Update: Kathryn Lopez has more details about the chronology and reports that NRO is “taking a look at the Smith archive and will give you a full assessment in the coming days because we owe that to our readers.”
Ugh. This is bad on many levels. W. Thomas Smith, Jr., a former Marine and milblogger who writes at National Review Online’s The Tank (and whose work in Iraq I’ve praised and linked to here), posts a long-winded defense of bogus, shoddy reporting he published while he was in Lebanon earlier this fall. It’s painful to read because he takes nearly 1,400 words to get to the main points:
1) He claimed he had seen “some 200-plus heavily armed Hezbollah militiamen” at a “sprawling Hezbollah tent city” when, in fact, he hadn’t seen 200-plus heavily armed Hezbollah militiamen.
2) He reported that 4,000-5,000 Hezbollah gunmen had been “deployed to the Christian areas of Beirut in an unsettling ‘show of force,’” when, in fact, there is no evidence that a deployment of 4,000-5,000 Hezbollah gunmen to Christian areas of Beirut ever took place.
As you read the explanation, ask yourselves this: If Thomas Beauchamp had written it instead of Thomas Smith, would you buy it?
Kathryn Lopez, to her credit,
immediately * disclosed (see update above) the controversy to readers. Contrary to the TNR editors, she thanked the reporter who first questioned Smith’s account, instead of trashing critics. Writes Lopez:
Bottom line: NRO strives to bring you reliable analysis and reporting — whether in presenting articles, essays, or blog posts. Smith did commendable work in Lebanon earlier this year, as he does from S.C. where he is based, as he has done from Iraq, where he has been twice. But rereading some of the posts (see “The Tank” for more detail) and after doing a thorough investigation of some of the points made in some of those posts, I’ve come to the conclusion that NRO should have provided readers with more context and caveats in some posts from Lebanon this fall. And so I apologize to you, our readers.
I thank Smith for his good, brave work. He’s a smart, reliable reporter with a great patriotic spirit and sense of service. We owe him and our readers better — we should have gotten you more context and information before a post or two went live. It’s understandable how it happened — the nature of blogging being what it is — but given what an underreported tinderbox we’re talking about, especially, we owed you more. We weren’t blogging about Dancing with the Stars there.
So I’m grateful to the reporter who contacted Smith with questions. He brought them to my attention. We did due diligence. We’ve reported this back to him. And now we’re reporting back to you.
The problem is that “more context” and “caveats” aren’t what was needed. Just the facts would have sufficed. Smith’s work in those posts was not “good” or “brave.” And “the nature of blogging” doesn’t excuse the phenomenal errors. Given Smith’s admissions, “reliable” is not a word that should attach to his Lebanon reporting.
We are all fallible. We all make mistakes. But these were not small mistakes. They were XXL ones.
Moreover, online journalists and bloggers can’t have it both ways: They can’t ask for mainstream media parity when their reporting is dead-on and ahead-of-the-curve–and at the same time hide behind the “well, I was just blogging” excuse if their reporting turns out to be as ill-sourced and wrong-headed as the legacy media’s. Also note: In one of the tainted posts, the headline isn’t “Blogging from Lebanon.” It’s “Reporting from Lebanon.”
The nutroots are having a field day. And yes, points like this one made in the Huffington Post are going to sting:
Smith wrote at least five posts in September and October on The Tank attacking the Beauchamp stories, including the following comments: “It would have been virtually impossible for the things Beauchamp said happened to have played out the way he says they did” on September 10; and “Scott Thomas Beauchamp was either a fictitious character or a liar” on October 27.
An American journalist in Lebanon piles on. And you can be sure this story will get tons more coverage on the left side of the blogosphere in the next few days than the TNR debacle has gotten over the last five months. The liberal media will prop up this case to blunt criticism of TNR’s handling of the Beauchamp scandal. They’ll ignore the fundamental difference in how the two magazines have handled their respective situations. They’ll ignore the slander and the cover-up at TNR, and comfort themselves with a blanket of false moral equivalence.
The worst aspect of the case, however, is that it will give cover to Hezbollah-sympathizing media propagandists and their puppet masters–the fauxtographers, the ambulance manipulators, and the evil-enabling stage managers of the Theater of Jihad.
We must fight the propagandists with incontrovertible truth, not more propaganda.