December 2, 2007

The Retraction At The Tank

A couple of commenters on the latest TNR thread wonder whether we will hold National Review Online's The Tank to the same level of scrutiny as Franklin Foer and Scott Beauchamp. I had not actually heard about this controversy until I read the comments last night. Michelle Malkin covers this topic, though, and issues some rather scathing criticisms while noting the completely different approaches between TNR and NRO:

W. Thomas Smith, Jr., a former Marine and milblogger who writes at National Review Online’s The Tank (and whose work in Iraq I’ve praised and linked to here), posts a long-winded defense of bogus, shoddy reporting he published while he was in Lebanon earlier this fall. It’s painful to read because he takes nearly 1,400 words to get to the main points:

1) He claimed he had seen “some 200-plus heavily armed Hezbollah militiamen” at a “sprawling Hezbollah tent city” when, in fact, he hadn’t seen 200-plus heavily armed Hezbollah militiamen.

2) He reported that 4,000-5,000 Hezbollah gunmen had been “deployed to the Christian areas of Beirut in an unsettling ‘show of force,’” when, in fact, there is no evidence that a deployment of 4,000-5,000 Hezbollah gunmen to Christian areas of Beirut ever took place.

As you read the explanation, ask yourselves this: If Thomas Beauchamp had written it instead of Thomas Smith, would you buy it?

Kathryn Lopez, to her credit, immediately disclosed the controversy to readers. Contrary to the TNR editors, she thanked the reporter who first questioned Smith’s account, instead of trashing critics.

Every publication eventually makes a big enough error to warrant a retraction and an apology. Even here at CapQ, I've had to do it a few times, and believe me, it never feels good. One has to resist the urge to rationalize mistakes and spin enough to avoid admitting error. Just as with customer service, where I often described my management position as "professional apologizer", editors have to bite the bullet and admit error to maintain organizational credibility.

Kathryn Jean Lopez did so here. Notice that she did not blame the critics for pointing out the error or assume that the criticism was motivated by some sort of conspiracy. She didn't, in essence, blame the customer for a faulty product. She took quick action to investigate, found obvious shortcomings, and issued an apology and a detailed accounting of the problem.

Had Franklin Foer done that when the story fell apart at TNR, he could have not just saved the magazine from a credibility collapse, he could have enhanced its standing. Instead of acting professionally, he assumed the Nixonian posture that anyone questioning TNR's product must automatically be an enemy against whom all defenses were necessary. Instead, even in an apology, he couldn't help blaming the customers for a shoddy product.

Incidentally, I share Michelle's analysis of the failure at The Tank. It was poor work, and it has been highlighted as such. NRO's response has been appropriate and substantial.


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This is a media story that should be getting a lot more coverage than it has. An NRO reporter/blogger, W.Thomas Smith, Jr., reported from Lebanon last fall and several of his stories contained gross inaccuracies and what many Lebanese observers and ... [Read More]

» The Tank Tanks from Ed
National Review Online's in-house warblog, The Tank cooks the books, as Tom Wolfe would say, or more charitably, has a fog of war moment. Ed Morrissey compares and contrasts NRO editor Kathryn Jean Lopez's quick response versus the stonewalling of... [Read More]

» We Was Punked from What the Heck was I Thinking!?
Warning, long post here. I read the commentary by Captain Ed (at Captain's Quarters Blog) and others about the "retraction" by Franklin Foer at the New Republic. He takes about 30,000 words to finally admit (well almost) that they were punked by Scott ... [Read More]