Friday, November 30, 2007

Becoming the story

Dumped into the Friday afternoon cycle is this cryptic post on National Review Online from editor Kathryn Jean Lopez concerning material that appeared on their military blog, preposterously named "The Tank". The issue is that one of the bloggers on The Tank, W. Thomas Smith, was forced to acknowledge that his accounts of witnessing various Hezbollah activities were incomplete: giving the impression of being eye-witness accounts, but in fact cobbled together from eye-witness accounts, extrapolations, assumptions, and other unspecified sources' accounts of what they had seen.

This is the kind of "reporting" that has launched a thousand right-wing "outrages" when its subject matter is insufficiently good news from Iraq (e.g. Bilal Hussein). But even stranger than the quasi-apology is Smith's defence of his methods and actions in "reporting" on Hezbollah --

Speaking of wild, my detractors have claimed that my “public cowboying” — writing openly about carrying weapons, photographing Hezbollah facilities and stealing flags from Hezbollah strongholds — has endangered all reporters in Lebanon. They argue that Hezbollah fighters might assume, based on my reports, that any Western reporter could be armed and hostile to their interests.

Frankly, I'm not concerned with what Hezbollah assumes. Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, funded, trained, and equipped by the Islamic (Iranian) Revolutionary Guard Corps. My responsibility is not to concern myself with how Hezbollah perceives me, nor do I feel any compulsion to court them. They are the enemy as far as I’m concerned. My responsibility is to deliver the facts to my readers, which I have always done and will always do.

Now, am I a “cowboy?” Perhaps I am bit of a cowboy. I did, after all, snag a Hezbollah flag while I was there. Was that Thomas the journalist snagging the flag? Hardly. That was Thomas the Marine. And that's part of who I am, which I suppose makes me part cowboy. But that’s something my detractors will just to have to live with, because that’s not going to change.

So he's in Lebanon, under the auspices of the National Review, and announcing not only he's there to report on Hezbollah as "the enemy" but seeking to directly provoke them. Smith lives in a state where if you shoot someone on your property who was stealing stuff, no one would bat an eyelid. So what will National Review's complaint be if Smith gets hurt in one of his future pranks against Hezbollah? What explanation will they offer to another reporter who gets hurt on the assumption of Hezbollah that he's another Smith character? And what is their liability if Smith, who apparently totes a gun in his trips around Beirut, hurts someone else? Someone has a blogger ethics problem.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan noticed, although he's more focused on the New Republic payback angle (exhaustively documented by Glenn Greenwald) than the ongoing ethics problem. As Sullivan points out, Smith never links to his original disputed posts. They are here and here.

FINAL UPDATE: Via a later Sullivan post, someone on the ground who's had a problem with Smith's methods from the start.

ONE MORE THING: K-Lo finally follows up, on The Tank and not at The Corner, with what essentially amounts to "We apologize to those facts that took offense". It now seems that K-Lo only owned up in the first place because the people who were disputing Smith's reporting for 6 weeks could get nowhere with National Review directly and so took the story to Tom Edsall.

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