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.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at December 28, 2007 01:08 PM

I sleep better knowing that you're on the case.

Posted by: happyfeet at December 28, 2007 01:58 PM

The hallmark of much of Horton's writing is his use of unidentified sources. As pointed out in the post at PowerLine, these
"sources" appear to be a bit unlikely to even exist given the comments and the nature of the information that Horton often attributes to them. From the one case in which I had some direct knowledge, it was clear that Horton simply made the stuff up.

Posted by: Terry at December 28, 2007 02:10 PM

I guess al Qaeda pays pretty well.

Posted by: Capitalist Infidel at December 28, 2007 02:48 PM

Horton is a pompous self-promoting hack. Gardephe was the AP's curious choice of lawyers for Hussein, which no one seemed to understand at the time.

Posted by: daleyrocks at December 28, 2007 03:49 PM

I'm not sure this harms Harper's in any degree as the TNR scandal has harmed them not at all. The media just don't care about "facts" at all, much less truth of any discernible character. A hilarious example I recall from the Seattle area search for two suspected terrorist advance men. The editor of the P-I was phoned apparently by a grizzled veteran of the ferry service who, miraculously, spoke (anonymously natch) in exactly the terms and at exactly the position of said editor. Lies on lies again. Great thing about this Horton jackass though is he gives us the solution himself. He says the bloggers etc are of no consequence and hang the questions of Beauchamps stories as he has BEEN ONCE DECEIVED!!! Of course this is lie but we can safely and happily ignore Harper's which will continue to produce modest profits from those foolish enough to buy it.

Posted by: megapotamus at December 28, 2007 04:43 PM

Horton had a prior piece out for Harpers on November 21, 2007 with a similar tone.

Posted by: daleyrocks at December 28, 2007 08:38 PM

How much ya wanna bet Horton's source was an old sock on his left hand?

Posted by: C-C-G at December 28, 2007 08:59 PM

Most of the people that keep up with political news have figured out that any story that starts with 'according to unnamed sources' is in fact a lie by a media wimp without the ability to report real news. Add 'according to unnamed sources to the list with 'once upon a time' that identifies fairy tales, and 'this ain't no BS' that identifies a war story.

Posted by: Scrapiron at December 29, 2007 12:03 AM

Interesting story. Thanks for caring about this stuff.

While you are looking around, maybe you can follow up on this - I read this Reuters story on christmas day:

The part that intrigued me was the last paragraph:

Officials said GLONASS would mainly be used alongside the U.S. global positioning system, which Washington can switch off for civilian subscribers, as it did during recent military operations in Iraq.

As far as I know, the U.S. has never "turned off" civilian parts of the GPS system (although I have heard rumors it gets kinda fuzzy around selected sites in the U.S.). This Reuters "news" article sounds more like a way to scare potential users of the U.S. system to the Russian system.


Posted by: Penzance at December 29, 2007 12:43 PM

On a related note, these this story: about an Australian jihadi.

The story makes it sounds like he spent all his time in Guantanamo. This contradicts a report I heard on BBC World Service that described how he'd spent a year in US hands, followed by five yeas in a maximum security prison just outside Adelaide.

Posted by: Patrick Carroll at December 29, 2007 01:27 PM

10:1 you're just seeing the tip of the iceberg here rather than a couple of isolated incidents. Integrity appears not to be a word in the modern lexicon.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at December 29, 2007 07:13 PM

Purple Avenger: The ends justify the means. They're fighting for a Higher Purpose. It's Important that they Stop The War and Stop George Bush and Stop America. It doesn't matter how they do it, it Must Be Done. By Any Means Necessary. Their faith in God makes their actions pure. Kill them all, God will know his own.

Posted by: DensityDuck at December 30, 2007 10:18 AM

Duck, they don't believe in God. They have faith in Themselves (with a capital T). Other than that, you're absolutely correct.

Posted by: C-C-G at December 30, 2007 10:45 AM

Penzance; As usual it appears Reuter's reporters have no idea what they are talking about. What could be switched on and off was a system to generate random errors of up to one hundred meters for civilian users. In 2000 it was ordered that the error system no longer be used. They also get wrong the time it was used unless their idea of recent includes the original Gulf War of 1991.

Posted by: Fritz at December 30, 2007 10:51 AM

I hate to agree with megapotamus, but he's right. This won't hurt Harper's.

Mainstream media reporting has become little more than story telling. And, the story is a morality tale stamped with the MSM's own particular brand of left wing morality.

Harper's and TNR will continue to return profits for much the same reason that the Harry Potter series continues to return profits to J.K.Rowling. To many (perhaps to most), their fictions are more comfortable/palatable than is reality.

Posted by: 555JM at December 30, 2007 11:38 AM

Scott Horton recently authored a long piece in Harper's accusing a US Attorney of prosecuting a Democrat trial lawyer for political reasons. Horton had no facts or justification for this outrageous charge, of course. He just felt comfortable smearing a courageous prosecutor for having the temerity to convict a high-rolling Mississippi Democrat contributor for buying judges. Horton's smear was gaining traction until Uber-Big-Time-Dem-Mississippi-Trial-Lawyer Dickie Scruggs was caught by the FBI -- guess what? -- trying to buy a Mississippi judge.

Posted by: Doyle54 at December 30, 2007 02:29 PM

Penzance, you are correct in calling a foul on the al-Reuters GLONASS story. The US did not turn off GPS for Afghanistan or Iraq and Reuters should not be parroting Russian sales propaganda. The Russians are primarily targeting Europe with that statement because the Europeans went off and decided to build their own GPS system called Galileo precisely because of this nonsense built around anti-Americanism (especially anti-American Department of Defense who runs GPS). The Europeans are still trying to build Galileo because getting the Europeans to agree on the system design and production is like trying to get Congress to agree unanimously on their favorite color. So, Russia is saying "Hey, we already got one and we won't turn it off. Hehe."

Posted by: doc75 at December 30, 2007 07:17 PM

"Hey, we already got one and we won't turn it off. Hehe."

Right in all respects....they won't turn it off just like the won't turn off the flow of natural gas into Eastern Europe. Oops, I forgot; they did do that already.

Posted by: Terry at December 30, 2007 08:21 PM

MSM response:

What? You want us to be accountable?

No, no, no, you've got it all wrong. We hold other people accountable. We're not accountable for anything.

Posted by: TallDave at December 30, 2007 08:54 PM