- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 15, 2002

Turning the tables
Journalism is usually a lot more fun for those of us who report and write the news than for the people we write about, and no wonder: A disproportionate amount of what we write seems to be tragic, alarming or scandalous.
So there is always a sense of discomfort or worse when we, as journalists, find ourselves on the receiving end of somebody else's reporting.
That happened last week in response to an article we had published the week before on Hezbollah, the militant Islamic group based in southern Lebanon that draws financing and other support from Syria and Iran.
The story came from Paul Martin, a London-based free-lancer who travels frequently in the Middle East and closely monitors the Arabic media in London. In it, we had the Hezbollah leader calling in Lebanon for his followers to begin spreading suicide bombings around the world.
We didn't think too much more about the article until we got a call early last week from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. saying it wanted to interview Mr. Martin.
The caller explained that the Canadian government had recently issued a list of terrorist organizations that were to be banned in the country and have their assets frozen.
Hezbollah, which we learned later uses Canada as a base for fund-raising activity, had been left off the list, and the opposition parties appear to have been making an issue out of that decision.
The Canadian government, the CBC caller told me, had been forced to reconsider its decision as a result of our article, and a reversal was expected within days; the network said it wanted to speak to Mr. Martin for a report on how news coverage can influence public-policy decisions.

A professor in Florida
The CBC seems to have greatly exaggerated our role in the policy reversal, said Mr. Martin, who understands that the Canadian decision was already under review before our article appeared.
But we are always flattered to see our reporting influence policy, whether at home or abroad, and were happy to arrange the interview they requested.
So I was unpleasantly surprised when, on Thursday morning, I received an e-mail from a free-lancer in Toronto with a transcript of the CBC report. The piece not only credited us with prompting the change in policy, but said a reporter in Lebanon had been unable to find any evidence that the remarks had ever been made.
Shortly afterward, a slightly apologetic reporter from the Toronto Globe and Mail called to inquire about the quotes. It seems we had become drawn into a tiff between Canadian hard-liners who wanted to crack down on Hezbollah and liberals who believed that, apart from fighting the Israelis in southern Lebanon, the group was mainly a provider of educational and social services.
By this time I was already busy tracking down the source of the quotes.
It turned out they had been provided by a Lebanese professor of Middle Eastern studies at a small university in Florida.
The professor maintains an informal network of friends in Lebanon who monitor the local broadcasts and publications of political groups in the country. He receives much of the material in the original Arabic and translates it for his classes and others in this country.
Mr. Martin had seen the professor interviewed on Fox News, checked out his credentials and then called him to get the quotes for the story.
When we contacted the professor, he was able to provide us with chapter and verse, detailing exactly when and where the remarks were made. One of the quotes came from a Hezbollah publication, and the professor provided us with the original Arabic by way of an attachment to an e-mail.
It appears, from what I have seen so far, that we are on solid ground with the quotes. But I am troubled by one question from the Globe and Mail reporter, who asked us, "Is it your policy to use second-hand quotes?"
The answer is, not if we can help it, but in the case of foreign-language broadcasts, they have to be monitored and translated by somebody, whether a wire agency, a U.S. government agency or a professor in Florida. My only regret is that we didn't do a better job in the original article of explaining how we got hold of the quotes.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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