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The Perils Of Handling (Virtual) "Live Ammo"

(Angela A. Bowers for
Here's some free advice to anyone who wants to avoid hate e-mail: Don't refer to members of the U.S. military as "mercenaries." That's what blogger and military analyst William M. Arkin did, and a lot of folks wrote in to express their displeasure. (Bill O'Reilly, in a not-so-shocking development, also pounced.)

Arkin told Howard Kurtz, his paper's media critic, that "'Mercenary' is a very strong term. If all this has been precipitated by one word, there's not a question in my mind I could have avoided this by not using that word." He also apologized on his blog, saying the word "is an insult and pejorative, and it does not accurately describe the condition of the American soldier today." executive editor Jim Brady said the use of the word "was a mistake. It made it through the editing process, which is unfortunate. We certainly apologize for using it on the site." He said Arkin would not be fired.

Post ombudsman Deborah Howell, meanwhile, wrote that even though the Washington Post and are separate entities, most media consumers do not draw the distinction. "Did one online column irreparably damage Post national security journalism? No," she writes. "But it does show that an online column rubs off on the newspaper. Opinions on Arkin vary among Post reporters who write about the military and national security. Some respect him; others think he harms The Post's reputation."

Post reporter Joel Achenbach told Howell that blogging is like handling "live ammo."

"The blog software is a very powerful weapon," he said. "You can publish something very quickly under the name of The Washington Post. You need a steady hand and good judgment."

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