Last week, as 2018 began to fade into memory, a peculiar story hit the wire. According to the WGAL news outlet, just before Christmas, construction worker Shane Hanna found the remains of a Navy SEAL in a dumpster in Pennsylvania. Ronald Lee Pruitt, who had died in Delaware in 1996, had been cremated and his ashes put in an urn. Upon finding the urn, Hanna noticed the insignia of the Navy SEALs on it. He traced and contacted Pruitt’s surviving family—who were living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania—and returned to them his remains. At the time, a few days before Christmas, it sounded like the perfect feel-good holiday-spirit story. And because of these qualities, the story quickly went viral. Fox News reported the family had called it a “Christmas miracle.” But how accurate was the story? Not very.
Ronald Lee Pruitt served honorably in the U.S. Navy as a sailor aboard the USS Saratoga sometime during the 1970s-1980s. Thereafter, he worked as a painter with a local painting and wallpapering company in Delaware. In 1996, he passed away due to cancer. He was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization. He was not, however, a Navy SEAL. A simple check at the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) registry revealed that no man named Ronald Lee Pruitt ever graduated from the rigorous selection process that all Navy SEALs have to go through to earn their trident. Numerous news outlets, however, chose to forgo basic journalism standards and republish a story that was essentially fake news. Since no one bothered to question its credibility, no one had reason to complain. Nonetheless, by falsely claiming that Pruitt was a Navy SEAL, the mainstream media was dishonoring the deceased sailor’s service and his family.
This article should not be seen as an affront to Ronald Lee Pruitt’s honorable service, nor should it be taken to imply that Navy SEALs or other special operations (SOF) units are the only ones worthy of mention. One of the SOF truths is that special operators cannot function without conventional support. Instead, this is meant to show the complacency with which the mainstream media operates.