to Steele as the primary subsource.

      It is shocking how the same names come up over and over in this.

      Further – why was this information kept from the house intel committee – especially during impeachment.

      What could be more relevant to Hill’s credibility as a witness than the fact that she was an actual participant in concocting the “collusion delusion” ?

      I think one of the other things that recently came out was that not only was the infamous pee tape mythical – the FBI KNEW it was nonsense in 2016.

      1. This tells us that the powers on the left are looking to create a fascist (empire?) where the elites have near total control, not all that different from the CCP. The left is significantly there.

        As an aside a 30 year old journalist was arrested for blogging about the election. They have charged him with a statute that doesn’t apply. His “lies” which were his opinions were considered dangerous. I don’t yet know enough about the case but to me it sounds like intimidation, a tactic government uses to push people to act in the fashion they desire. Government intimidation is common in all industry especially the healthcare sector but in this case the intimidation is political with a potential 10 year jail term.

        1. I do not think the relentlessness with which leftist ideas lead to authoritaianism is intentional. It is just inevitable.

          As Lord Acton noted – Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

          Top down schemes of political economy incentive the pursuit of power,

          More and more we are starting to see those on the left talk with the same language as Stalinist and Maoists.
          Of repression, and censorship and reeducation and gulags.
          Today these seem stupid remarks easily dissmissed.
          Soon enough they will be real if we do not change direction.

          1. ” do not think the relentlessness with which leftist ideas lead to authoritaianism is intentional. It is just inevitable.”

            For many of those in leadership fascism is the desired product. “Leftism” is the advertisement.

  8. Apologies for using Wikipedia. It’s a fast and dirty way to refer to casual references to “ranger” as opposed to the 75th. Saying that the Army Ranger School is open to nearly all members of the military is like saying that Navy Seal candidacy is open to nearly all members of the Navy. Well, yeah, if the latter has the ASVAB score. Attending doesn’t mean you can finish. Ranger school is not an extension class on knitting.

    “United States Army Rangers, according to the US Army’s definition, are personnel, past or present, in any unit that has the official designation of “Ranger”.[1][2] The term is commonly used to include graduates of the US Army Ranger School, even if they have never served in a “Ranger” unit. [3]

    In a broader and less formal sense, the term “ranger” has been used, officially and unofficially, in North America since the 17th century, to describe light infantry in small, independent units – usually companies.”


    “Ranger School is open to soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen in the U.S. Armed Forces, as well as select allied military students. The course is conducted in various locations. Benning Phase occurs in and around Camp Rogers and Camp Darby at Fort Benning, Georgia. Mountain Phase is conducted at Camp Merrill, in the remote mountains near Dahlonega, Georgia. Swamp Phase is conducted in the coastal swamps at various locations near Camp Rudder, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

    The United States Army Ranger School is not organizationally affiliated with the 75th Ranger Regiment. Ranger School falls under control of the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command as a school open to most members of the United States Army, but the 75th Ranger Regiment is a Special Operations warfighting unit organized under the United States Army Special Operations Command. The two share a common heritage and subordinate battalions common lineage, and Ranger School is a requirement for all officers and non-commissioned officers (NCO) of the 75th Ranger Regiment.[4]

    Those graduating from Ranger School are presented with the Ranger Tab, which is worn on the upper shoulder of the left sleeve of a military uniform, according to U.S. Army regulations[5] Wearing the tab is permitted for the remainder of a soldier’s military career. The cloth version of the tab is worn on the Army Combat Uniform and Army Green Service Uniform; a smaller, metal version is worn on the Army Service Uniform.[6]”


  9. It was dishonorable to slander Senator Cotton in such a manner.

    Nowhere, that I can find, did Sen Cotton claim to be with the 75th. He’s entitled to refer to himself as a Ranger because he completed that program.

    Speaking of which, I’ve known Paratroopers before. They are pretty bada*(&. Their parachutes are deliberately made smaller than for recreational jumping. As soon as they jump out of that plane, they’re targets. So the Army wants them on the ground as fast as possible. When they hit, they hit hard.

    I’ve hard lots of stories about jumps, such as if someone ends up directly above another paratrooper, they can descend until they are “walking” atop the chute below. This can collapse that chute, and/or cause them to entangle.

    If a paratrooper really, really wants to respond in the affirmative, they yell “Airborne!”

    Our military deserve our thanks and respect. To claim that Cotton’s service or claims were in any way stolen valor is reprehensible.

    1. I am prepared to listen to criticism of Sen. Cotton’s self identification as a Ranger from those few truly better qualified to claim that identity. There are few if any who have done so.

      There are with absolute certainty those within the military with a stronger claim to prestige and honor than Sen. Cotton – but their numbers are miniscule. Cotton is indesputably in the 1% of the warrior class – if not in the 0.1%

      He has nothing to be ashamed of and those defaming him are themselves shameful.

      I did not vote for Trump in 2016 and 2020. ONE of the reasons were his remarks about McCain.

      I have no problems with attacking McCain politically – or in a wide variety of other ways.

      But John McCain – for all his other flaws – and he had plenty, was an actual hero.

  10. It’s not like the 75th Infantry Regiment is any great shakes. I recall the 75th’s shameful treatment of Pat Tillman and their charmig customs of falsifying records and awarding their officers Silver Stars for falsifying records.

  11. Jonathan: Why do you find it important to defend Senator Tom Cotton against Salon’s charges that he falsely claimed he was a “US Army Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan”? Everyone knows politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, have exaggerated their military experience to win the “patriotic” vote. Cotton is no different. In his 2014 campaign for the Senate Cotton falsely claimed he “made tough decisions as an Army Ranger in Iraq”. In fact, Cotton never served in the 75th Ranger Regiment in either Iraq or Afghanistan which would be the only legitimate reason to make such a claim. So Cotton lied to get his Senate seat. No big deal. Not compared to the over 30,000 lies Trump piled up during his 4 years in office.

    You say “the Salon piece is typical of the slanted and sensational coverage that is now common among publications”. You really mean LIBERAL publications don’t you? If you you really want “slanted and sensational” news coverage you need look no further than FoxNews or Newsmax who spew out bushels of the stuff 24/7. I don’t recall you ever criticizing Fox News for their “slanted and sensational” coverage, probably because you often appear as a guest. I think the reason you defend Cotton is that he sees himself as the heir to “Trumpism” . He wants to run for president in 2024. For 4 years Cotton has pushed the Trump agenda, from immigration to supporting Trump’s call to use federal troops to forcefully put down demonstrations after the killing of George Floyd. Although Cotton refused to join his Republican colleagues in opposing the certification of the Electoral College vote, probably because such a move would make him radioactive to most voters, he did come out yesterday saying he opposes the impeachment trial of Trump. Cotton is a true believer in the Trump model. But Cotton can’t run away from his long record as an enabler of Trump’s many abuses of power. If he decides to run for president in 2024. Cotton won’t be able to explain away his dismal record as just another case of “politics” as he tried to do with the Salon piece. Gee, what’s next? A column defending Georgia’s House Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a proponent of QAnon conspiracy theories who thinks Nancy Pelosi should get a “bullet in the head”?

    1. Just hope your prepared for your final judgement. Tight slanted narrow minded out of context evaluations are great when your judging hope your prepared.

    2. The only people who have the right to challenge Cotton’s identification as a Ranger are the few who have an even stronger claim to that Identification that Cotton.

      Completely Ranger School and being awarded a Ranger Tab is sufficient to call yourself a ranger.

      It is not sufficient to wear a ranger Beret.

      This is the typical bad semantic arguments made by those on the left.

      Unlike Biden and Trump – Cotton actually served – with distinction in elite units.
      Unlikely Blumenthal – Cotton actually went to war

  12. Everyone in the Army calls guys (and now gals) with a Ranger tab “Ranger.” We all know the difference, and I’ve served with some guys who wear a 75th Regt (or on of the Batts) Scroll combat patch.

    1. If you served in the 75th and distinguish your self from Cotton – I am OK with that.

      But I am not interested in BS from idiots who did not serve the country over whether a distingushed soldier who earned a ranger tab can call themselves a ranger.

      BTW If Turley is correct – Cotton’s Ranger Tab made him eligible to serve in the 75th – but NOT as an officer. That would have required an additional 8 weeks.

  13. I have friends who completed Ranger school but served in other units after that. They had the Ranger tab. They greeted each other with pride. It is a big accomplishment.
    I think this is petty quibbling

    Sal Sar

    1. Especially when it’s coming from civilians and pogues who don’t know which end the gun the bullet comes out of.

      1. If you have more elite service credentials that Sen. Cotton – you can complain that he is not a “real ranger”.

  14. I still subscribe to Salon so I can have something to line bird cages and wrap fish with. It however doesn’t work as TP for removal of the latter half of BravoSierra as it comes pre-overloaded with it.

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