The Implicit Threats of Philip Smucker

by Joshua Foust on 7/12/2009 · 6 comments

First, the background: Last week, I posted about Major Cory Schulz, who alleged that freelancer journalist Philip Smucker misquoted statements he had made. Major Schulz sought me out for the post, complaining that Smucker had misquoted him because of a personal conflict with a PAO. In the course of trying to verify the story, I reached out to Smucker, asking him about the charges and noting that he disputed Major Schulz’s version of events. He put me in touch with one of his contacts within the military, and said he could explain (I sent that contact an email, but heard nothing back). It’s all at the link above, which I thought was a fairly open-and-closed affair.

Now: A week has passed, and Smucker sent me a rather surprising email:

Dear Joshua.

I think you owe me an official apology for the below statement in bold letters.

Among the assertions Smucker made was that most of the violence in the area was driven by Al Qaeda; Major Schulz claims he and his team told Smucker they were actually tribal and local, not Al Qaeda.

“Multiple times,” Major Schulz said, he and his captain, “told him that his information was totally off and he chose to run with it anyway.” He attributes the slant of the reporting to a dispute Smucker had with the local PAO.

(Major Schulz never (ever) told me that my “information was totally off.” That is utter and complete nonsense. I never even ran my reporting past him.

If the allegations are true, then they are serious, as they would imply that Philip Smucker knowingly printed false or misleading statements attributed to individuals who dispute them. That is a serious ethical violation.

You say that I “assert” that “most of the violence in the area was driven by al Qaeda.” ???????????????? Just where are those assertions that MOST OF THE VIOLENCE IN THE AREA” is driven by AQ???????????????

Excuse me, Joshua, but that is an out and out falsehood. My story on AQ isn’t even about Bermel.

Please read this story as well: http://news.yahoo.com/s/mcclatchy/20090702/wl_mcclatchy/3264706. Believe it or not, serious journalists write about different angles on different days.. We don’t live off assertions. That would be the work of others…

The breadth of my reporting does not and never has asserted that “most of the violence in the area was driven by al Qaeda.”

Please print on your blog that I believe you have directly misrepresented my reporting. If you can’t do that, then I will not consider you to be an honest man.

Thank you for presenting “allegations” as “allegations.”

Who pays for your blog and what are your own political interests? Please — in the interest of full disclosure — provide details here. You seem to be intent on slandering me. I don’t appreciate that.

You seem to suggest that I’ve found it somehow in my interest to print falsehoods? Nonsense.

I’m a news reporter and a professional and I live on peanuts and actually risk my life to try to get closer to the truth. I may not be perfect, but I don’t deserve to be disrespected in this manner or misrepresented you.

Finally, do you actually think that the issues in Bermel are only “tribal and local?” That is utterly naive. It is opposite one of AQ’s biggest strongholds in Pakistan All the roads INTO Bermel come from Pakistan, not from Afghanistan. Have you even bothered to speak with Tahir Luddin or my pal David Rohde about their recent and extended experiences in Waziristan?

hmm

BEST

Needless to say, it went downhill from there.

In response, I quoted one of his stories, and explained why I thought it said he was arguing that most of the violence was, in fact, due to al Qaeda. I also apologized, saying I didn’t mean to anger him about it.

In his response, Smucker repeated his belief that I was wrong to say he asserted al Qaeda was responsible for most of the violence along the border of Afghanistan, and felt I was unfair in linking to the AIM story which notes the Christian Science Monitor had to apologize for its own reporting in respect to forged documents Smucker collected from a Saddam Hussein palace in Iraq.

In response to Smucker’s complaints about how I wasn’t sufficiently noting his dissent from my post, I appended the post in which I noted Major Schulz’s complaint against Smucker’s reporting. In his response, Smucker responded he was “sorry” that he had “handed [me] contacts in good faith” and claimed I made no effort to use them responsibly. He then accused me of slander.

The Pièce de résistance? The last line of Smucker’s email:

you won’t print that because you are not into the idea of defending anyone’s right to
free speech…..

Watch for your name in print.

Smucker

Classy guy, that Smucker. I don’t think he knows what slander is.

Now, it’s important to note that I have plenty of off-the-record discussions with journalists. In fact, I would say I am on a very friendly basis with many, especially many who cover the war in Afghanistan (that is, while there is crap, there is also some very good reporting from the country). I do not make it a habit to publicize an email conversation—with anyone, for that matter—but I think this warrants a special case.

This is the third war Philip Smucker is being accused of either exaggerating or outright lying about. In 1998, he was caught lying about a supposed massacre of Kosovars near the city of Orahovac.

Case in point. On 6 August 1998, the Washington Times featured “stringer” Philip Smucker’s exclusive front page headline read: “Kosovar bodies bulldozed to dump; Serbs deny massacre, but evidence [not “alleged,” or “thought-to-be], but “evidence impossible to avoid of mass graves containing the bodies of 567.” He also claimed that at least half of the bodies were those of women and children although, to that point, the alleged bodies had not been exhumed. To further embellish his story, Smucker went on to say, “Stark evidence in the form of freshly turned earth and the overwhelming stench of death has exposed the presence of scores of bodies that were bulldozed into a garbage dump after a Serbian attack against ethnic Albanian rebels who tried to seize this town.” Even a photograph accompanied Smucker’s article with the caption, “A news photographer shoots a picture of fresh graves – some identified with ethnic Albanian names – in the Kosovar town of Orahovac,” (Kosova is the Albanian name given to Kosovo).

However, on the very same day, the Guardian [UK] of 6 August 1998, reported, “European Union (EU) observers found no evidence of mass graves reported in the town of Orahovac, the teams’ Austrian leader, Walter Ebenberger, said.” In contrast to the front page coverage given to Mr. Smucker’s intended shock-attention report on Serb atrocities, the following day the Washington Times carried a small, barely noticeable item hidden on page A15 (World Scene, 7 August 1998), which stated, “NATO Chief [Secretary-General Javier Solana] dismissed mass graves in Kosovo.”

Then, in 2003, the Christian Science Monitor had to print a retraction, admitting the documents discussed in another Smucker article—which accused George Galloway of various kinds of involvement with the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq—were “almost certainly forgeries” (something Smucker himself admitted in our email conversation that inspired this post).

And now, again, we have Smucker, again, accused of modifying facts to fit his story. And he’s hopping mad about me noting it.

None of this means Smucker actually invented details in his story about Chechens in Paktika. In fact, I have been unable to confirm anything in it, from either side. But it is noteworthy that the soldiers he has quoted vigorously dispute his story, and it is even more noteworthy just how viciously he responded to that knowledge becoming public.


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This post was written by...

– 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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{ 6 comments }

Christian July 12, 2009 at 10:59 am

“Who pays for your blog and what are your own political interests? Please — in the interest of full disclosure — provide details here.”

Smucker thinks that blogs are paid for? Yeah, I hear that Nathan uses Saudi money to pay his team of mercenary bloggers $10 per word. *eyes roll*

Fnord July 13, 2009 at 9:59 am

Its like Major Major or whatever Exum called him from Lebanon, who reported Hezbollah fighters were no such folks were, then retired to write hack pieces for obscure rightwing magazines. Where do these hacks get educated? And why do they keep their jobs? (Mutters darkly about national lobbies and rightwing nuts).

Turgai Sangar July 13, 2009 at 11:49 am

“Smucker thinks that blogs are paid for?” Sometimes they are, e.g. New Eurasia co-funded by Hivos (cf. http://www.neweurasia.net/partnerships )

“$10 per word” Bloody cheapskates. A case for the trade union really.

steve July 13, 2009 at 1:51 pm

this is one reason, perhaps the only reason, blogging deserves to be taken seriously. as fact checking departments fall to the budget axe — assuming such departments existed in any substantial way in the first place at most media outlets — it’s nice to see “real” journalists being fact-checked by bloggers.

michaelhancock July 14, 2009 at 2:39 am

Full disclosure: My name is Michael Hancock, I may not be a political analyst, but I play one at parties. I contribute with some regularity [not counting during exams] to Registan on topics regarding Central Asia, and Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan more specifically. Nathan and I were both PCVs in Uzbekistan, that is the totality of our connection – the other bloggers and I have never even met, let alone made transactions of any kind. If we were being paid, I would hope we would first hire an editor to catch my typos and slips of writing style.

That’s all there is to that. Slander is a nasty thing to start slapping around – sticks and stones, and all that.

Jam July 14, 2009 at 7:35 am

Smucker is a blog version of Ahmed Rashid?

@Christian, can you give me the contacts of the Arab sheikh plz?

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