Hi there! It’s your friendly neighborhood journalist here to shed some journalistic light on the happenings of today and yesterday. The last few days (and months) have been quite unlike any other on this subreddit. The outpouring of hate, anger, disbelief, and support (for Grusch) has been immense. Now that the emotions have slightly subsided, I thought it would be a good idea to write an anatomy of Klippenstein’s reporting and give some insight into what went wrong.
Klippenstein talked at length about what made him want to write the story the way that he did. In the X/Twitter Space yesterday and in the Breaking Points interview today, he gave these two main reasons:
1. He kept reading the words “decorated war hero” over and over again. This made him suspicious; why was all the coverage so positive? Was there something being held back? This is a good journalistic instinct. When the press is foaming at the mouth, something is off.
2. He wanted to approach his sources instead of having his sources approach him. Again, this is good journalistic practice. That way, he could minimize the chances of being the vessel for a hit job, smear job, placed story, or whatever you want to call it.
With this, he began his investigation. He contacted his sources at the DoD and the IC, and he sent out a call for tips. In that call, he specifically said that he wasn’t looking for negative or positive tips. He refers to his sources as people kind of “like Grusch” i.e., GS-14, GS-15. He specifically called these people up because they’re “like middle men” who are knowledgeable and competent but aren’t mired in politics like the ranks above them. Quick note: he sometimes throws the words “rank and file” in there, while Grusch and people like him are definitely not “rank and file”. Seems a bit unnecessarily careless to me.
Klippenstein has stated several times that his sources were a sort of “mosaic” — everyone was giving him vague tips on where to look. Not to any documents or locations, just to look into Grusch’s past ‘incidents’ and run-ins with the law. He also states that no ‘positive’ tips came in. So, Klippenstein did what a good journalist would do and filed a broad FOIA request with the police department of Grusch’s zip codes (he could find his home address through a database that I regularly use too) for the years that Grusch spent living there. Klippenstein is very experienced with FOIA requests, so he knew exactly what to ask for and how to ask for it.
That gave him two incident reports, which undoubtedly most of you have read. In 2014 and 2018, Grusch got 9/11 called on him by his wife because he was drunk and suicidal. He was not abusive towards her, but apparently just severely struggling with PTSS. After the 2018 incident, Grusch got treatment for his troubles and got better. A year later, according to Grusch, he started his investigation into UAPs.
Klippenstein tried to get a comment from Grusch by emailing and calling him, to no avail. Again, hearing all sides of the story is a critical element of any serious journalistic endeavor. Grusch didn’t respond and instead alerted Coulthard to this development, trying to get ahead of the story. He also called the police to ask whether anyone had asked for the incident reports, and they answered in the negative. This made Grusch and Coulthard believe these files were illegally leaked by the IC, which they of course technically were, but no documents were handed over to Klippenstein, just pointed tips. Why the police released the documents and gave Grusch the wrong answer is now being investigated, according to Coulthard. Apparently, those documents weren’t suitable for release according to Virginia law.
Writing the story
For Klippenstein, there were two main takeaways from the documents and tips that he received:
1. Grusch didn’t get his security clearance revoked after the incidents. Klippenstein stated in the Space and during the BP interview that people have gotten their security clearance revoked for way less. He gave White House staffers getting their clearance revoked for smoking weed as an example. His sources indicated that the IC really is a ‘community’ where people watch out for and back each other up, and thus Grusch was able to maintain his clearance. This is a genuinely interesting fact that is absolutely newsworthy.
2. Grusch is an alcoholic and thus less trustworthy. We’re now getting to the part where Klippenstein dropped the ball(s). Grusch got treatment and, by all accounts, got better a good amount of time before he started his UAP investigation. On BP, Klippenstein got pressed by Saagar Enjeti (shoutout to him) on this, but Enjeti unfortunately pressed on the metaphorical brake pedal after they had established that Grusch got better after his second incident and only started his investigation a year later. Regardless, the implication that this fact wasn’t newsworthy at all was very apparent. As a final note, Klippenstein absolutely did not intend to use Grusch’s PTSS against him. He was merely concerned with Grusch’s alcohol abuse.
The article itself really does a disservice to the relatively good journalism Klippenstein had been doing. This can be explained by the following quote from Klippenstein, said during the BP interview: “I don’t think [Grusch] is correct about [the UFO stuff].” Klippenstein wanted to be very transparent as to what his own personal opinions on the matter are, because, according to him, there’s no way it would not impact his reporting. And, unfortunately, it did.
The flawed execution
The journalistic rigor that Klippenstein exhibited during the pitch and research phases really falls apart in the article (and in his responses to critics). Here are some critiques that I think are fair:
1. Klippenstein purposefully avoided the top brass because they’re too mired in politics, but why did he quote them then? This was one of Enjeti’s concerns as well. Why quote Susan Gough, the top Pentagon spin doctor, in this story? Was it really necessary? Doesn’t this just make the story unnecessarily negative? It seems to only detract from the quality of the story.
2. Leading the story with Grusch’s mental health issues was a bad idea. This was definitely not the best way to present the story. Not only were Grusch’s issues resolved prior to his investigation, the framing gives the impression that Klippenstein faults Grusch for having PTSS. This understandably rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Klippenstein, as an experienced journalist, could’ve and should’ve seen this coming. An alternative could’ve been to drop the whole mental health angle, and focus on Grusch’s former colleagues calling him unreliable.
3. Klippenstein let his misguided personal opinions cloud his reporting. Klippenstein has repeatedly stated that he does not agree with Grusch. According to Klippenstein, there is a UAV (Unidentified Arial Vehicle) retrieval program that is highly secretive, and there is a genuine anti-whistleblower culture at the top brass. Where Klippenstein disagrees with Grusch is the idea that these UAVs are extraterrestrial, or “space aliens”. Not only would Grusch probably be way, way better read into this than Klippenstein, but Grusch never claimed that these UAP/UAV were extraterrestrial/alien. From the get-go, Grusch has stated that he likes to keep the aperture open by stating that these crafts are of non-human origin and their occupants are of non-human intelligence. Why Klippenstein got the impression that Grusch did claim they were aliens is pretty baffling.
4. His responses to critics were utterly ridiculous. The way he was goofing off on X/Twitter is very unbecoming of a serious journalist. Posting, “Get in loser, we’re triggering UFO nerds”, for example, was totally unwarranted and supremely arrogant. This type of behavior should really only be reserved for non-controversial topics, and should not be exhibited when you’re receiving the hardest pushback you’ve ever experienced (as he himself admitted). Yes, not all of it was deserved, but the story was not perfect by any means. The way he presented himself on BP was much more exemplary, and that’s how he should’ve presented himself online as well.
Ken Klippenstein did a good job of thinking of and researching his piece. However, he failed to put together a coherent and balanced article, and his responses to criticism were nothing short of shocking. He should rewrite and adjust the angle of the article.