Fox News issued a public apology Saturday for a recent false story about a Gold Star family after Military.com revealed that the Marine Corps had privately urged the network to pull the article.
The Military.com coverage on Aug. 23 showed how the Marine Corps confronted Fox News in July over its story on Sgt. Nicole Gee, one of 13 service members killed during the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan two years ago. The Fox News story elevated claims from a freshman congressman that the Gee family had to pay $60,000 to transport her remains to Arlington National Cemetery.
That turned out to be incorrect, and Fox News later quietly deleted the story without any correction or public acknowledgment of the error. The Gee family did not have to pay for transporting the Marine's remains. After Military.com published the exchange between the service and the news outlet, other outlets like The Washington Post, CNN and Newsmax picked up the story.
Fox News declined to comment for the Military.com story, which included emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. It issued the apology Saturday -- exactly two years after Gee, along with 10 other Marines, a Navy corpsman and a soldier, were killed by a suicide bomber while assisting in the evacuation of personnel at the Abbey Gate near the Kabul airport.
"The now unpublished story has been addressed internally and we sincerely apologize to the Gee family," a Fox News spokesperson told Military.com via email. The statement was first reported by the site Mediaite and then obtained by other outlets.
Military.com asked Fox News whether it had contacted the family directly to apologize and if it expected to issue a published correction to the piece, which was deleted without explanation soon after the Marine Corps pushed back on its claims and Task & Purpose cast doubt on its accuracy.
Fox News did not answer those questions, but provided the apology statement.
The story stemmed from Rep. Cory Mills, R-Fla., who told Fox News that Gee's family was forced to pay to have her remains transferred from California to Arlington National Cemetery at a cost of $60,000.
Days after the inaccuracy came to light, Mills, who is an Army veteran, walked back his claim and said that the family was "in their time of grief, confused" about the transportation policy. On Monday, Military.com asked Mills' office whether he had offered the family an apology similar to Fox News, or if the family could expect one.
A spokesperson for Mills provided the publication a statement the congressman made in July about the handling of Gee's remains, but did not comment on an apology.
Christy Shamblin, Gee's mother-in-law, was first to offer an apology, almost immediately after the story took off.
"At the time, I just understood we would be responsible for the cost of her transportation to Arlington," she told Military.com a few days after the initial Fox story. "I now understand there is a reimbursement process for this."
"I am truly very sorry, and Congressman Mills has been very supportive and helpful," she added.
Fox News softened its claim by changing the headline and adding information after the initial publication. At the time, a top spokesperson for the Marine Corps accused the outlet of using the family to draw readers.
"Using the grief of a family member of a fallen Marine to score cheap clickbait points is disgusting," Maj. James Stenger said in a July 27 email to Fox News executives.
Throughout that week in late July, Fox News updated its story without note and eventually deleted it outright without an official retraction, which is typically accompanied by an update stating why a piece was removed.
The 47-page Pentagon policy on remains transfers does require family members of fallen service members to pay up front if they want their loved one's remains to be transferred to a second location after they are shipped back from overseas at direct cost to the government. The second transfer would then be reimbursed by the Defense Department.
After being transported from Afghanistan to California, where she was memorialized by her local community, Gee's family wanted Nicole's remains transferred to Arlington. Before any process could even begin for the second transfer, a nonprofit called Honoring Our Fallen secured a donation from a veteran to ship the remains via private flight.
"We did not have to pay any bill and never had a bill presented," Shamblin told Military.com last month after the Fox News story disappeared from its website without a correction.
When telling her story to Mills at a Gold Star family event, it was her intent to bring light to the policy and -- in general -- get answers from President Joe Biden's administration about how the Afghanistan exit where her daughter-in-law died was the "success" the president touted it to be.
"None of our kids went over there asking what political affiliation anybody had," she told Military.com recently, saying that her interest in hearing answers from top officials has nothing to do with politics for her. "I would just like them to have a chance to tell me how this was successful."
Of the Gold Star family community, Shamblin said, "it's a group you don't ever want to be a member of, but the members are pretty spectacular. We hold each other up pretty well."
-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.