Michael Cecire on Moral Equivalence

by Joshua Foust on 7/1/2009 · 26 comments

Michael J. Totten—remember him?—has a guest author, a former PCV no less, discussing the recent rioting in Georgia.

The events swirling within Iran have been nothing short of startling, taking the world by surprise by its speed and intensity. Perhaps it’s testament to the Army of Davids globalization schema that, for weeks, the top two trending topics on the surprisingly super-relevant Twitter were about the events in Iran. While most have been vocal in their support for the protestors in Iran, other ‘pragmatic’ voices have ranged from cautious to dismissive. Among some of the comments have been some who cynically compare the rather withered, unclearly-supported opposition protests in Georgia with the proto-revolution in Iran. By extension, these analogies imply equivalence between Georgia’s temperamental president Mikheil “Misha” Saakashvili and the apocalyptic lunacy of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. Suffice to say that this is gross skewing of realities that needs to be put to bed immediately.

How super-relevant—he’s talking about me! However, here’s one problem: using the exact same metrics he sets up for discussing the Georgian protests, the protests in Iran are also “unclearly supported” (whateverthehell that means). Except I’m wrong for saying so, and he accused me of implying moral equivalence between Saakashvili and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Sound honest to you? Exactly. Is he seriously implying that the Georgian opposition is orchestrated in Moscow? Really? A serious person could not possibly think so: the most important opposition leaders, like most Georgian politicians, are anti-Russian, just not suicidally so the way that Saakashvili often seems.

Anyway, in both Iran and Georgia, the protests are almost entirely urban phenomena. But Michael “I love Instapundit so much I can’t stand it” Cecire uses “swirling” in the first sentence, cites Army of Davids, attaches a bizarre eroticism to invading other countries while elevating General Petraeus to the status of Saint, and calls Ahmadinejad “apocalyptic,” so he’s golden with that whole twisted Kaplan-worshipping crowd.

Sigh. This man found it sensible last August to advocate going to war with Russia over an unimportant spec on a map run by a petty arrogant man who speaks with a pleasing lilt. PLEASE LISTEN TO HIS SAGE THOUGHTS.


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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 26 comments }

Michael J. Totten July 1, 2009 at 11:54 pm

This blog was a lot better when Nathan ran it.

Fnord July 2, 2009 at 1:45 am

What an amazing intelectual rebuttal from mr. Totten. Full of points to consider. Heres a link from the old discussion worth reprinting: http://humanprovince.wordpress.com/2007/4/07/tottens-trip-to-upper-galilee/

Nathan July 2, 2009 at 6:07 am

Come on Michael, that guest column was pretty hollow. He made a cheap, inaccurate swipe, which one might expect to elicit a negative response.

As for the rest of it, it’s pretty cheap, ideological (I gather nuance isn’t Cecire’s strong point), and on shaky evidentiary ground. The claim, for example, that Saakashvili’s popularity has risen was supported with a story saying an opinion poll found a small rise in popularity that was within the margin of error. Is that the kind of thing we should be making policy off of?

If you liked it better when I was the loudest voice, this is one of those times you would have seen me go for the throat.

Joshua Foust July 2, 2009 at 6:41 am

Fnord, in defense of Michael, my response was quippy and not terrible intellectual. Par for the course, perhaps. But it is funny that he pretends Nathan either has no say in this blog (Nathan owns it and retains complete editorial control), or that he’s not represented here. As his comment indicates quite unambiguously, Nathan wanted a much more vicious response here.

Oh well. Maybe some day, I can have governments offering me paid junkets through their information ministries so I, too, can finally appear on the Wall Street Journal editorial page.

sean July 2, 2009 at 8:58 am

I am always wildly amused to see Totten tout his foolishness and to see that his ignorance is wide and deep enough to encompass other regions outside of the Middle East.

His infamy here has even spawned a neologism.

I can’t wait until our intrepid reporter makes his way to China or Latin America.

Nathan July 2, 2009 at 3:25 pm

Sean, for what it’s worth, I have found Michael Totten (whom I’ve met and had beers with) to be a pretty good guy. I think there’s a much better term for the phenomenon described in Silverstein’s post: “Kaplanism.” Robert Kaplan invented and perfected it. I’ve never engaged Kaplan, but I get the impression that he really can not let facts get in the way of the points he’s trying to make. I haven’t found Michael to be that way at all. If one engages him honestly and fairly, he’s more than willing to concede points of fact.

sean July 3, 2009 at 1:36 am

I’ve found that to be exactly the opposite of the case with Michael. In fact, I’ve found that when confronted with facts, he childishly bans people from his website. As for playing dangerous adventurer, check out his secret trip to an “undisclosed” location, a.k.a. a media junket to Beirut paid for by pro-government forces, which has spawned this sort of coverage. Totten’s coverage of Lebanon is always riddled with errors, from calling the South “Upper Galilee” to misrepresenting pictures — this picture of a “Hezbollah militiaman” is actually probably someone from Amal or maybe the SSNP, since the Hezbollah troops last year were in military fatigues, not bluejeans.

I don’t know what he’s like in front of a beer, and frankly I’d like to keep it that way. But online, he consistently makes sweeping generalizations that are uninformed and based on anecdotal evidence in the best case and are just plain disingenuous (not to say dishonest) in the worst case.

One of many examples is when he recently said on Commentary that “a huge percentage” of Palestinian refugees are jihadists in Lebanon. When I pressed him for actual figures or sources and pointed out that he didn’t actually know anything about the camps, he smugly replied that I needed to learn more about the country where I live.

He is a partisan and an ignorant hack who, through a disarming kind of “aww chucks” naivete, has convinced his right wing readership that he’s just reporting what he’s seeing.

Nathan July 3, 2009 at 6:01 am

Fair enough. Your mileage may vary — and I grant that people are in general less charitable over the internet than in person.

I do think, however, that he does report what he sees. But, like Robert Kaplan, what he’s seeing is filtered through preconceived biases. That may be a fine distinction, but I think it’s an important one.

Michael J. Totten July 3, 2009 at 5:23 pm

Foust: Maybe some day, I can have governments offering me paid junkets through their information ministries so I, too, can finally appear on the Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Good grief, Josh.

The WSJ has never published anything of mine based on reporting from a press junket. After I did go on a press junket in Azerbaijan, the dictator Aliyev threw a gigantic fit at the critical coverage I published in Commentary, and he fired his American PR guy because of it.

If you want to suggest a reporter is a paid flack for foreign governments, you are going to need to find a more suitable target.

Sean: I’ve found that to be exactly the opposite of the case with Michael.

That’s because Nathan is a good guy who is interested in discussion with me, while you are primarily interested in invective and name-calling. Neither you nor Foust seem remotely capable of having an adult conversation with me about anything. You have both made reasonable argumentative points, and if you would try engaging in civilized adult discourse once in a while, you’ll find, as Nathan has, that I am not at all difficult to get along with.

Joshua Foust July 3, 2009 at 5:55 pm

Well now hold up a second Michael. Only one of us has demanded the other never comment at his blog again, and it’s sure as hell not me. It sounds like your story about the American PR guy getting fired for your coverage is worth discussing — do you have any posts on that? A news story? Because that actually changes the game significantly.

My point about bias remains, but that is what blogging is. I don’t take criticisms against my writing personally, and I’m really baffled why you do. I can’t speak for this Sean fellow, whom I do not know, but if you recall my one and only critical post about you was over that one thing in Georgia. And if you think that’s not “remotely… an adult conversation” I’m not really sure what to say. A dispute, yes, but I believe adults can have disputes and not be assholes about it.

Something to think about.

Michael J. Totten July 3, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Nathan: I do think, however, that he does report what he sees. But, like Robert Kaplan, what he’s seeing is filtered through preconceived biases.

I appreciate the defense. Really. And, of course, your criticism is on-target.

That’s true for all of us, though, isn’t it? We all have pre-conceived biases about the places we visit and write about. Some are broken down over time, and some aren’t. Some should be, and some shouldn’t be. We are all human beings, not robotic cameras that record what’s happening.

Second, it’s far better to report from an admittedly biased perspective than to show up in a war zone and pretend not to give a shit what happpens.

Third, I’m a generalist. I don’t drill down into one place in particular wtih the goal of becoming an expert. I visit a variety of countries and regions and cultures where many different languages are spoken and different religions are practiced.

My advice to writers with local expertise who are annoyed at generalists like me and Kaplan is that you cease and desist the peevish bitching and helpfully, constructively, inform us instead. Any of you here could choose to become trusted sources instead of obnoxious shit-flingers any time you feel like it. I have a number of people in my stable of sources who were once rude critics and who mellowed over time after discovering that I’m not their enemy.

Michael J. Totten July 3, 2009 at 6:27 pm

Josh: do you have any posts on that? A news story?

No, I don’t. He’s a friend and asked me not to make a public issue out of it. I probably shouldn’t have mentioned it here, but your insinuation needed to be rebutted, and I trust that the Azerbaijan Ministry of Information isn’t surfing the comments boxes of blogs.

I don’t take criticism of my writing personally. I take criticism of me personally because there isn’t any other way to take it.

If you want to criticize me, here’s some advice. Write it in such a way that I might be willing to publish your criticism on the front page of my blog. Pretend I’m a friend and argue with me that way. Grit your teeth and fake it if you have to.

A number of things will happen if you do this:

1) I will take your criticism much more seriously.
2) I will look forward to more criticism from you in the future.
3) I might actually publish it, or at least link to it.

Look. I have several friends — not just online “friends,” but actual flesh-and-blood real-world friends — whom I met solely because they first wrote something critical about me. I had even banned one from commenting on my Web site until he promised to chill out and stop insulting me. We’re pretty good friends now, we’ve met several times in Beirut, and we’ve helped each other professionally in more than one country. My best friend and I argue constantly because it is fun and we learn a lot from it. It’s really up to you if you prefer an antagonistic relationship or a cool one. I will reciprocate in kind either way.

That goes for Sean, too, but I think you’re more likely to take my advice than he is.

Fabius Maximus July 3, 2009 at 7:01 pm

As someone with no dog in this scrap, and who has both conversed electronically with Foust and Totten, and read much of their writings, I’d suggest readers move on from this thread. Both have strong biases and different knowledge bases. Both are very clear about these, neither over-representing their knowledge nor hiding their biases.

That’s all I ask from reporting, which is IMO what both provide on their sites — valuable perspectives, and IMO among the most valuable sources available to us.

I’d like to see deep objective analysis by area experts about our wars in Central Asia, but its scarce — and always biased.

sean July 4, 2009 at 5:19 am

I’m actually not very interested in whether or not you take my criticism seriously, Michael, because neither I nor anyone I know in Lebanon takes your coverage of this country seriously.

What I am interested in is letting people in the US know how biased and wrong and in some cases dishonest your coverage of this region is.

I think our last exchange speaks for itself. I told you that you should be ashamed of yourself for making uninformed judgments on an entire population that you know nothing about — in effect saying that “a huge percentage of Palestinian refugees [in Lebanon] are jihadists.” This is an absurd statement for which you have absolutely no evidence except for having seen some Hamas posters on the one (?) occasion you’ve ever set foot in a camp here. I’m sorry, but that’s not journalism. It’s not even honest.

Nathan July 4, 2009 at 11:30 am

Michael, yes, we do all have biases that shape our writing. I have always appreciated that you don’t obscure yours.

I bristle at the characterization of criticism of generalists by area specialists as “peevish bitching,” especially where Robert Kaplan is concerned. There are many varieties of generalists out there. If Kaplan were simply a reporter, what he writes probably wouldn’t be worth getting worked up over. What sets him apart is that he makes a big theoretical claim about the world (IT’S ALL FALLING APART!!!!), collect and shape evidence that confirms the claim (seething anti-Tajik rage behind Uzbek eyes, for example), and then makes policy suggestions and/or advises policymakers. Academic generalists and area specialists have engaged with and informed him on the first and second parts, most famously on his writing about the Balkans. His schtick hasn’t changed as near as I can tell.

Michael J. Totten July 4, 2009 at 1:44 pm

Nathan,

Kaplan doesn’t necessarily have an “it’s all falling apart” shtick. Read my interview with him at the top of the front page of my blog right now, and you’ll see. He’s working on a book right now with a completely different thesis, and we discussed that.

I bristle at the characterization of criticism of generalists by area specialists as “peevish bitching,”

I wasn’t talking about you. I have never noticed that tendency in you.

Sean: neither I nor anyone I know in Lebanon takes your coverage of this country seriously.

That’s because Lebanon is extremly polarized and you hang out
with a politically opposite crowd. My Lebanese friends think you’re a hysterical jackass. So what else is new?

I noticed “Angry Arab” likes to call you “The White Man,” too, though, so at least we have that in common.

Walid Jumblatt and Saad Hariri take me seriously, so I really don’t care what a crank like you thinks. I’ll take them over a thousand of the likes of yourself.

noah July 4, 2009 at 2:04 pm

MT: My advice to writers with local expertise who are annoyed at generalists like me and Kaplan is that you cease and desist the peevish bitching and helpfully, constructively, inform us instead. Any of you here could choose to become trusted sources instead of obnoxious shit-flingers any time you feel like it. I have a number of people in my stable of sources who were once rude critics and who mellowed over time after discovering that I’m not their enemy.

Okay, I don’t exactly have a dog in this fight either–God forbid getting involved in a thread every time Josh pisses somebody off!–but seriously, it’s not the job of area specialists everywhere to fix the mistakes of “generalists.” If any journalist wants help from area specialists, ask before publishing stuff instead calling people who call you out on your mistakes “shit flingers.”

Michael J. Totten July 4, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Noah: If any journalist wants help from area specialists, ask before publishing stuff instead calling people who call you out on your mistakes “shit flingers.”

Of course I ask area specialists. I just didn’t ask Josh Foust about Georgia. Is he an expert on Georgia? Maybe. I really don’t know, and don’t know if he has even been there. All the people I quoted either live in Georgia or have lived in Georgia for years. I can’t do my job if I don’t quote such people, and I can’t ask every person who thinks of himself as an expert.

Anyway, expert or not, Josh does follow Georgia more closely than I do. And like I said, it’s not the criticism I mind, it’s the attitude. I interview, quote, and even publish people whom I don’t necessarily agree with, so I don’t see why the bad attitude is necessary. I sometimes roll my eyes when a journalist briefly parachutes into a place I know reasonably well, but I help when I can rather than mock or attack.

I apologize to readers for what must be a boring and seemingly sectarian argument. Josh and I are colleagues of sorts, and my purpose here is to change the tone of our “relationship” to one that’s a little bit more constructive. I recently managed to repair a much more hostile relationship between myself and Juan Cole, and I think it’s worth the effort with some (not all) people.

sean July 4, 2009 at 4:03 pm

You see, Michael, this is part of the problem. You assume that I hang out with “a politically opposite crowd,” when the truth is that my friends and acquaintances are extremely diverse in their political views. When I want to know about what’s going on in Bsharre, I ask LF supporters from there; when I want to know what’s up in the Chouf, I go visit a friend who lives there; likewise for Dahiyeh, the south, Bourj Hammoud or Shatilla. On the other hand, during your trip to the south, you thought it wise to be shown around by “professional enemies of Hezbollah,” who I imagine were from the mountain and not the south.

As for being taken seriously by Sa’ad Hariri, I imagine that’s true, but not quite in the way you mean. The Satchi and Satchi crowd and Now partisans et al. take these junkets pretty seriously, which is why people like you and Judith Miller and that dreadfully ignorant wine guy Osborne were offered paid trips to Lebanon. They probably even trotted out some token Shi’a, like Lokman Slim (whom I respect, by the way), to convince you that they were being even-handed and non-sectarian. The truth of the matter is that you’re extremely partisan, and are likewise handled by partisans, but you either don’t want to admit it or don’t even realize what’s happening. Honestly, why do you think they pay for these junkets, if not to lobby on behalf of their cause.

You don’t have to be an expert or specialist to be critical of your sources and try to get several points of view on a story, so hiding behind the defense of being a generalist doesn’t really cut it. To my mind, being a good journalist involves empathy with the people you’re covering while doing your best to not be an active party in the conflict. We all have our partis pris, but when we’re incapable of seeing past those, then judgments becomes clouded and reporting turns into partisan shilling.

Michael J. Totten July 4, 2009 at 6:10 pm

Yes, Sean, I’m partisan on Lebanon. Almost everyone is. I share the same point of view on Lebanon that every Western government does. I refuse to apologize for it, but of course I acknowledge it. I still try my best to be accurate, imperfect though I may be.

On the other hand, during your trip to the south, you thought it wise to be shown around by “professional enemies of Hezbollah,” who I imagine were from the mountain and not the south.

Maybe you should ask instead of imagine. They were from the south, not the mountain. It’s not that I thought it “wise” to be shown around by “professional enemies of Hezbollah.” Rather, they were the only ones I could find who would take me down there on my schedule.

Meanwhile, Nir Rosen “embedded” with Hezbollah in May 2008 when its fighters attacked the capital. I wouldn’t have done that, but it’s a way to get a story and learn something.

I’d be willing to go on a Hezbollah-led tour of the south if they would let me, but that wasn’t an option. I tried that more than once. It was one of the first things I did when I arrived in Lebanon, long before I ever wrote one word about them.

Anyway, I had been down to the south previously with a Shia woman who was also from there and more sympathetic to Hezbollah. I’ve been down there many times, sometimes escorted and sometimes not. I took my mother down there once when she visited me on vacation when things were more mellow. I have a number of friends who were born and raised down there, and I long ago lost track of the number I’ve spoken to who are Hezbollah partisans.

Anyway, I know how to do my job better than you know how to do my job. I don’t need you to tell me how junkets work, as I have participated in the process and you have not. You’re an English teacher, not a journalist. I assume you know how to do your job, just as I know how to do mine. One reason I was happy to go on a junket to Lebanon is that I knew I could write whatever I damn well pleased without creating an incident as I did when I wrote critically of Azerbaijan.

I have criticized March 14 without getting any grief whatsoever, but I was threatened with violence by Hezbollah after cracking a joke on my blog. The really dumb thing about THAT incident was the joke was at the esxpense of right-wing Americans and in defense of Hezbollah. You just can’t please some people, and after a certain point there is no use trying.

Anyway, let me know if you feel like being cool and discussing this stuff agreeably and without hostility. Until then, I have work to do and should stop wasting my time and the time of Registan’s readers. Signing off…

Nathan July 4, 2009 at 6:20 pm

Michael, I included myself on the “peevish bitching” comment because I do go after Kaplan often and think periodic re-readings of “Euphorias of Perrier” (written by another generalist, I feel I have to note) are good for the soul.

To be more accurate, Kaplan does something more broad than I said, especially with his more recent work — he overstates the wisdom and relevance of classical and 19th century geopolitical theory and practice. Sure, there are lessons to be drawn from these periods of human history, but not especially so despite our cultural fetishization of political thought and practice of those times. When he sticks to ideas, I rarely find too much to worry about, even if I disagree with him. When he adds in evidence from his travels or current events though, I find that he tends to overstate the historical importance of events and he seems to have the stunning knack to find absolutely no evidence counter to the argument he makes. I don’t think we want advice made on such suspect grounds to inform US policy.

Joshua Foust July 4, 2009 at 6:59 pm

Okay, gentlemen, let’s take a big step back for a moment:

1) This is not a forum for debating one’s position within Lebanese politics. You two take that part of the discussion elsewhere.

2) MT, Nathan has vigorously and consistently defended you, even while we had an angry email exchange last year. That being said, in this specific instance with the good Michael Cecire, he would have chosen a much more vigorous, angry response for his petty sniping.

3) Our dispute over the Georgia crisis, if I recall it correctly, related to me accusing you of “not doing your homework” during your dispatches from Tblisi because I felt blockquoting a Georgian official and a renown anti-Russian partisan was one-sided. You told me you take your job very seriously, etc. etc.

HOWEVER, at the time you mentioned that you were working through some new information about that war, specifically that Georgia was lying about being a hapless victim of rampaging Russian aggression. Whatever happened to that?

This is like your trip to Azerbaijan. That is something that matters, and is apparently secret information that makes you more, not less, legit in the eyes of people like Sean. If you do indeed wrestle with the tenets of a story, especially after it’s been published, that is a mark of integrity, not weakness or lack of skill.

Yet all that shows up in public is me noting some slipshod coverage and you banning me from your comment section. Plus, as Noah pointed out, yelling at people for pointing that out (or here calling them “shit flingers”) really doesn’t elevate the discussion in the way you seem to want to elevate it. Courtesy goes both ways, dude.

Lastly, what the hell are you people doing on a blog comment thread today? Sean I can understand since he’s in Lebanon and maybe not American (seriously, who the hell are you?) but the rest of you should be grilling or frying things. I made a big pile of root chips—potaotes, turnips, and beets—and they’re quite delicious. And beet-butt chicken, which is better than I expected it to be.

And Robert Kaplan is a douche if he thinks reviving MacKinder is hip or novel. Sorry, it was done during the big geopolitics revival in the 90s. MT, that’s my big problem with Kaplan. He just magically “discovers” things that have been around for years, only instead of doing due diligence to see if anyone’s ever written about it before he either publicizes it as if it’s some new HUGE THING (as Nathan points out), or he semi-plagiarizes existing work and reacts to it like he’s really clever and inventive. The Indian Ocean was important in the 80s’, then again in the late 90s, and now he’s making it important again. Got it, been there and done that.

It’s annoying to “specialists” (I am not a specialist in the Indian Ocean, but I’ve been buried in geopolitical theory for some time) when someone like Kaplan (a “generalist,” though lots of people use less charitable language) steals the thunder of an entire field and takes credit for it. I’m not talking about myself here—I’ve never written anything about the region—but he’s sidelining a whole field of research. That is what Nathan and I find so deeply frustrating and dishonest about him. He rehashes the work of legit experts but gets 100% of the credit and nominated to the Defense Policy Board. That’s crap, and you know it.

Michael J. Totten July 4, 2009 at 7:27 pm

Josh: This is not a forum for debating one’s position within Lebanese politics. You two take that part of the discussion elsewhere.

Agreed, I’m done with that. Sorry.

MT, Nathan has vigorously and consistently defended you, even while we had an angry email exchange last year. That being said, in this specific instance with the good Michael Cecire, he would have chosen a much more vigorous, angry response for his petty sniping.

Look, that’s fine. I haven’t read Nathan’s take on this since he seems not to have written one, and I’m not going to take sides on the dispute in advance. Cecire asked if I would publish a guest piece by him on the topic and I said sure. I would have done the same for Nathan had he asked instead. I didn’t tell Cecire what to write, nor would I tell Nathan what to write. Those two can argue about that amongst themselves. I’ll be happy to publish a response by Nathan if he wants and if it’s polite.

HOWEVER, at the time you mentioned that you were working through some new information about that war, specifically that Georgia was lying about being a hapless victim of rampaging Russian aggression. Whatever happened to that?

I did follow the information as it developed, and I agree that it’s possible the Georgian government lied. I don’t know whether or not that has been definitively established because I moved on from that topic when I flew to Sadr City, Iraq.

Yet all that shows up in public is me noting some slipshod coverage and you banning me from your comment section.

I don’t remember banning you, but you probably deserved it. I have critics in my comments section who have been arguing with me for years, and I appreciate their constructive feedback. I’ll lift the ban if you ask me to and if you argue with me as though I’m sitting next to you in a bar.

Anyway, you did far worse than note “slipshod coverage.” You put words in my mouth and “quoted” me in the Columbia Journalism Review saying something I did not say. You should have actually quoted me — using quotation marks — instead of paraphrasing and distorting what I actually said.

Courtesy goes both ways, dude.

I have been far more courteous to you than you have been to me. Look at the thread above. You accused me of publishing Azerbaijani ministry propaganda in the Wall Street Journal, which is not even in the same time zone as what actually happened. If I were as discourteous to you as you are to me, I’d be accusing you of doing the same for Vladimir Putin.

Joshua Foust July 4, 2009 at 8:28 pm

Michael, let us use quotations:

Nathan Hamm, this thread, 7.2.2009: “Come on Michael, that guest column was pretty hollow. He made a cheap, inaccurate swipe, which one might expect to elicit a negative response… If you liked it better when I was the loudest voice, this is one of those times you would have seen me go for the throat.”

Seriously, Nathan takes editorial control and ownership of this site — if I step over the time (and I’ve done it on occasion), he’s had me walk back or even remove a post. Your site bears your name in the URL — accept some ownership of what gets written there. But that is beside the point.

Judging by your comment, you found an indication that the Georgian government was lying about what happened during the war, but got distracted by newer work and didn’t have a chance to put any more work into the story. That’s actually perfectly fine… now that it’s in the open and we know it. But what is this?

I don’t remember banning you, but you probably deserved it…

Anyway, you did far worse than note “slipshod coverage.” You put words in my mouth and “quoted” me in the Columbia Journalism Review saying something I did not say. You should have actually quoted me — using quotation marks — instead of paraphrasing and distorting what I actually said.

From the Columbia Journalism Review, 8.2.2008:

The advent of citizen propaganda (as compared to media) is an important, and often neglected, phenomenon of modern warfare. During the recent hostilities in the Caucasus, this phenomenon was manifested in various ways—whether independent blogger-journalists like Michael J. Totten writing 5,000-word press releases with the help of official Georgian media representatives, or Blake Fleetwood accusing the GOP of orchestrating the war for their own election prospects. But this angle has largely been excluded from discussion about how the war has been portrayed.

That is the only time I have ever mentioned you there, and that is the only place in that piece where you appear. You just admitted that the Georgian government fed you a line (this was in our email exchange as well), yet insist I inaccurately portrayed your LONG recounting of a paid Georgian official account of the way by calling it a press release?

Again: gimme a break! Your email at the time complained that you didn’t have the “help” of any Georgian representatives, just a long sit down where they spoke and you transcribed. Okay, fine, it’s a semantic distinction perhaps. You also disputed the term “propaganda,” though I doubt you actually read the whole piece to see the phenomenon I was trying to describe. Again: fine, I’m sure you run into that all the time.

Then there was this:

I apologize for getting pissy at you in my comments section, but I was traveling at the time, was not able to argue with you on the merits or engage you at any length, and I was justifiably peeved that you said I self-identified with the buffoons who showed up in Georgia without having done any research.

This is not to belabor the point, but all of this happened well after you told me explicitly I was never welcome on your blog again. “I’m tired and snapped” is not quite the same as “why are you so mean to me you should be nice like we’re drinking.”

Make up your mind. Note I’ve never disinvited you from voicing your opinion here, no matter how disingenuous you’ve been about this. Nor did I call you a “completely full of shit individual,” as you did to me on your blog.

Like I said: courtesy goes both ways.

Which is still, I should repeat NOT THE TOPIC OF THE POST, which was Michael Cecire being a douche in accusing me of drawing a moral equivalence between Saakashvili and Ahmadinejad simply because I felt the riots in Georgia were not receiving enough attention as I felt they should. I’m sure you could agree, Michael, that that is a ridiculous thing to accuse someone of, tantamount to accusing them of writing Georgian government propaganda. More importantly, I would wager it is probably not something a professional, ethical journalist would want written on his named blog.

sean July 5, 2009 at 1:23 am

Josh: I was merely bringing up the Lebanon-specific stuff to make a point about Totten’s coverage in general, which I find insanely biased, and which he defends by telling us that he takes the same line of Western governments. I find this problematic, but apparently he doesn’t.

As for who I am, I’m a former UN employee who now teaches writing and a course on violence in the 20th century here in Beirut. I came across this blog because ever since I spent several weeks in Uzbekistan back in 2005, I’ve been fascinated with the country.

I’m not too big on 4th of July celebrations, and besides, even if I were, I don’t eat meat, so BBQs always leave something to be desired.

Michael: I’m not going to get into any more Lebanese stuff on here, but if you have written critical pieces about March 14, I’d be genuinely curious to read them, because I’ve never come across a single one on your blog that I can recall.

And finally, about Georgia, have you guys seen Babluani’s film L’Héritage? I’ve been trying to find a copy of it for ages…

Richard Silverstein July 5, 2009 at 2:31 am

I don’t drill down into one place in particular wtih the goal of becoming an expert

Which is an admission that Totten knows just enough about the places he covers to be dangerous, but not enough to write anything halfway accurate or intelligent.

I can’t say why some might want to have a beer with Totten & consider him a nice guy. I’m only interested in what he writes & how woefully inadequate it is. I wouldn’t have a beer with him if he was the last person on earth (well, perhaps a slight exagerration).

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