December 28, 2007
Harper's Credibility Issues Return
Over at Powerline yesterday, John Hinderaker stated that Scott Horton of Harper's libeled the U.S. Army with an anonymous smear on behalf of Iraqi terrorism suspect and Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein.
It's as incredible an attempt at libel as I've ever seen. No one with any common sense could believe a word of it. That qualification, though, excludes Editor and Publisher, which yesterday republished Horton's libel admiringly, under the headline "Harper's Probes Case of Jailed AP Photog in Iraq. " Some "probe! " Editor and Publisher begins by saying that Horton is "the latest to look at the purported evidence" against Hussein, but that is false. Horton never discusses the evidence, of which he is, as far as his article discloses, entirely ignorant. Beyond that, E & P's crack "staff, " which is credited with its piece, fails to mention that Horton's column is based entirely on an anonymous and highly dubious "source, " and simply quotes Horton's hit-job with evident approval.
Of course, no one expects the left-wing E & P to do any critical thinking, let alone investigation. But it would have taken very little research for them to discover that Scott Horton was, until January, a partner in the law firm that represents Bilal Hussein--a fact that Horton did not find it necessary to disclose to his readers. There is indeed a story here, and one that relates directly to journalism--the kind of thing in which E & P might be expected to take an interest. But political loyalty trumps journalistic standards at E & P.
To sum up: Scott Horton claims to have an anonymous "source" inside the Pentagon, who relayed to him the contents of a DOD briefing on the Hussein case. I think this is plainly false. I believe that Horton has a source, but is it a source inside the Pentagon, or inside Hussein's defense team, headed by Horton's former law partner? If Horton has a "source" inside the Pentagon, who is it? Is this purported source someone with knowledge of the Hussein case, as Horton claims, or is it just another left-winger regurgitating anti-American talking points?
These questions are easily answerable. All Scott Horton has to do is identify his alleged source inside the Pentagon, and give us the details on the "briefing" that his column supposedly summarized. Unless and until this happens, it is reasonable to conclude that Horton, or his source, is lying.
If the name Scott Horton seems familiar to readers of Confederate Yankee, it should; On August 25 of this year, I called him out for a claim he made in a August 24 blog entry he wrote at Harper's called Those Thuggish Neocons, in which he claimed:
I have no idea whether Beauchamp's story was accurate. But at this point I have seen enough of the Neocon corner's war fables to immediately discount anything that emerges from it. One example: back last spring, when I was living in Baghdad, on Haifa Street, I sat in the evening reading a report by one of the core Neocon pack. He was reporting from Baghdad, and recounted a day he had spent out on a patrol with U.S. troops on Haifa Street. He described a peaceful, pleasant, upscale community. Children were out playing on the street. Men and women were out going about their daily business. Well, in fact I had been forced to spend the day "in the submarine," as they say, missing appointments I had in town. Why? This bucolic, marvelous Haifa Street that he described had erupted in gun battles the entire day. In the view of my security guards, with which I readily concurred, it was too unsafe. And yes, I could hear the gunfire and watch some of the exchanges from my position. No American patrol had passed by and there were certainly no children playing in the street. This was the point when I realized that many of these accounts were pure fabrications.
I challenged Horton to produce the "Neocon's" article he claimed to have read in a August 24 email, stating:
can't claim that Harper's is one of my normal stops, but I was very intrigued by your post today "Those Thuggish Neocons, " particularly the paragraph about the reporter who fabricated the Haifa Street report you read.
If you are familiar with my small blog at all (and I'm sure you probably aren't); I often run down false or inaccurate media claims, typically hitting the wire service reporting the hardest, though I've also captured fraud and inaccuracies in newspapers and magazines as well. And yes, I'd readily admit that I have a conservative perspective, but that does not make me so biased that I approach the world with ideological blinders, as this post burning a false pro-Iranian War argument should show.
I was hoping that you would provide me with the date of the story you related as specifically as you can recall, along with the news organization and individual reporter you said was making up this report.
This is pretty obviously unethical and possibly illegal, and I want this resolved quickly.
Horton never responded, prompting my subsequent blog entry to next day.
I repeatedly attempted to get a response from Harper's and emailed Harper's Editor Roger D. Hodge and Managing Editor Ellen Rosenbush on August 27, and again sent email to them, Horton, and Vice President of Public Relations Giulia Melucci on August 29, once more pressing for Horton to produce the report and reporter he claimed to have read during his time in Baghdad.
Again, they refused to respond.
I did not pursue Horton's claims further at that point as I was immersed in the Scott Beauchamp story at the time, but with Beauchamp's stories now retracted by The New Republic and Powerline once again poking holes in Horton's credibility, it seems time to return to the issue once more.
Harper's should come clean on Horton's sourcing for both of these stories, and quickly. If they do not, they seem doomed to wander down the same humiliating path as Franklin Foer and The New Republic.
Update: Chris Muir weighs in:
12/30 Update: I sent another email to Harper's editors and PR person yesterday, and it seems Editor Roger Hodge and Managing Editor Ellen Rosenbush will be out of the office on holiday until they return until January 2. Here's the "meat" of it:
I ask you yet again to compel Mr. Horton to produce the specific article he claims to have read. I think it a quite reasonable request to have a magazine produce source material for a disputed claim, especially when that claim is neither an anonymous source nor classified information, but what Horton himself claims to be a public print media report.
I ask that you please complete this very simple request by Friday, January 4th, 2008, which seems a very reasonable amount of time to produce the article in question, even considering the holiday season.
We'll see how they respond.