December 7, 2007

NRO: Smith's Reporting Not Reliable

Kathryn Jean Lopez updates National Review Online readers about NRO's investigation into the reporting of W. Thomas Smith at The Tank, a subsidiary blog of NRO. Kathryn retracted two of Smith's pieces last weekend after Thomas Edsall at the Huffington Post raised serious questions about Smith's reporting. Now NRO has decided that they cannot stand by any of Smith's reports from Lebanon:

Having reviewed his work, we cannot vouch for the accuracy of his reporting. In general, too much of Smith’s information came from sources who had an incentive to exaggerate the threat Hezbollah poses to Lebanon — and these sources influenced his reporting for the whole of his trip. While we agree that that threat is very real, our readers should have had more information about Smith’s sources so that they could have better evaluated the credibility of the information he was providing.

I apologize to all of our readers. We should have required Smith to clearly source all of his original reporting from Lebanon. Smith let himself become susceptible to spin by those taking him around Lebanon, so his reporting from there should be read with that knowledge. (We are attaching this note to all his Lebanon reporting.) This was an editing failure as much as it was a reporting failure. We let him down, and we let you down, and we’re taking steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Smith has, on his own, decided that he will no longer write for NRO. We respect his decision.

Kathryn and Smith made the right decisions. Based on our interview from Monday, I knew that NRO was still actively looking into all of Smith's reporting. She admitted what was obvious, at least in retrospect -- that the magazine had not provided sufficient editorial oversight for Smith.

Whether people believe Kathryn's explanation of Smith's gullibility or believe him to have faked the reporting, the bottom line is that The Tank reported on Lebanon incorrectly. They reported incidents that didn't happen. The question of intent may have some importance, but not as much as disseminating bad information in and of itself. As many understand, everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts.

NRO did this correctly. Their correction places the blame not on Edsall and NRO's critics, but on themselves. They have admitted fault and shown how they intend to rebuild confidence in their reporting. Kathryn proceeded quickly and decisively to resolve the issue. Smith's decision to depart was his own, but helps NRO to move forward and prove itself once again as reliable.


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