LEBANON UPDATE….David Kenner, a young, right-leaning journalist (and student) living in Beirut, comments on W. Thomas Smith’s post at NRO last September claiming that several thousand Hezbollah gunmen had been “deployed to the Christian areas of Beirut”:
Anyone with the slightest knowledge of Lebanon knows that these events didn’t happen. So, who fed Mr. Smith this bogus news. According to him, they are “reliable sources within the Cedar Revolution movement, as well as insiders within the Lebanese national security apparatus.” None of whom, apparently, are willing to go on the record. Mr. Smith says this is because they need to preserve their safety. Very well. Let me suggest a different explanation. There are plenty of people willing to feed a naive journalist fake news; there is nobody willing to risk their reputations by going on the record with blatant lies. If 4,000 – 5,000 Hezbollah foot soldiers really did deploy to Christian areas of Beirut in September, Lebanon would be tumbling over the precipice into civil war. Christian politicians and security experts would be screaming from the rooftops, not making off the record statements to one foreign journalist/blogger.
NRO promises that in the future it will provide more “context and caveats” in Smith’s reporting. However, if Kenner is right, the question isn’t context and caveats, it’s whether or not Smith was just flatly wrong. I suspect other journalists in Beirut might be weighing in on this in the near future.
UPDATE: More here from Thomas Edsall, who talked to four experienced Mideast reporters about Smith’s claims. Their verdict? “Insane.” “He’s a fabulist.” “It never happened.” “Hilarious.”
So far, NRO’s response to all this has been a few paragraphs dumped on their blog late Friday afternoon. By comparison, Frank Foer has 7,000 words today in the New Republic explaining in painstaking detail the feeding frenzy over the Scott Thomas Beauchamp affair, in which Beauchamp was accused of making up stories about playing with bones and running over dogs. It’s instructive. The Smith affair will undoubtedly get less traction, despite his errors being considerably graver than Beauchamp’s, because (a) the liberal blogosphere just won’t go quite as crazy over it, and (b) we won’t have the U.S. Army egging us on, as they quite plainly did with the conservosphere in the Beauchamp affair.
TNR made some mistakes with Beauchamp, and they deserve flak for it. But Foer’s piece makes clear a couple of things. First, they spent a lot of time trying to run down the accuracy of Beauchamp’s first-person account. Second, the Army did everything it could to keep them from doing it. Beauchamp may not be a choir boy in all this, but the Army comes out looking a lot worse.
Which leads to this: Will anyone seriously follow up on the Army’s conduct in this affair? Do I even have to ask?