Posted by Adam @ 6:51 pm on November 30th 2007

Non-apologetic apology

Kathryn Jean Lopez comes clean about some of the reporting at National Review Online’s “The Tank” blog, which implied a definitude over some Lebanon reports that wasn’t justified by what was actually seen by the blogger:

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.

So, over to the blogger, W. Thomas Smith Jr:

Some unfinished business from before the Thanksgiving holiday…

A good start; casual, breezy, telling the audience to prepare for something that’s not really that important, some minor formality.

A reporter recently contacted NRO questioning the accuracy of two blog posts I filed for “The Tank” while I was in Lebanon this past September and October.

It’s all about the reporter, you see. That prick.

On September 25, I filed a post, in which I described a “sprawling Hezbollah tent city” near the Lebanese parliament as being occupied by “some 200-plus heavily armed Hezbollah militiamen”: According to the e-mail, my detractors said that, “…there are rarely 200 people there at all — much less ‘heavily armed,’” and, “…at least once a week I walk or jog through this area. I have never seen a civilian carrying a weapon.”

Damn those detractors. Allow Smith to explain:

I can’t possibly know what someone else saw or witnessed or where they were jogging or on what day. But I do know this: The Hezbollah camp in late September — and up until the time I left in mid-October — was huge (“sprawling”). And though the tents were very large and many of them closed, I saw at least two AK-47s there with my own eyes. And this from a moving vehicle on the highway above the camp. And in my way of thinking, if a guy’s got an AK-47, he’s “heavily armed.”

2, 200; it’s not so different. And let Smith finish with a sentence with some pedantry, to avoid the main point that he has been engaged in what people in the business call “making stuff up”.

Did I physically see and count 200 men carrying weapons? No. If I mistakenly conveyed that impression to my readers, I apologize.

But he doesn’t appear to mean it, of course. Allow him to expand:

I saw lots of men, lots of them carrying walkie-talkie radios, and a tent city that could have easily housed many more than 200.

Lots of men, some with walkie talkies, which could easily have been AK47s that might have been taken from a tent that might have contained AK47s in a tent city that might have housed a lot of people.

My detractors’ argument that they had never seen weapons in the camp does not mean there is an absence of weapons. But don’t take my word for it. For further reading, I would recommend this recent AP article (and multiple others) about the increasing prevalence of armed civilians in Lebanon. I would say I was justified in believing not only my sources, but also my own eyes in this case.

Good repetition of ‘detractors’. Those pricks, trying to damage his reputation with their enthusiasm for ‘facts’ and ‘honesty’. Smith is now, however, secure in his belief that no one who actually cares about whether he tells the truth about a moslem militia is still actually reading. He can let himself go a bit. Oh, and he does:

Now, should I have been more specific in my writing in terms of what I physically witnessed as opposed to what I learned from sources regarding the tent city? I wish I had, but it was a blog, which tends to be less formal.

Smith is apparently now confident that no one who cares whether or not he tells the truth at all is still reading.

However, when blogs contain original reporting, that reporting needs to be sourced. In the future, I’ll provide more context.

Of course, he’s writing on a blog. What you read may not be true (see above).

Second, with regard to the post I filed September 29, in which I reported that between 4,000-5,000 Hezbollah gunmen had “deployed to the Christian areas of Beirut in an unsettling ‘show of force’”: My detractors have said this event, “simply never happened,” because “every journalist in town would have pounced on that story, and he’s the only one who noticed?”

Smith actually resists the temptation to lay this at the door of a huge MSM conspiracy. Gold star.

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.

People with no motive to mislead him. No sirree Bob. Oh, and a moving vehicle again.

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.

How can these accounts be reconciled? It’s a mystery. And now, to prepare for the finale:

Speaking of wild, my detractors have claimed that my “public cowboying” — writing openly about carrying weapons, photographing Hezbollah facilities and stealing flags from Hezbollah strongholds — has endangered all reporters in Lebanon. They argue that Hezbollah fighters might assume, based on my reports, that any Western reporter could be armed and hostile to their interests.

Pshaw, the whiners. And anyhow, Hizbollah are the enemy:

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.

Apart from when he’s “making stuff up”, of course. I may now be the only human in the world who has read this far.

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 that’s something my detractors will just to have to live with, because that’s not going to change.

Thomas the Marine will never change. He’ll never become a trustworthy reporter or offer a genuine apology for being a crappy one.

I assure anyone reading me that I am constantly verifying, never assuming, often distrusting — not because I’m a good guy, but because I owe that to my readers, and because my honesty — no matter my opinion — will always protect me.

And if he’s making stuff up, Kathryn Jean Lopez will protect him, right?

Frankly, if he’d offered a genuine apology, I’d be fine with it. I think that Kathryn Jean Lopez might wish to consider further action, however, in light of the piece of crap he has offered as an ‘apology’.

3 Comments »

  1. Brilliant.

    Incidentally, I should mention that some have questioned my reports last week that Chinese forces have entered Miami in mass, with the clear intent of taking over South Beach for the duration of the runway-model season. I should have been clear that what I physicallyh witnessed, while driving home, was an asian person moving riding eastward (toward teh Beach!) on a moped.

    Comment by Jack — 11/30/2007 @ 8:06 pm

  2. Allow me to begin the process of ‘detraction’.

    Comment by Adam — 11/30/2007 @ 10:02 pm

  3. Stung by criticism (she links Michelle Malkin’s post, but I am sure she is secretly an avid reader of this blog, oh yes, no doubt about it, no sirree, because we RULE THE INTERNET, just ask us) Kathryn Jean Lopez makes another post, actually in the Tank blog itself this time:

    Michelle Malkin says there isn’t a “just blogging” excuse — and that cuts to the heart of my thinking, and what I hope one can get out of my Friday post in “The Corner” on Lebanon “Tank” reporting from earlier this fall.

    The problem was that, as Glenn Reynolds points out (link came from Daveg):

    Lopez’s oblique posting late Friday afternoon all but admits that NR did absolutely nothing to fact-check Smith’s extraordinary claims, and though she now claims that NR conducted an “investigation,” she has revealed nothing about what they learned…

    Reynolds then goes on to contrast this with allegedly admirable behaviour by Franklin Foer of The New Republic (an assesment with which don’t really agree.

    NRO’s response is pretty weak. W. Thomas Smith could have fessed up to his failures fully but he doesn’t — people (accurately) questioning his two posts are ‘detractors’, as I point out above, which implies a certain subjectivity in their accusations — and so Kathryn Jean Lopez needs to make a firmer stand than she currently is. At the least, W. Thomas Smith needs to make an actual apology, rather than a self-justifying ramble disguised as an apology.

    Comment by Adam — 12/2/2007 @ 2:33 pm

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