Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 30, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

COWBOYING IN LEBANON....It looks like Middle East reporting problems are everywhere. Today NRO, responding to some complaints about W. Thomas Smith Jr.'s "public cowboying" from Beirut — as well as the accuracy of some his reporting — admits that they "should have provided readers with more context and caveats in some posts from Lebanon this fall."

Smith's explanation is here. As near as I can tell, the problem is that he made some pretty dramatic claims about Hezbollah activity that were couched as eyewitness reports, when in reality they were based on quick automobile drive-bys combined with tips from anonymous sources:

In retrospect, however, this is a case where I should have caveated the reporting by saying that I only witnessed a fraction of what happened (from a moving car), with broader details of what I saw ultimately told to me by what I considered then — and still consider to be — reliable sources within the Cedar Revolution movement, as well as insiders within the Lebanese national security apparatus. As we were driving through that part of town, I saw men I identified as Hezbollah deployed at road intersections with radios. I was later told that these were Hezbollah militants deploying to Christian areas of Beirut, and there were four or five thousand of them.

Since then, I have not been able to independently verify that "thousands" of armed Hezbollah fighters deployed to the Christian areas of Beirut in late September, but my sources continue to insist that it happened.

Well, we all make mistakes. Live and learn, eh? Whether the New Republic will be so charitable remains to be seen.

Kevin Drum 7:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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Comments

"Cowboying"? Wasn't that in a hit movie a few years back?

Posted by: Keith G on November 30, 2007 at 7:54 PM | PERMALINK

What, you think the hacks at The New Republic has some reason to be upset by something the hacks at The National Review had to say about them?

Posted by: Donald A. Coffin on November 30, 2007 at 8:05 PM | PERMALINK

Smith is the dipshit who wrote that as a young Marine officer in Korea, "Foreign policy began and ended at the barrel of my gun."

Typical grandiose affect and overblown sense of self so prevalent among those afflicted with SCAMD.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on November 30, 2007 at 8:10 PM | PERMALINK

Don' put words in the man's mouth.

He never said that. What he said was, "as young Marine squad leader — some 20 years ago — I remember one morning standing on a windswept, South Korean hilltop looking out over the Sea of Japan. As I stood there, I briefly contemplated a simple fact about how the world works and my responsibility in it at that very moment in time: Armed with my rifle and some 12 heavily armed Marines under my direct authority, I realized that no matter what decisions were made by the president, his Cabinet, Congress, the intelligence community, and all the generals and the admirals; American foreign policy EXTENDED TO and ended at the tip of my bayonet."

He never said it began. He was making a point about the huge responsibilty placed on very young soldiers. And they do have huge responsibilities. You just hate anyone who supports them because it goes against your grain.

At least get your facts straight .

Posted by: Marc on November 30, 2007 at 8:42 PM | PERMALINK

You just hate anyone who supports them because it goes against your grain.

You are a fucking moron. Don't ascribe motives to me, asshole. I'm not going to get into a dick-waving contest with you on support for America's military; but you just stepped on your dick presuming I hold a position contrary to that which I actually espouse.

And Smith is still a douchebag.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on November 30, 2007 at 8:50 PM | PERMALINK

Ah - here it is. Pale Rider did a damned fine takedown of that piece of dreck by Smith.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on November 30, 2007 at 8:54 PM | PERMALINK

I don' care what you think of Smith. But byou should get your facts straight, and your quote was wrong {I remeber something about casting stones in glass houses}
and how can anyone take you seriously with vile language like that which you spew.
You disgust. Typical lib.

Posted by: Marc on November 30, 2007 at 9:04 PM | PERMALINK

Well clutch those pearls! The faining couch is on your left. I'm so wounded by your disapproval!

I'll be sure to alert the media the very instant I start to give a flying fuck what you or any other 24%-er jackass thinks.

Toodles.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on November 30, 2007 at 9:09 PM | PERMALINK

You disgust. Typical lib.

I'll be sure to alert the media the very instant I start to give a flying fuck what you or any other 24%-er jackass thinks.


Ahh; another internet angel gets its' wings!

Posted by: cynical joe on November 30, 2007 at 9:14 PM | PERMALINK

I've read that sentence of Smith's four times now: "...I realized that no matter what decisions were made by the president, his Cabinet, Congress, the intelligence community, and all the generals and the admirals; American foreign policy extended to and ended at the tip of my bayonet."

I'm still working on what it means. Sounds to me like he's saying that, ultimately, the real policy is what happens there, in the hands of the armed men who are being counted on to carry out the decisions other people made. Is that a fair reading? And, if it is, isn't that a very dangerous thing to believe?

Posted by: Donald A. Coffin on November 30, 2007 at 9:48 PM | PERMALINK

Good question. I thought maybe it meant that past the point of his bayonet, he could do nothing, ie, he was all symbol and no action. Or something.

It's a fine sentence. I just don't know what it's trying to say.

Posted by: craigie on November 30, 2007 at 9:52 PM | PERMALINK

The purpose of that vague-but-evocative sentence about the bayonet's end is to give an air of solemnity to his preposterous analogy between the Korean War and the current one in Iraq.

Posted by: kth on November 30, 2007 at 10:08 PM | PERMALINK

Smith's error--intentional or not--appears to be drawing an equivalence between those "several thousand" Hezbollah militants in the North and the core forces in the South, and then extrapolating (and therefore justifying his reports).

The numbers, and the capabilities, Smith implies seem a mighty big stretch: (1) "Hizbollah sources assert that the organization has about 5,000-10,000 fighters"; (2) other sources put the number of "fighters" considerably lower; (3) the areas Smith was describing are not Hezbollah strongholds; and (4) Smith's "...thinking, if a guy’s got an AK-47, he’s 'heavily armed'" is simply wrong--there's no comparison between a militia with AK-47's and what's in the South.

Posted by: has407 on November 30, 2007 at 11:46 PM | PERMALINK

Just wait a little bit and Confederate Yankee, Michelle Malkin, et al., will get to the bottom of this for us.

Or not.

Posted by: Xanthippas on November 30, 2007 at 11:52 PM | PERMALINK

Why? What kind of countertops does Smith have?

Posted by: craigie on December 1, 2007 at 12:29 AM | PERMALINK

I should have caveated the reporting

Holy crap. Didn't someone who wrote English used to edit that rag? Someone named Buckley, with whom one might disagree violently but knew what a verb was? Or, should one say, knew how to grammar a sentence?

Posted by: thersites on December 1, 2007 at 1:46 AM | PERMALINK

"As I stood there, I briefly contemplated a simple fact about how the world works and my responsibility in it at that very moment in time: Armed with my rifle and some 12 heavily armed Marines under my direct authority, I realized that no matter what decisions were made by the president, his Cabinet, Congress, the intelligence community, and all the generals and the admirals; American foreign policy EXTENDED TO and ended at the tip of my bayonet.".

Uh-huh. Now how many testosterone-filled 20-somethings are actually thinking these highfalutin' thoughts while on duty?

This strikes me the same way as George H.W. Bush's preposterously hilarious assertion that he contemplated the separation of church and state while paddling in his life raft after being shot down in WWII.

Posted by: bluestatedon on December 1, 2007 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK
Since then, I have not been able to independently verify that "thousands" of armed Hezbollah fighters deployed to the Christian areas of Beirut in late September, but my sources continue to insist that it happened.

This is what I would expect. In his world, Hezbollah = bad = grave threat to Israel and America and everything else is secondary. People on the street recognize a gullible man. Justifying the trashing of Lebanon was his goal. He did the best he could in terms of that belief.

Reporting anything related to the truth? He failed at that.

Posted by: little ole jim on December 1, 2007 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK
I realized that no matter what decisions were made by the president, his Cabinet, Congress, the intelligence community, and all the generals and the admirals…

I think it’s fair to guess, in spite of the poor writing, that the fellow has the grandiose notion that his actions, as a man with a gun, are more important than all those politicians.

Posted by: little ole jim on December 1, 2007 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

"Thousands" of Hezbollah militants deploying to Christian areas of Beirut and no gunfire or explosions? Seems a bit odd, no?

Posted by: Butch on December 1, 2007 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

Is this about Smith seeing two Hezbollah with AKs and assuming that all 200 militia he believed encamped there in tents had them as well?

Maybe a tenuous inference in need of clarification, but not a knowing fabrication of the Beaucamp variety.

Posted by: edh on December 1, 2007 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

...As I stood there, I briefly contemplated a simple fact about how the world works and my responsibility in it at that very moment in time...

That visually conjures up the episode where Tony Soprano does Mescaline out in the desert...

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on December 1, 2007 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

"Whether the New Republic will be so charitable remains to be seen."

Did his writing pander to TNR's readers and their biases? Exaggerate the threat from Hezbollah, justify Israel's bombing/invasion?

So what's the problem? Anyone think the NYT, WashPost, LATimes or any major media outlet operates any differently?

If this dork's reporting had found that Hezbollah was a paper tiger, a few hundred unorganized yahoos, barely armed and incompetent - would TNR or NRO have been interested?

Posted by: luci on December 1, 2007 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

From Smith's column:

"Now, am I a 'cowboy?' Perhaps I am bit of a cowboy. I did, after all, snag a Hezbollah flag while I was there. Was that Thomas the journalist snagging the flag? Hardly. That was Thomas the Marine. And that's part of who I am, which I suppose makes me part cowboy. But thats something my detractors will just to have to live with, because thats not going to change.

"I am opinionated: Probably more so these days than ever."

Neoconservatism, where opinion is treated as fact, propaganda means money, and advancement comes courtesy of Norm, Midge, and Lucianne.

Posted by: Mark on December 1, 2007 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

I don`t know Mr Smith or his reporting but talking about "the Cedar Revolution movement", and talking about it as a as a unified thing sounds distinctly western. Even from an uninformed European perspective.

Posted by: pm on December 1, 2007 at 6:08 PM | PERMALINK

For a fuller explanation of what's going on, there will be a story filed soon on Huffington Post

Posted by: Tom Edsall on December 1, 2007 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

Or, should one say, knew how to grammar a sentence?

Brilliant.

Posted by: craigie on December 1, 2007 at 8:37 PM | PERMALINK

So, what's the problem here? Do you have first hand information to refute Smith's reportage, or do you just not like what he saw. Smith is a trained military observer and a seasoned journalist. If he says he observed a Hezbollah military presence in the south, unless you have FACTS (remember them?) to refute, we should take it seriously.

"A lie told often enough becomes the truth."
-Vladimir Lenin

Posted by: Gene Retske on December 2, 2007 at 6:32 AM | PERMALINK

You're not really that stupid are you Gene? The original post and even "I'm self inflating" Smith tell you what's the problem. He reported weird information, refuted by others with less of an agenda, and delivered it as firsthand, observed facts. Which he, nor you, nor anybody knows is true. As he admitted if you'd read his correction, though you could be forgiven for not believing that either.

It's Smith's bad reporting here, as similar actions are in the hands of any reporter or anyone playing reporter with a story in their head who looks only for that which follows the plot. Bad. To be a good reporter you've got to let go of your plot when the facts contradict it. And don't put it unconfirmed information without labeling it as such just because it conforms.

Temple

Posted by: Temple Stark on December 2, 2007 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

"A lie told often enough becomes the truth."
-Vladimir Lenin

Yep, and that's what bad reporting with an agenda does. Trouble is many on the right side of blogland are also of the belief that a truth told often enough becomes inconvenient.

Temple

Posted by: Temple Stark on December 2, 2007 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

"A lie told often enough becomes the truth."
-Vladimir Lenin

Temple,

Interesting, isn't it, that the proteges of Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol employ Leninist propaganda practices so often and in such a blatant manner?

Maybe Norm and Irving only hated those Commies when it served their financial purposes?

Posted by: Mark on December 2, 2007 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

After all, everyone knows that Lucianne Goldberg has been lying (sometimes on her back) since the McGovern campaign for Tricky Dick in '72.

Lucianne is all Neocon all the time.

For a price, of course.

Posted by: Mark on December 2, 2007 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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