Monday, December 03, 2007

Milblogging wankery: Let the hysterical tap-dancing begin.

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.

, 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.


Red Tory said...

Nice to see the “situational ethics” of the right-wing exposed (again) in such a stark fashion. The only thing sweeter would have been to have stumbled across the articles in the first place to have been able to point out how absurd some of contentions being made were.

Specifically, the one about the 4,000-5,000 Hezbollah militants that he claimed had deployed to Christian areas of Beirut that numerous journalists have since confirmed “simply never happened” because had such a thing occurred it would have resulted in a riotous explosion of violence and general uproar. In his excuse-filled mea culpa he writes “this is a case where I should have caveated the reporting.” It turns out it was “drive-by” journalism in the most literal sense of the word. From a moving car, he witnessed some men he thought were Hezbollah at intersections (because they had radios) and was later given the (clearly incorrect) “broader details” by his “reliable sources.” Uh-huh.

At the end of the piece he has the temerity to offer readers this laughable pledge:

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.

Excuse me? “Constantly verifying” and “never assuming”…. Wasn’t the problem here precisely that he did make egregious assumptions — in fact, quite a number of them in this one claim alone — and that his verification extended only as far as blindly accepting the word of people that he continues to assure readers he trusts implicitly (even though they’ve demonstrated their unreliability).

But the key part there, which goes a long way to explaining the reaction of Cap’n Ed and others in the Chairbound Brigade in drawing a distinction between Smith and Beauchamp, is the presumption made (and confirmed by Smith) that he’s “a good guy.” By contrast, a “steaming vat of bad faith” (to borrow Wolcott’s expression) awaits anyone unsympathetic to Iraq war or American interests in the Middle East because as a “liberal” it is assumed they must be perfidious and morally suspect. The presumption would never be made that someone reporting disturbing news from the war was “a good guy.” Indeed, this is part of the reason why it’s always so expedient for right-wing hacks to destroy the character of the individual in question and thereby rubbish their credibility by impugning their motives.

Another significant difference between the two cases for you.

Ti-Guy said...

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

Thanks for reminding me why I didn't bother with this either (aside from the fact that The New Republic is a stupid American rag that, along with the rest of them, are not worth paying attention to at the best of times). It seemed a hell of a lot discussion over alleged fabrications that were, not only plausible, but of minor import in any case.

Not like W. Thomas Smith's fabrications, which, when taken at face value (which he obviously wanted his audience to), cause people to have a radically different understanding of events than what has actually manifested itself in real life.

As for Wingnut mea culpas; fuck them up their stupid arses. These people can't or won't distinguish between evidence and fact and only admit culpability when it's no longer humanly possible to avoid. The only charity I'll show people like Special Ed and Kathryn Jean Lopez is that both of these people are incomparably stupid and naive, and are quite often preyed upon time and time again by the rightwing psychopaths who tell them what they so desperately want to hear.

counter-coulter said...

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?

Not only that, but K-Lo knew about these problems for a long as 6 weeks prior and even her "correction" does no real correcting. Glenn Greenwald has it all here.

LuLu said...

Christ Jesus, someone needs to tell KLo to shut the fuck up. Posted at NRO yesterday at 6:42pm (money quote in bold):

What This is Not [Kathryn Jean Lopez]
A few additional words on what the situation with the Smith Lebanon reporting is and what it isn’t: It isn’t a case of fabrication, as some of Smith’s accusers have alleged. With regard to the two posts in question, it is my belief, based on an investigation in which NRO discussed the matter with three independent sources who live and work in Lebanon (as well as other experts in the area), that Smith was probably either spun by his sources or confused about what he saw.

That’s why I wrote, in my first editor’s note on the subject, that we “should have provided readers with more context and caveats” – the context that Smith was operating in an uncertain environment where he couldn’t always be sure of what he was witnessing, and the caveats that he filled in the gaps by talking to sources within the Cedar Revolution movement and the Lebanese national-security apparatus, whose claims obviously should have been been treated with the same degree of skepticism as those of anyone with an agenda to advance.

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.

As editor, my position is mistakes are mistakes and they're all bad. But because of what I'm reading in other blogs, I feel the need to add: The Smith matter is not the Scott Thomas Beauchamp episode. For one thing, Beauchamp himself falsified the details of his story — claiming that he witnessed things in Iraq that he later claimed happened in Kuwait, etc. If Smith was too trusting of his sources, that is a journalistic faux pas of an entirely different sort. It does not, contrary to some bloggers’ claims, make him a fabulist.

Actually, now that I think about it, she should just keep on talking - she's doing an outstanding job!

M@ said...

“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.”

Is this anythink like the tendency that led Americans to believe that their enemies, the Iraqis, had WMDs?

Red Tory said...

Bingo! We have a winner.

LuLu said...

Is this anything like the tendency that led Americans to believe that their enemies, the Iraqis, had WMDs?

But ... but ... that's completely different - after all, IOKIYAR. Or when in Canada, IOKIYAHC. Is anyone else really tired of all this bullshit spinning? Maybe it's just the snow ...