Monday, December 3, 2007

Both Sides Now

The righties have been jumping with glee that The New Republic has retracted the stories by Scott Thomas Beauchamp, but it was a short-lived celebration when it was revealed that the National Review Online has a credibility problem of its own.

There is a growing dispute over the veracity of reporting from Lebanon by former Marine W. Thomas Smith, Jr. who is posting reports on his blog, The Tank, published by the conservative website, National Review Online (NRO). Smith is a supporter of the war in Iraq, and is affiliated with two politically conservative organizations, the Counterterrorism Research Center and the Family Security Foundation. He is the executive editor of World Defense Review, and the co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Intelligent Design.

At question are two reports filed by Smith on The Tank — reports which appear to be designed to bolster support for the ongoing presence of U.S troops in the Mideast.

Smith’s reporting has given rise to the following points of contention:

— First: Smith’s September 29 report that between 4,000-5,000 Hezbollah gunmen had “deployed to the Christian areas of Beirut in an unsettling ‘show of force.'”

— Second: his September 25 report that “some 200-plus heavily armed Hezbollah militiamen” occupied a “sprawling Hezbollah tent city” near the Lebanese parliament.

In addition, Smith’s critics contend that Smith’s self-reported exploits – if true — endanger the press corps in the troubled region.

NRO has, in its own way, backed away from Smith’s reporting. Of course, by “in its own way,” that means that the NRO has made excuses, clung to half-truths, and lashed out at anyone who dared attack their veracity. As Glenn Greenwald at Salon notes, editor Kathryn Jean Lopez does the full defense.

Lopez apologizes to readers on the ground that “NRO should have provided readers with more context and caveats in some posts from Lebanon this fall,” but never says what those caveats should have been or what the missing context was.

Instead, Lopez just relies upon vague cliches that say nothing. She claims, for instance, that she reached these conclusions about Smith’s posts “after doing a thorough investigation of some of the points made in some of those posts,” but she never identifies a single specific fact which this supposed “investigation” revealed or what “some of those points” were that need correction, nor does she identify a single step which this supposed “investigation” entailed.

She then follows up with another note that makes an effort to say that what happened at NRO is nothing like what happened at TNR because, well, that’s them and we’re us. She also astonishingly blames Smith’s sources by saying that you can’t trust the Arabs anyway.

As one of our sources put it: “The Arab tendency to lie and exaggerate about enemies is alive and well among pro-American Lebanese Christians as much as it is with the likes of Hamas.” While Smith vouches for his sources, we cannot independently verify what they told him. That’s why we’re revisiting the posts in question and warning readers to take them with a grain of salt.

Oh, that explains it. You can’t trust the A-rabs.

Now for one more shock: Michelle Malkin takes NRO to task. And I agree with her.

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.”

To the credit of TNR, they have been outfront in their efforts to verify and then retract the Beauchamp stories when it turned out they were false. So far the NRO has obfuscated, attacked their critics, and thrown anti-Arab bigotry in for good measure. I think that tells you something about the two publications right there…and the difference between them.