What Went Wrong With “The War Within”

A failure to verify facts.

In the article “The War Within,” in Philadelphia magazine’s April 2013 issue, I thought I was writing about a man coping with his demons. Turns out, I was—only they were a completely different set than I imagined.

And so I sit here a fool, sickened that I unwittingly led the magazine, a group of caring, diligent editors, and our readers into John Boudreau’s troubled world and his web of deceit. I recklessly ran the red lights that arose while writing this story and sped past all of the basic reporting, which is heresy for a 22-year veteran of the craft. For that, I apologize. I should have seen it from a mile away, and I didn’t see it from nose to nose.

And that describes how close the relationship had become since John Boudreau called into my radio program a few years ago. He identified himself as a Marine, and I thanked him for his service, as I did each subsequent time he called, however infrequently, but enough that I recognized him. So I didn’t think much of it when he asked to swing by the studio to meet the crew. As always, I obliged, as I like to foster a community feel. I recall John Boudreau’s visit some 18 months ago quite clearly because he was a likable bloke, and he put some of the crew members in a Marine choke hold. During one of the breaks late in the show, he then regaled us with stories supposedly from the front line as a Marine sniper. I was riveted.

And so it began. He visited the studio again a couple of months later, but I will tell you that he was not a pest, nor did he raise a single eyebrow. Quite the opposite, in fact: Everyone liked him. His stories that day rose in depth and gravity, and I was intrigued. Writers are stricken by various forms of curiosity, and for me, it is navigating new worlds. You see, we all reside in these subsets, differentiated by, say, vocation or culture or life experience. These worlds provide a means of travel, a great learning vehicle— assuming, of course, the worlds are real. As I probed, I discovered what I thought was a man struggling with the horrors of war and his own actions. The man professed to be spiritually broken, so much so that he feared for his eternal soul.

And he bared his soul to me, so I thought. He would call and text at all hours of the night, riddled by memory and conscience and nightmares that left him sleepless. I urged to him seek professional guidance on numerous occasions. I felt awful for him. I thought he was an emotionally wounded soldier, and that the very least I could do was provide an ear. I suggested to him that he write down his thoughts and memories as a cathartic tool, and the more he shared with me the more I was seduced by his story. By the end of last summer, I set up a dinner meeting with John Boudreau and Philadelphia magazine editor Tom McGrath. I wanted another seasoned ear to hear his tale.

And that’s when I set out to write an intimate portrait of a haunted man. I wanted the piece to be strictly through his eyes and from his vantage point. Some stories are best told that way—from the inside-out, as opposed to the outside-in, working a circle around the subject. In hindsight, I had already committed a terrible sin. I had let my guard down and decided that everything that John Boudreau told me was gospel, when in fact it was bad fiction. I didn’t verify his stories, and I’m ashamed to say the thought never even crossed my mind that he concocted most of what he told me. I will tell you that I had countless correspondence with this man, and I sit here stunned. I was actually quite proud of the piece. I spent months on it, laboring over every word. I shared it with friends and family. I don’t know what stabs at me more: that I prayed for this man on countless nights, crawling into his twisted cocoon with fantastic gullibility, or that the story provides a disservice to the true heroes who protect our nation.

Read Philly Mag editor Tom McGrath’s “A Retraction and an Apology” here.

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  • http://twitter.com/benknight8 ben knight

    Oh shut the fuck up.

    • stu

      Given the huge percentage of these “sniper stories” that turn out to be made up or embellished, the editor should not have let the writer proceed until the “sniper’s” credentials were verified. This is a firing offense.

      • Stephan

        Did the “writer” give his article fee back?

  • saladfork@aol.com

    It was a very well-written piece. But it was hard to believe even while reading it. Vets I have spoken with don’t talk about anything they have done to non-vets, if even them. Respectfully, you should have done a better job.

  • sAUCE24

    Gargano…your so gullible! next time do your fact checking cuz. And stop making friends with crazy people

  • Chris t

    This guy must have been gargano’s source when he was spouting about favre coming to the birds a few years back.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charlene-Vickers/744084090 Charlene Vickers

    Mr. Gargano, you aren’t the first journalist to be deceived by this exact type of fraud. In the US military they call it “stolen valor” – people who want the attention, respect, and sympathy that a veteran deserves despite not having ever been a soldier. They don’t do it because they have “demons” – they do it because they are entitled and have no concept of integrity. They often think everyone around them has maliciously conspired to keep them away from the perquisites and privileges they are convinced they deserve, so it seems reasonable to them to lie to get these benefits. They are not sick or crazy, they’re just selfish, entitled, and greedy.

    Unfortunately they also know how to spot a mark, and they know (or learn) how to ingratiate themselves with the mark. They feed you what you want to hear, don’t push too much, never become “clingy” or a “pest” – they know what makes reporters skeptical and avoid it.

    If you think I’m talking from personal experience, you’d be right – but my fabricator was not an interviewee. He was my dad. Trust me, if your fabricator starts to cry, think “crocodile”.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charlene-Vickers/744084090 Charlene Vickers

      I should add: the fabricator gets no pleasure out of a good deed. He only gets pleasure when that good deed is known. He craves attention and admiration and respect, possibly because self-respect is an alien concept.

    • smitdod

      your dad??? oh man that sucks

  • barty

    Anthony, Anthony how many years have you been journalist? You should be ashamed of yourself. All subscribers SHOULD get one year of the magazine, FREE!
    Hey Anthony, did you try selling the story to the Post or National Enquirer? Once again now stick with talking for a living instead of writing for a living.

  • Dick_Wolf

    A one source story in a major metropolitan magazine? Really?

  • Dick_Wolf

    Anthony, No one even confirmed the guy served in the military. That’s not letting your guard down, that’s not reporting the facts of the story. You wrote a story about a military sniper without even confirming if he was ever in the military? C’mon man.

  • Tristan

    This is really a silly and self-serving attempt at defending what is an indefensible and clueless effort at reporting. Anthony, your post focuses on your pain and disappointment. Like we are supposed to feel sorry for you? You never checked anything. you gave nothing for the “fact checker” to check. you had -0- sources. your infatuation with your subject and palpable lack of objectivity is appalling. Boudreau is a narcissistic and compulsive liar. He did what he does. What’s your excuse? Philly Mag should sue your ass.

    • Dick_Wolf

      Exactly. Anthony you weren’t duped. Duped would be what you would have felt when you called to verify the guy’s service. If you were so concerned about your guy, what did having it printed in a magazine do for him? Nothing.

  • john hastings

    I actually know this Bordeau clown. He’s from Chester Springs and our daughters were in pre-school together. Within five minutes of meeting him a few years ago, he’s in tears over his fallen comrades. A few minutes later, he’s telling me he was a stunt double for Marky Mark in Invincible and The Shooter. I knew he was a whackjob immediately. How did Gargano not know? How did he not fact-check his claims? And I am(was) a fan of the Cuz. His rep takes an enormous hit in my book.

  • Tristan

    Hey Anthony, i hear that the first lady is leaving the president for dennis rodman. go with it.

  • philboyds

    Lets not be tearing Anthony down here. He’s a good man and a caring soul. Maybe it’s tough being good in this world. Maybe he leads with trust and honesty and expects that from others. I’d rather have more of him even if it mean frauds get one over on us now and then.

    • nycvirago

      Nonsense. He believed this story because it somehow made him feel important — like this person trusted him so much to “confess” to him. And he thought he was doing something important while writing this. He probably thought he could get a movie deal out of it or something.

    • Dick_Wolf

      What does being good have to do with not doing a job? He never even checked to see if the guy was in the military? That’s not being good, that’s chasing a story that wasn’t there. If he was so good, than why the need to write the story? Because it feeds ego. A fraud got one over on him because he isn’t a journalist, he’s a writer. HUGE difference.

      • philboyds

        Ummm… You’re right. Damn.
        But still, I think Anthony is a good man. This isn’t some criminal behavior here. Anyway… He should have checked and the mag people seem to hsbe checked everything with the fraud himself. Pretty amazing. Good thing these folks aren’t assigned to the financial markets or something… Oh wait….

    • http://twitter.com/alaskajohn John Cunningham

      no, tearing this imbecilic excuse for a “writer” is exactly what should be done. his hidden motive was to strike a blow at the EEEEVIL US military. his lazy ass houl be fired. I think he is too stupid to deliver a paper, let alone write for one. ya dumb shit, ya ever hear about getting TWO sources?

      • philboyds

        I am glad for you that you are perfect. And please don’t call me dumb shit.

    • http://www.facebook.com/john.spodophony John Spodophony

      That is one of the major issues with journalism today, how many validate thier facts. Take Donna Weaver of the Atlantic City Press, she never once validated any of Stolen Valor Mayor John Spodofora’s claims but she printed the garbage that tried to prevent the truth from coming out time after time. Look at the articles she wrote journalism at its worst…

  • philboyds

    Oh yeah and he’s awesome on the radio. So everyone just shut up.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.madonna.73 Michael Madonna

    i like Ant on the radio, his enthusiasm for local sports is entertaining. my problem with this article (and the apology), is that the writing is just plain bad. Overly dramatic, overly verbose, the whole article is written like a bad screenplay. Are “writers stricken by various forms of curiosity” or are they just curious? Jeesh i know you get paid by the amount of words, but come on. Philly was home to some great journalists, Mark Bowden went on to write great fact-based books. Come on Ant, now I wonder if that bank guy Bob is really your childhood friend!!

  • seal76

    You fell for this nonsense. What civilians don’t know about the armed forces would fill volumes. All you would have had to do was contact someone from the Marine Corps (like a recruiter) to check this liars story. Any veteran of our recent wars could have told you the guy was a phony. As soon as I read the article I knew it was an outright lie. I am a former SEAL and Vietnam Vet. All of my fellow SEALs that saw this article knew it was a lie right from the get go. You have done, veterans, Marines, SEALs and your readers a disservice..

    • http://www.facebook.com/john.spodophony John Spodophony

      What class were you in? Stafford NJ Mayor John Spodofora was exposed for embellishing to be a Vietnam Navy SEAL, combat in Vietnam who boasted a Vietnam War Medal of Valor (came from a hunting club) One of your SEAL buddies Terennce McGowen in NJ had no issue with this guy lying about his military service. Oh that’s right he was running for office too and couldn’t go against the party.. Maybe you should square your swim buddy away

      • seal76

        BUD/S Class 57 Coronado, SEAL TEAM ONE 70-73 MIKE Platoon RVN Deployment 1971

  • Richard Colton

    Yo Cuz – that’s a violation. Now can I take a shot at the 5?

    Seriously, I love the guy’s show on WIP. Ant got fooled, but
    in his defense, sometimes it’s really hard to spot a bullshitter. When they get in trouble, they lie bigger and bigger. As a guy with 15 years in the Army, the line that would have immediately raised my suspicion is someone identifying themselves as a “sniper.” When someone says “sniper” or “special forces operator” or something about “confirmed kills” my bullshit alarm goes on high-alert.

    • http://www.facebook.com/john.spodophony John Spodophony

      Agree. One clear way to spot an imposter is first if you can’t talk about what you did, don’t if you brag about what you say you can’t talk about then you didn’t do it. The majority of Special Forces professionals I know do not brag, boast or broadcast about their service. They are the silent professionals.

  • http://twitter.com/Germs33 David Roberts

    for everybody calling for gargano’s head from the safety of their keyboard, there but for the grace of god go you.

    • Stephan

      Hardly. Given the number of fake “I was a hero” military stories, any reputable journalist would check out a veteran’s “story; especially one as far fetched as this. (2000+ kills!–pull the other one!)

  • seal76

    As a former SEAL I spotted this story as a complete fabrication immediately. Just check with a Veterans group or a local recruiter next time you write a story about the armed forces. All branches of the Armed Forces and units of all branches maintain a Public Affairs Office. Contact them as well before printing stories about us.

  • Daniel

    This reminds me of a truism of journalism: if your mother says she loves you, check it out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.spodophony John Spodophony

    Take a look at what occurred in Stafford Twp NJ. Mayor John Spodofora has been duping the community for years, many many years. It’s just that no one ever checked his bogus stories in the beginning and like a crack addict the storied keep getting bigger and bigger for more fame. He covers it up with lies of classified records. NJ Senator Chris Connors hails this charlatan a HERO!? Why because the Senators law firm is now representing the township once he was re-elected. One recent discovery that is being investigated are the gross exaggerations are on his Bio that got him inducted into the Stafford Schools Hall of Fame.

    Mr. McGrath reach out to me and tell you what let’s do an article on Stolen Valor and the effects of it’s abuse and how they are exposed.

  • james Allen

    Gargano is a total fraud! !! He just got caught this time. He does primo comericals and doesn’t like lunch meat. He did that HBO story about the flyers. He talked like he was 25 years old. He was ACTUALLY 4 OR 5. What could he remember about the Broard Street bullies. NOTHING but in this piece unlike his like. Facts can be checked and it now proves he’s a fraud