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Tilting at Windmills

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December 3, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

MORE LEBANON....It seems that NRO was informed in persuasive detail two months ago that W. Thomas Smith's dispatches from Beirut were probably fabricated. That's less than a week after the original posts were put up. But there was no acknowledgment of error until Friday. What took so long?

Kevin Drum 11:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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What took so long?

when you've spent the last three months screeching about the questionable accuracy of a rival's publication, where's the upside in announcing that own your magazine publishes a fabulist ?

Posted by: cleek on December 3, 2007 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

What took so long? They're dishonest partisan hacks with no compunction about lying in the service of their ideology?

The great part, though, is how hard they went after TNR for the Beauchamp thing.

Posted by: phleabo on December 3, 2007 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

The NRO editors are apparently incapable of experiencing cognitive dissonance.

Posted by: Redleg on December 3, 2007 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

Haven't you guys read K Lo's excuse that someone told NRO that Arabs are habitual liars?.

Posted by: gregor on December 3, 2007 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

It seems that NRO was informed in persuasive detail two months ago that W. Thomas Smith's dispatches from Beirut were probably fabricated.

Kevin, I read the article in back-to-iraq, and he didn't say that at all. Quoting him, "So, some are reporting that I notified Kathryn-Jean Lopez of Smiths stories six weeks ago. This is true, however, I sent the email to tank@nationalreview.com. Did she get it? Did anyone? Hell if I know since I never received a response."

So in fact no one really knows for sure Lopez even received the e-mail. There are quite a few reasons why she didn't. Perhaps, the tank e-mail address refers to someone besides Lopez. Since he wasn't involved with the Smith story, he didn't understand the e-mail and promptly deleted it as spam. Another reason is the e-mail server broke down on that day, and because of that no one at NRO even saw the e-mail. This happens a lot to computers because computers are easily broken. There are other reasons why no one at NRO saw the e-mail, but the 2 I've listed are plausible and can't be dismissed out of hand. So I think you're jumping to conclusions in saying NRO was informed about it 2 months ago.

Posted by: Al on December 3, 2007 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

How long has it been since TNR was informed that Beauchamp's stories were fiction ? And have they come clean yet ?

Posted by: Mike K on December 3, 2007 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, the apologists are working hard on their strawman arguments.

Even Michelle Malkin at 10:10 AM today -- And now for some shoddy war reporting…from an NRO milblogger -- takes a swipe at NRO -- As you read [Smith's] explanation, ask yourselves this: If Thomas Beauchamp had written it instead of Thomas Smith, would you buy it?

In an update, Malkin clips a Kathryn Lopez lukewarm mea culpa... 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.... to which Michelle retorts,

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.
Then, adding more salt into the cut, she quotes HuffPost:
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.
Ouch!

Posted by: Apollo 13 on December 3, 2007 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

FWIW, that's not her business email address -- at least, it wasn't when NRO owed me money.

But I got a question, prompted by, of all things, my recollection of hearing rumors that Ed Koch was gay. It was my first big political job in DC, I got back to my hometown, and one of the folks I knew whose idea of politics was People magazine wanted to know: well, IS he? (like I would've known)

The thing is -- I had never even heard the rumor. Ever since, I've been against the habit of NEVER admitting you're out of the loop -- there are a zillion things I don't know, and never heard of.

And one of 'em was this Smith piece, particularly that he had reported thousands of Hezbollah fighters in Beirut.

My question: Is there ANY evidence that his fabrication had the slightest impact?

Doesn't excuse it -- but it would put it into a bit of perspective: who gets their news about the military situation in Lebanon from.... National Review????

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 3, 2007 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK
....Beauchamp's stories were fiction?... Mike Kook at 12:40 PM
One would think that if Republicans are so concerned with a story in the neo-Con TNR, they would be twice as concerned about the accuracy of stories in their standard publications. We have yet to hear any Republican complaints about the inaccuracies of the pro-war stories in the New York Times or the Washington Post either. One is for propaganda or accuracy in journalism -- mutually contradictory goals. Your ilk always chooses propaganda.
....who gets their news about the military situation in Lebanon from.... National Review...heheAmericanist at 1:08 PM
In general, war mongers such as William Kriston Charles Krauthammer and others. NR is used as a propaganda reinforcement. By-the-way, even though it's completely irrelevant, the Koch is gay story was one promulgated by Andrew Sullivan back when outing was a big deal. Posted by: Mike on December 3, 2007 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

I suppose that's fair, that there's a kind of echo amplification that goes on between National Review, the Weekly Standard, etc.

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 3, 2007 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

Mike: Your ilk always chooses propaganda.

Evidently, because W. Thomas Smith Jr., is still posting at NRO's The Tank as recent as 12/02 06:54 AM.

In other news, Jayson Blair has been re-hired to replace Judith Miller's old WMD beat at the NYTimes. It's said he will focus on the Iranian nuke threat.

Posted by: Apollo 13 on December 3, 2007 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

It took more than two months and almost 1,000 words, but National Review Online and its copy editor, Kathryn Jean Lopez, have finally retracted several pieces by corrupt blogger W. Thomas Smith, Jr.

As most of the blog world (with the exception of Washington Post media czar Howie Kurtz) knows by now, National Review Online published a series of pieces on Lebanon by corrupt blogger W. Thomas Smith Jr., who identified himself as a devout, South Carolina-based Conservative and former Marine. Smith, who called himself a bit of "Cowboy," and proudly trumpeted his after all, theft of "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 that’s something my detractors will just to have to live with, because that’s not going to change."

Smith, who was in Lebanon to monitor the activities of Hezbollah, further made clear that his observers were not independent in nature.

"Frankly, I'm not concerned with what Hezbollah assumes. Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, funded, trained, and equipped by the Islamic (Iranian) Revolutionary Guard Corps. My responsibility is not to concern myself with how Hezbollah perceives me, nor do I feel any compulsion to court them. They are the enemy as far as I’m concerned. My responsibility is to deliver the facts to my readers, which I have always done and will always do."

Unfortunately, Smith turned out to be a fabulist. Here’s the conclusion of the Lopez’s blog entry, "Mea Culpa, Note for Non-Weekend Readers," that appeared at 10:25 a.m. Dec. 3 at National Review Online:

"A regular freelancer (Smith) for NRO went to Lebanon in September and blogged in 'The Tank' from there. In two instances of which we’re aware, he mislead by not adequately sourcing – making clear he was relying on sources, not his own eyes for a scenes he described. We should have asked more questions. We didn't. A well-intentioned reporter got sloppy. We got sloppy checking on him. We were wrong and I apologize.

"We're taking steps to prevent this in the future – including setting up some very easily found and checked corrective e-mail addresses – so questions about pieces and blogs can be raised in a quick and timely manner.

"I hate that this happened, but I am grateful that it has been brought to our attention. We've apologized for it, and are now taking measures to keep such things from happening in the future."

What is most striking about Lopez's National Review Online piece and Smith's rejoinder is their Cheney-esque quality: grudging and self-justifying in tone and still eager to lash out at their critics even when Smith's fables from Lebanon have been shattered into a thousand pieces. In reading Lopez's piece, you get the sense that she was seething at The Huffington Post and Conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan, each of whom has spearheaded coverage on Smith's shoddy journalism and National Review Online's absence of editorial safeguards, and at Smith for having been caught in such a hypocritical series of lies and blatant deceit that can only sully the once-proud House of Buckley.

It turns out, of course, that it was National Review Online's critics, and not Mr. Smith or Ms. Lopez, who were vindicated, and all honor is due to them.

What National Review Online didn’t understand, and still seems unable to grasp, is that they and others saw this for what it was: an effort to use Smith's story to paint an ugly portrait of the situation in Lebanon and of the absence of Middle East policy in the Bush-Cheney Administration. National Review Online sought to further Neoconservative attempts to open U.S. military fronts in Iran, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories, and Smith's litany of false pieces hoped to turn people into proponents of additional military action. What has happened, instead, is that the situation in Lebanon fails to follow the Bush-Cheney Neoconservative policy — and each and every one of Smith's National Review Online pieces have utterly collapsed.

This story was a torpedo aimed directly at the hull of National Review Online; the torpedo has now hit its mark. The damage is enormous and Kathryn Jean Lopez's explanation — which contains no formal criticism of W. Thomas Smith, Jr. or, more significantly, no apology to the members of the American military now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan unit — will only compound the damage. What Ms. Lopez called Smith having been "mislead" is really a scandal. And W. Thomas Smith, Jr. will now take his place beside Judith Miller, Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher, and Jeff Gannon in the Neoconservative and Conservative Hall of Perpetual Shame.

Posted by: Mark on December 3, 2007 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

"What took so long?"

Because the article pandered to biases of the readers, writers, editors, and financial backers of shit-rags like NRO.

How long did it take for the NYT, WashPost, LATimes, TNR, and all the higher profile "liberal" blogs (Drum, Yglesias, Klein) to apologize for supporting the (obviously false) assertions of this Administration, and supporting the Iraq invasion?

Posted by: luci on December 3, 2007 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

K-Lo has her remarks on the timeline Here

Hard to see what else one would expect NRO to have done. They could have addressed it the week of Thanksgiving (wouldn't the critics howl about that) and I suppose they could go and fire Smith. But they have come clean about the issue, apologized for it, and taken corrective action. Within a few weeks of questions being raised. What's the criticism again?

Posted by: Hacksaw on December 3, 2007 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

Hack wrote: Hard to see what else one would expect NRO to have done.

Well, sure, because you're a dishonest partisan hack defending other dishonest partisan hacks.

They could have addressed it the week of Thanksgiving (wouldn't the critics howl about that)

The fact that you anticipate NRO's critics finding fault with dealing with the fabulist Smith's bullshit earlier doesn't excuse them from continuing to puclish his bullshit after they were alerted to the holes in his story.

and I suppose they could go and fire Smith

Which, conspicuously, they haven't done yet...

But they have come clean about the issue, apologized for it, and taken corrective action.

Only in the most evasive, misleading, and superficial way, and only after Smith's bullshit was about to be exposed anyway -- prior to which, of coruse, they were perfectly happy to keep mum.

Within a few weeks of questions being raised.

Wait -- I thought the talking point was that NRO dealt with the criticism immediately; that talking point being exposed as yet another conservative fantasy, without missing a beat, Hack changes "two months" to "a few weeks." One almost has to admire Hack's skills as a propagandist, if not his honesty. Perhaps there's a spot for him at NRO.

What's the criticism again?

That thing you're depserately trying to spin away in a feeble effort to salvage NRO's already-feeble, now-nonexistent credibility.

Your lack of reading comprehension and intellectual honesty is your problem, Hack, not ours -- except inasmuch as you continue to spew your dishonesty here. Shame on you.

Posted by: Gregory on December 3, 2007 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

There's no spin involved, Gregory.

To characterize NRO's comments on Smith as "evasive, misleading, and superficial" is to reveal that you simply have not read their comments.

Smith admitted he did not see what he claimed he saw. K-Lo admitted this was sloppy reporting and apologized for it. And stated NRO is reviewing Smiths stories for other errors.

They released this (according to K-Lo's timeline) not because a story was about to come out on it but because they had waited long enough for Edsall to put out his story. Nothing in Edsall's story - after NRO came out with their comment - contradicts this. The only fair criticism is of NRO's decision to continue to publish Smith's stories on a case by case basis. I think his credibility is irreparably damaged. But in terms of how NRO addressed the issue (particularly when compared to TNR) it remains clear that the hyperventilating on this site is not warranted.

Posted by: Hacksaw on December 3, 2007 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

There's no spin involved, Gregory.

Bullshit, Hack.

Posted by: Gregory on December 3, 2007 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

After doing some reading about the Smith stories, I agree that NRO has been a bit slow to deal with him. He should be let go. That does not excuse TNR for the slow walk toward retraction on the Beauchamp stories. Beauchamp was slandering the US military with lies. Smith was making up stories that misled but were otherwise harmless. There is plenty of reliable reporting from Beruit.

Posted by: Mike K on December 3, 2007 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

Hacksaw is totally right. You expect them to fire a good reporter, an excellent reporter, merely because he lies repeatedly? That's your liberal fascism, right there. I think that NRO should promote Smith, now that he has admitted to lying, which would be in line with NRO's strong line on journalistic ethics. In fact, Smith could lie in his Tank pieces, then report on his lying in a new blog, Tank2, and double his paycheck. Perhaps he could devise a flag for Tank1 that he could steal and brag about in Tank2. Best of all, though, is that NRO is showing that conservatives are number one when it comes to reporter efficiency. No longer will they have to pay for a reporter to stay in Lebanon now that they have a reporter ballsy enough to make up his accounts and foist them on the readership. He can stay home if he wants. Everybody saves money, plus you can now enlarge the all important fantasy capacity (FC) of right wing media. For instance, in this hour of danger, when the bombing of Iran looks distant, Smith could report how he parachuted into Iran, saw with his own eyes row upon row of hydrogen bombs, stole a few, ate them, and made his way, after many hand to hand fights, out of that country into liberated Iraq. Where, of course, he was greeted by a wildly enthusiastic crowd. I imagine Hacksaw would buy it, along with the rest of the war bloggers.

Posted by: roger on December 3, 2007 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

Uh, Roger, I've already stated that I think Smith's credibility has been irreparably damaged and that NRO should consider firing him.

Gregory, I'm curious as to what courses of action that NRO could have taken would meet your approval for satisfactorily addressing the Smith issue.

Posted by: Hacksaw on December 3, 2007 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

Gregory, I'm curious as to what courses of action that NRO could have taken would meet your approval for satisfactorily addressing the Smith issue.

No, you aren't, Hack; you're taking the two months NRO knew Smith's reporting was shaky and calling it "a few weeks" to imply that NRO acted swifty, and then when called on your bullshit, simply drop that claim -- as if you weren't exposed yet again as a dishonest GOP shill; I mean, embarrassment is a bit much to expect from you, but still -- and proceed to blather as if there's some question as to NRO's lack of credibility.

Besides, Hack, to explain it to you, you'd have to be familiar with honesty and credibility; from your posting, you, like NRO, know only bullshit in service of the latest right-wing talking points.

No, no spin at all...

Posted by: Gregory on December 3, 2007 at 9:08 PM | PERMALINK

In other words, you are all hat and no cattle Gregory.

You feel free to criticize NRO (and insult me) but refuse to actually state what would have been a appropriate course of action for NRO to follow.

Weak. Very weak.

Posted by: Hacksaw on December 4, 2007 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

You feel free to criticize NRO (and insult me) but refuse to actually state what would have been a appropriate course of action for NRO to follow.

Irony alert: Bush apologist Hack accuses someoen else of being all hat an no cattle.

Yes, Hack, I criticize NRO for their hackery, and insult you for your equally dishonest defense of their hackery. What of it?

The criticism of NRO has already been stated explicitly by Kevin and others. I pointed out the deficiencies in your feeble defense -- i.e. they did not respond quickly, as you hoped to imply -- and now that your defense of NRO's hackery -- what they did, in other words -- has failed, I'm refusing to go along with your equally feeble attempts to change the subject into "what should they have done" hypothetical.

It's your defense that's weak, Hack, as your initial resort to dishonest spin on their behalf reveals. Shame on you.

Posted by: Gregory on December 4, 2007 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK
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