Michelle Malkin is at the top of her game today with a piece on RealClearPolitics (and also in her syndicated column) about the New York Times’s article last week celebrating (because that’s what it did) the fact that the number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq had reached the 2,000 mark. The number was an important milestone for the antiwar left, which harps constantly on the number of casualties in Iraq with the hopes of destroying the morale of the fighting men and women themselves, their relatives (you know, like Cindy Sheehan), and the American people in general.

Times reporter James Dao’s dark story contained these paragraphs about a slain member of the First Battalion of the Fifth Marine Regiment in Iraq:

“Another member of the 1/5, Cpl. Jeffrey B. Starr, rejected a $24,000 bonus to re-enlist. Corporal Starr believed strongly in the war, his father said, but was tired of the harsh life and nearness of death in Iraq. So he enrolled at Everett Community College near his parents’ home in Snohomish, Wash., planning to study psychology after his enlistment ended in August.

“But he died in a firefight in Ramadi on April 30 during his third tour in Iraq. He was 22.

“Sifting through Corporal Starr’s laptop computer after his death, his father found a letter to be delivered to the marine’s girlfriend. ‘I kind of predicted this,’ Corporal Starr wrote of his own death. ‘A third time just seemed like I’m pushing my chances.'”

A couple of days after the NYT story appeared, Michelle received an letter from Starr’s uncle, Timothy Lickness, complaining that Dao had cherry-picked through Starr’s letter to create the impression of a fatalistic young man who had lost faith in the war. Here is what the rest of Starr’s letter said:

“Obviously if you are reading this then I have died in Iraq. I kind of predicted this, that is why I’m writing this in November. A third time just seemed like I’m pushing my chances. I don’t regret going, everybody dies but few get to do it for something as important as freedom. It may seem confusing why we are in Iraq, it’s not to me. I’m here helping these people, so that they can live the way we live. Not have to worry about tyrants or vicious dictators. To do what they want with their lives. To me that is why I died. Others have died for my freedom, now this is my mark.”

Now, you’d think Dao and the Times might owe Starr’s family and Times readers an apology for distorting Starr’s views in order to fit his letter into Dao’s preconceived notion of what our troops in Iraq are thinking. But nooo-when a mere Times reader, Michael Valois, had the presumption to e-mail Dao to complain, Dao fired off this reprimand in reply:

“Have you been to Iraq, Michael? Or to any other war, for that matter? If you have, you should know the anxiety and fear parents, spouses, and troops themselves feel when they deploy to war. And if you haven’t, what right do you have to object when papers like the New York Times try to describe that anxiety and fear?”

In other words, how dare you criticize me, the great journalist, you lowly peasant.

Dao has apparently apologized to Valois for the tone of his e-mail–but not for the distortion job on Starr’s letter. Michelle writes:

“When you read The New York Times (if you still bother to read it), always ask:

“What is the Times NOT telling me?”

There’s more about all this on Michelle’s own blog here and here.