Since the hypocrisy regarding now-discredited milblogger W. Thomas Smith, Jr is already wafting out of the wankersphere, we might as well deal with it. Having for months been all over one Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp, that same wankersphere now wants very badly to convince you that, well, this is different. And of course it is, but not in the way they're suggesting.
First, we have numerous wankers demanding credit for how quickly all this came to light:
Every publication eventually makes a big enough error to warrant a retraction and an apology. Even here at CapQ, I've had to do it a few times, and believe me, it never feels good. One has to resist the urge to rationalize mistakes and spin enough to avoid admitting error. Just as with customer service, where I often described my management position as "professional apologizer", editors have to bite the bullet and admit error to maintain organizational credibility.
Kathryn Jean Lopez did so here. Notice that she did not blame the critics for pointing out the error or assume that the criticism was motivated by some sort of conspiracy. She didn't, in essence, blame the customer for a faulty product. She took quick action to investigate, found obvious shortcomings, and issued an apology and a detailed accounting of the problem.
Yes, it would be nice to give K-Lo credit for rapid response here, except for one small problem: When you've been nailed absolutely dead to rights, beyond any reasonable doubt, you really don't have a lot of choice, do you?
As I read it, the reason the Beauchamp saga dragged on as long as it did was because it really was taking that long to try to confirm or disprove his claims. But with Smith, well, this whole thing simply exploded in everyone's face, so it's not like the good folks at the NRO had much of a choice. No, we're not going to give them credit for fast action. They simply had no viable alternative. But there's a bigger story here.
If Beauchamp has legitimately been discredited, the reason it's taken this long is because a number of his claims were, at the very least, perfectly plausible. As an example, here's one of Beauchamp's claims:
The last section of the Diarist described soldiers using Bradley Fighting Vehicles to kill dogs. On this topic, one soldier who witnessed the incident described by Beauchamp, wrote in an e-mail: "How you do this (I've seen it done more than once) is, when you approach the dog in question, suddenly lurch the Bradley on the opposite side of the road the dog is on. The rear-end of the vehicle will then swing TOWARD the animal, scaring it into running out into the road. If it works, the dog is running into the center of the road as the driver swings his yoke back around the other way, and the dog becomes a chalk outline."
Ewwwwwwwww ... yes, that's disgusting. But let's think about this for a second. Before putting any work into figuring out whether the above story is true, it might be worth asking whether it is even possibly true. In short, let's ask whether the scenario above is even physically plausible, which seems to be precisely what TNR tries to do:
TNR contacted the manufacturer of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle System, where a spokesman confirmed that the vehicle is as maneuverable as Beauchamp described. Instructors who train soldiers to drive Bradleys told us the same thing. And a veteran war correspondent described the tendency of stray Iraqi dogs to flock toward noisy military convoys.
OK, so even though the above does absolutely nothing to confirm whether the dog incident(s) did happen, we've at least (apparently) established that it could have happened, which is an absolute no-brainer as a first step. And how does this differ from neo-con milblogger W. Thomas Smith, Jr. I'm so glad you asked (all emphasis added):
The Huffington Post contacted four well-regarded Middle East reporters, who have characterized Smith's journalism as follows:
Michael Prothero, who has reported for Fortune, the Washington Times, and Slate, wrote in an email:
"In his [Smith's] wildly entertaining postings, he describes kidnap attempts, an armed incursion into Christian East Beirut by 5,000 armed Hezbollah fighters that was missed by every journalist in town, he also notes the presence of 200 armed Hezbollah fighters in downtown Beirut 'laying siege' to the prime ministers office, recounts high-speed car chases and 'armed recon operations' where he drives around south Beirut taking pictures of Hezbollah installations, while carrying weapons. In a word, this is all insane."
"He's a fabulist," wrote Chris Allbritton, who has reported from the Middle East since 2002 for Time, Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Times, and the Newark Star-Ledger. According to Allbritton, in an email to the Huffington Post, "[Smith's] claim that 4,000 Hezbollah gunmen took over East Beirut at the end of September simply never happened. Every journalist in town would have pounced on that story, and he's the only one who noticed?"
A third reporter for a major U.S. magazine, who did not want his name used because he did not want to become involved in a journalistic controversy, wrote in an email to the Huffington Post:
"Mr. Smith also says that 4,000 armed Hezbollah fighters took up positions in East Beirut one day this fall in a 'show of force'. This would have been a major international news event and possibly the start of the next Lebanese civil war. In January, unarmed opposition supporters led by Hezbollah shut down roads in Beirut, and the event sparked riots and led the news all over the world. And yet, Mr. Smith is the only journalist in Lebanon to have found this story, as far as I know. So why, with such a major scoop in his hands, does Smith devote just a few lines in a blog post to it? Because it never happened."
Note the now-obvious glaring and fundamental flaws with Smith's milblogger coverage -- the fact that a number of his claims appear to simply fly in the face of what is even possible. In short, based on all of the other news coverage, Smith's stories don't make sense on their face. And that's the major difference between these two stories.
Regardless of what you think of Pvt. Beauchamp or his credibility, his claims were at least plausible and physically believable. Not so those of Smith, which inspires the obvious question -- how did Smith's stories ever see the light of day in the first place?
What grotesque failure of basic fact-checking or independent corroboration led someone to not notice the howling inconsistencies and obvious impossibilities in Smith's pieces, and allowed his submissions to be printed? Did not a single person in the Idiotsphere read these things and think -- "Hang on, this just doesn't seem to hang together." Apparently not. And yet, we're now supposed to genuflect in the direction of K-Lo and the NRO, and praise them for how quickly they jumped all over this. Not fucking likely. Smith's claims were ludicrous to begin with, and should have been rejected outright from the get-go.
Predictably, the wankersphere is trying their patented "But that's different!" defense. And the scary thing is, they're right, but for all the wrong reasons.
Yup, it's different. Beauchamp's claims at least had a chance of being true, which is why it took so long to tease out the details. That's not even remotely true for Smith, whose ridiculous rubbish should have been dismissed within seconds by anyone with a clue.
Give them credit? I don't think so. When you're that stupid for that long, you don't have the right to ask for a pat on the head when you finally decide to stop being stupid, and especially when you're just flat-out exposed for being stupid for the world to see.
Different? Yes, I'll say it's different. But if I were a wanker, I'm fairly sure I wouldn't be hanging my defense on that particular coat hook.
BY THE WAY, I'm sure some of the Idiotsphere is going to be all over yours truly for why I've so thoroughly ignored talking about Beauchamp all this time. It's for a very simple reason -- I could never understand the sputtering outrage over his original claims:
A day earlier, The New Republic had published a piece titled "Shock Troops." It appeared on the magazine's back page, the "Diarist" slot, which is reserved for short first-person meditations. "Shock Troops" bore the byline Scott Thomas, which we identified as a pseudonym for a soldier then serving in Iraq. Thomas described how war distorts moral judgments. To illustrate his point, he narrated three disturbing anecdotes. In one, he and his comrades cracked vulgar jokes about a woman with a scarred face while she sat in close proximity. In another, a soldier paraded around with the fragment of an exhumed skull on his head. A final vignette described a driver of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle who took pride in running over dogs.
That's it? Those accusations are what months of panty-twisting anger have been about? Oh, puhleeze. Given what we already know about the behaviour of American troops, the above would appear to be some of those thugs on their better behaviour. I mean, who can forget the classless taunting of Iraqi children desperate for water?
Yeah, that Scott Beauchamp guy -- just one outrageous accusation after another. Go figure.
ASTONISHINGLY, even that screeching hack Michelle Malkin has figured out that there's some serious damage control that needs to be done here but, in the midst of her moment of lucidity, she still can't help cutting her ideological bunkmates a bit of slack:
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.
And, not surprisingly, that nutbar can't resist a gratuitous swipe at the Leftosphere:
The nutroots are having a field day.
So when we're wrong, we're the nutroots. But when we're right ... oh, well. Lose some, lose some, as they say.