December 02, 2007

Another Fabulist

This time, W. Thomas Smith, Jr., a former Marine writing at NRO blog The Tank.

On Friday, Smith admitted that he:

  • turned two AK-pattern rifles he witnessed in a tent city into "200-plus heavily armed Hezbollah militiamen," and then;
  • turned a tip from an informant and men he saw at intersections with radios into "between 4,000 and 5,000 HezB gunmen deployed to the Christian areas of Beirut in an unsettling 'show of force,' positioning themselves at road intersections and other key points throughout the city."

Shortly after Smith posted his comments, NRO editor Kathryn Jean Lopez posted a comment of her own, stating in part:

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.

It is good that Lopez and Smith admitted to these falsehoods without prompting, but I do not think that adding "context and caveats" to Smith's comments would have been enough to justify them.

At the very least, Smith has earned a suspension from NRO, but considering the magnitude of his fabrications, termination seems warranted.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at December 2, 2007 06:20 PM

Since everyone else seems to want to conflate the two of these, I'll call for Smith's resignation immediately after Foer announces his.

Posted by: C-C-G at December 2, 2007 07:38 PM

Based on what I now know, I must respectfully disagree with you. Smith's problems appear to be of a piece with bad journalistic practices, e.g., accepting at face value what he was told by obviously interested parties, not objective eyewitnesses. I might add that this is not a failing unique to those new to blogging or reporting; there have been incidents too numerous to mention of experienced members of the mainstream media who have fallen into the same trap.

Nothing has been reported to date that indicates Smith simply made stuff up in the manner of Beauchamp. As the NRO editor has acknowledged, they should have done more checking on their own given the nature of some of the Smith reports. Also, I understand that Smith is not an employee of NRO, but has functioned as a freelancer. At some point, NRO will have to make a decision as to whether they will continue to accept his work or simply pass; I think they may need to do more review of his "reporting" before reaching that final decision.On the other hand, any work that they accept in the interim will obviously have to be thoroughly vetted.

I continue to feel that NRO has handled this whole matter in a manner that is light-years ahead of anything that NRO has done.

Posted by: Terry at December 2, 2007 07:41 PM

By the way, CY, Ms. Lopez has posted more about this, and I think it behooves you and everyone else who's talking about this to read it.

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.
Posted by: C-C-G at December 2, 2007 07:42 PM

The last sentence of my comment above should have closed with the three words, "TNR has done."

Posted by: Terry at December 2, 2007 07:43 PM

Seems to me this Smith guy did the same thing the AP did with the non existent Captain Jamil Hussein.

Posted by: Capitalist Infidel at December 2, 2007 08:04 PM

I really don't get it. The NRO's Corner, and often articles in the non-blog portion of the site, are sometimes littered with economic errors or sleight of hand. A few minutes on google will give you a number of examples where one or another of their economic writers writes something that is at odds with the facts, or which would be contradicted if the facts were put into context.

(Not to blogwhore, but an example where I looked at Kudlow about a year ago is here. And there seems to be a real issue at the Corner with keeping nominal and real figures straight, which is elementary stuff.)

So the question... why is it a big deal that they got something wrong about Hezbullah fighters in Lebanon given what they regularly tell the reader when it comes to economics? Why is it permissible to provide bad information, whether by accident or on purpose, frequently and repeatedly in one area and not in another?

I note that convincing people that the economy behaves a certain way has much more profound implications on us here (it helps elect Presidents and Congress) than does the number of Hezbullah fighters living in tents in Lebanon. In terms of damage it can do, we're better off if the American public is misinformed about the latter rather than the former.

Posted by: cactus at December 2, 2007 09:05 PM


Captain Jamil Hussein, does in fact, exist.


Smith is not the parallel to Foer in the National Review story; he's the parallel to Beauchamp, who unless I am mistaken, is no longer writing for The New Republic. Smith and Beauchamp are the authors, Foer and Lopez are the editors.

As such, Foer's resignation would instead parallel Kathryn Lopez's resignation.

Posted by: Anonymous at December 2, 2007 09:26 PM

Anony, then it's even simpler.

The whole kerfuffle is over Foer's lack of doing due diligence on Beauchamp's stories, so Smith should be safe, right?

And Lopez has already done better than Foer--i.e. no stonewalling--so she's done her job well, so she should be safe.

Posted by: C-C-G at December 2, 2007 09:35 PM

Captain Jamil Hussein exists... as much as any pseudonym does. There is no Iraqi police captain by that name that was an AP source. There never was.

I know "his" real name, and AP refuses to dispute that fact.

Let that never be in doubt.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at December 2, 2007 09:38 PM

What fabrications? So far as any of us know, every word Smith wrote was 100% true. He didn't see it all with his own eyes, but then he never actually said he did. His only mistake, if it was that, was not to state explicitly what he saw himself and what he learned from other sources. But unless and until we learn that the facts he reported didn't happen, there is no basis for accusing him of fabricating them.

Beauchamp, on the other hand, simply made stuff up, that never happened. He didn't see it himself, he didn't hear it from anyone; like Jayson Blair, he imagined it and wrote it.

Then there's the question of how much presumption of truth their respective claims deserved on first publication. It is simply not the case that both deserve equal treatment. Beauchamp's stories should have raised red flags with TNR editors, because he accused USAn soldiers of misbehaviour. Not only should that require serious fact checking because it's atypical, man bites dog, but also because it's slander of noble people who are entitled to a presumption of good character. Smith's stories, on the other hand, are about a criminal gang, who are already known to behave in just the way he said they had. They have no character to assassinate, and without any fact checking at all there's no real reason to suppose that the stories are not true.

There's no call for dismissal, or suspension, or even a reprimand. So far, the only thing that is called for is better writing in future. Of course if it ever turns out that the stories aren't true after all, then further action will be called for.

Posted by: Milhouse at December 2, 2007 10:04 PM

Here's an excerpt from the latest from Lopez:

I still think Smith is a well-intentioned reporter. We post him on a submission-by-submission basis and will continue to do so unless we have reason to decide otherwise. (And we are currently doing a more thorough review of all his work.)

(emphasis added by me)

Light-years ahead of Foer.

Posted by: C-C-G at December 2, 2007 10:30 PM

I think you do great work, CY, but I think you could lighten up on the terminator-in-chief stuff. If NRO decides to forgive Smith - who's a blogger, not a professional journalist, and who's directly addressed, admitted, and explained his faulty reporting - then who are you to decide he needs to lose his job? Personally, I think we can afford to give second chances to blog contributors and bloggers in general. I'd be inclined even to give Beauchamp another chance - once he's come clean.

I recall being the one who notified you when you had accidentally printed the name of a certain individual in these pages, when you had strongly committed yourself not to do so. It was an honest mistake, no doubt, and you quickly corrected it. It could have caused a lot of trouble for you or someone else, I guess. Should you have quit blogging over the error? Should I have demanded that you cease publishing until you had installed proofreading fail safes?

Posted by: CK MacLeod at December 2, 2007 11:39 PM

CK, if K-Lo wants to keep Smith as a freelancer after these revelations, that is indeed her call. We simply disagree on how severe this was. In either event, I'm please at the fact NRO is being transparent about what is going on. This is how real journalists should handle controversy surrounding stories.

I feel that it is deceptive to state for a fact, without any equivocation, that there are hundreds of heavily armed men based upon seeing precisely two weapons and hearing vague "everybody knows" rumors. I'm not disputing the possibility of that being true, but Smith had absolutely no reason to state it as a fact as he did. That sounds like more than a mistake, it sounds like an intent to deceive.

The Hezbollah incursion claim is worse. Based upon the word of a source or sources he won't name and his observation of men with radios at intersections, he announced the invasion of Beirut by terrorist forces the size of 2 U.S. Army brigades.

That is bit more serious than accidentally failing to redact a name I chose to keep quiet that had already cleared for release by his bosses.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at December 3, 2007 12:02 AM

Full disclosure time... I've had email dealings with Mr. Michael Ledeen, an NRO Corner contributor. Based on the outcome of that situation, in which Ms. Lopez was involved, though I never spoke to her directly, as well as the level of transparency we've seen from her regarding this situation, I am inclined to trust her handling of this from this point forward.

Now, if we'd seen this sort of response from Foer & Company, that whole kerfuffle might have turned out better for all involved.

Posted by: C-C-G at December 3, 2007 12:20 AM


Are you going to start a boycott of NRO advertisers similar to your impotent attempt toward TNR?

Posted by: dude at December 3, 2007 09:37 AM


You must have different standards of impotence that the rest of us. We already know that the call to contact advertisers concerning how TNR has handled the Beauchamp debacle has had effect... of course, fi you don't want to take my word for it, contact TNR and ask them yourself.

As for NRO, the editor and writer seem to be transparent in their handling of the situation, admitting both the fault and failures in Smiths work.

On what grounds, then, should one call for a boycott?

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at December 3, 2007 09:42 AM


Frankly this tepid mea culpa is insufficient.

Considering that one of THE biggest issues with reporting on the Middle East is the tendency for information sources there to simply make stuff up or vastly inflate the significance of events this is simply not good enough. I could write some metaphorical scenario but I'm not going to waste my time.

This is not acceptable by the NRO or the editors there. Just because they're conservative or Republican does not absolve them of **verifying** information provided by "trusted" sources.

Posted by: memomachine at December 3, 2007 10:24 AM

Transparent? Hardly.

NRO was warned that Smith was a liar 7 weeks ago and did nothing about it.

Posted by: dude at December 3, 2007 10:30 AM

If NRO had stonewalled for four months and declared that Smith's article was true ('he verified it himself!') and that NRO had fact-checked all that he wrote, and that all critics were horrible biased Chavez-loving Progressives, then yes, Lopez would deserve firing.

But NRO did no such thing. It checked, it found problems, it immediately came clean and apologized. That's called honest journalism - something the AP and NYT and even TNR could edify themselves with.

Posted by: Hank at December 3, 2007 10:47 AM


I read the material at the Harper's link you provided. Sorry, but as with much of the material appearing in the Harper's blog, that e-mail correspondence is far, far from dispositive. I personally have had numerous items of correspondence with various addresses at NRO and related sub-blogs go without timely response, and in some cases, no response ever.

The NRO editor has addressed that issue in her latest blog update. She acknowledges that there have been problems in this area in the past and promises to establish a new mechanism to assure that questions/issues concerning problems and accuracy with items appearing at NRO are more rigorously and timely pursued.

Posted by: Terry at December 3, 2007 11:06 AM
Just because they're conservative or Republican does not absolve them of **verifying** information provided by "trusted" sources.

This is the only intelligent thing that I have ever seen posted by memomachine. I applaud his sudden growth as a human being, and I encourage its continuation.

Posted by: NovAnoM at December 3, 2007 03:38 PM


I read your post about the Kudlow piece. It's far from convincing. You provide no links to the stats that you use.

Now, on to the Smith/K-lo controversy. I don't think you can equate the Smith/K-lo thing and Beauchamp's lies. They're two entirely different situations. Now, I think that Smith's writings should be investigated further. For now though, I'm pleased with the way that K-lo has handled the situation. She's been far more up front than Foer and company.

Jim C

Posted by: Jim C at December 3, 2007 06:20 PM

Jim C,

I'll admit I forgot to put the link in when I first posted it... but I logged in a few hours later and posted an update. There's been a link in there for all but a few hours of the year the post has been up, in the same place its always been - in the second to the last sentence of the post following the words "The data is from". All the data came from the White House's Office of Management and Budget Table 1.3. Hopefully you'll find that convincing.

Posted by: cactus at December 3, 2007 07:25 PM

Dude, even if, just for the sake of the argument, we grant your seven-week timeline, that is still less than half the time that it took Franklin Foer to post his mea culpa.

Methinks you'd best not depend on that talking point too much... it's like throwing a spotlight on both your double standards and the shoddy performance of Mr. Foer.

Posted by: C-C-G at December 3, 2007 08:46 PM

American Mercenaries of Hezbollah are a lynch mob out to demonize Smith for having dared to play “cowboy” in Beirut and snatch a flag from the terrorists.

Posted by: Cannoneer No. 4 at December 3, 2007 09:39 PM

Michelle Malkin:

And you can be sure this story will get tons more coverage on the left side of the blogosphere in the next few days than the TNR debacle has gotten over the last five months. The liberal media will prop up this case to blunt criticism of TNR’s handling of the Beauchamp scandal. They’ll ignore the fundamental difference in how the two magazines have handled their respective situations. They’ll ignore the slander and the cover-up at TNR, and comfort themselves with a blanket of false moral equivalence.

Hmmm... (a moment of silence as C-C-G scans the comments on this thread and the most recent TNR thread.)

Yep, she nailed it.

Posted by: C-C-G at December 3, 2007 10:27 PM

A while back I posted a comment suggesting that going after TNR's advertisers was a bad idea. Someone, apparently smelling liberal, asked if I would feel the same way if the National Review made a similar error. Of course, I said; the principle is identical.

Now, interestingly enough, NRO apparently has made a similar error. And most of the comments here appear to be aimed not at punishing NRO in the same way TNR is being punished but at demonstrating that the two situations are not at all alike.

As Ben Franklin said, "So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do."

Posted by: David Crisp at December 4, 2007 01:38 AM


I second your observation.

A few weeks ago and others made note of an Eve Fairbanks post at The Plank about Rush Limbaugh's "phoney soldiers" comments, which PV1 Beauchamp was a featured example, during the TNR blackout of anything Beauchamp. Several websites then noted that the term "Fairbanksing" was coined about her writing and in the Urban Dictionary. They all noted that they had just discovered the term.

Thing is, I coined the term and I had sent an e-mail to the tips address at Hot Air, along with messages to several other 'bloggers and writers like Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Say Uncle, etc. Uncle and a few others posted it, but the others seem genuinely surprised when they "discover" it when writing about TNR.

All sorts of messages get lost in mailboxes bursting with messages and I don't see how the Smith/NRO issue is any different than my messages getting missed in the pile either.

BTW, I got no responses from NRO at all when I mailed their writers and editors about the fairbanksing thing. A friend of mine did get a response from an NRO writer when he wrote an observation to them about how the Beauchamp stories read like a fairbanksing. The response was something to the effect that the writer has known Ms. Fairbanks since she was a kid and her dad is a good guy, including a link to one of his essays.

Posted by: Guy Montag at December 4, 2007 06:33 AM

Mr. Crisp, apparently you need to look into reading comprehension classes, or maybe elementary logic classes. Let's compare and contrast:

* TNR: Four and a half months and still no apology.
* NRO: If we take the absolute worst estimate (which may be incorrect) and assume that they were notified immediately after the first erroneous article, that's about seven weeks. Less than half the time.

* TNR: "It's all the Army's fault!" (paraphrasing Foer's 14-page non-apology)
* NRO: "We... should have done better and will."

In logic, your argument is called a "False Analogy."

Posted by: C-C-G at December 4, 2007 10:03 AM


@ NovAnoM

This is the only intelligent thing that I have ever seen posted by memomachine. I applaud his sudden growth as a human being, and I encourage its continuation.

I see the nonsense meter has redlined again.

Posted by: memomachine at December 4, 2007 10:47 AM

Memo, just ignore NovAnoM... and consider his name while you do so.

Nova = new
Nom = name (i.e. nom de plume)

Now, do we all know anyone around here who might need a "new name"? Perhaps to replace another "new name" that had been banned?

Apparently he thinks we're all too stupid to realize his little trick.

Posted by: C-C-G at December 4, 2007 08:11 PM

Heh heh.

Posted by: NovAnoM at December 5, 2007 11:38 AM

--grabbing the wheel and steering this thread back to topic--

This might turn out to be a good thing for The Tank. Since Monday, there have been four different authors posting at the Tank, including Ms. Lopez, who posted not on the controversy but on a recent action in Iraq.

I haven't done a complete survey, but up until this whole kerfuffle broke, it was mostly Mr. Smith that was posting, so this is definitely good in that we're getting more and varied opinions posting on the Tank. No real disagreements like we get on the Corner yet--those are generally polite disagreements, and one of my favorite things about the Corner--but if they continue with the multiple contributors I can see where that could happen, and the Tank would be better for it.

So while Smith appears to have been silenced, and NRO had some egg on its face, it appears to be taking the opportunity to improve the Tank.

Would that TNR would take the same approach.

Posted by: C-C-G at December 5, 2007 08:23 PM