Horton Hears a Boo: Journalistic Hijinks at Harper's Exposed

Scott Horton, who seems to be able to read news articles from “neocon” writers which are devilishly difficult to find for anyone else, recently ran afoul of John Hinderaker at Powerline blog. According to Hinderaker, Horton mischaracterized the case of terrorism suspect and Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein by comparing it to the trial of John Peter Zenger, and engaged in what Hinderaker labeled “a vicious but entirely unsubstantiated libel of the U.S. military” in Horton’s blog at Harper’s.


In addition, Hinderaker states that Horton hid his involvement in the case:

Scott Horton was, until January, a partner in the law firm that represents Bilal Hussein – a fact that Horton did not find it necessary to disclose to his readers. There is indeed a story here, and one that relates directly to journalism – the kind of thing in which E & P might be expected to take an interest. But political loyalty trumps journalistic standards at E & P.

To sum up: Scott Horton claims to have an anonymous “source” inside the Pentagon, who relayed to him the contents of a DOD briefing on the Hussein case. I think this is plainly false. I believe that Horton has a source, but is it a source inside the Pentagon, or inside Hussein’s defense team, headed by Horton’s former law partner? If Horton has a “source” inside the Pentagon, who is it? Is this purported source someone with knowledge of the Hussein case, as Horton claims, or is it just another left-winger regurgitating anti-American talking points?

If Mr. Hinderaker had done a bit more digging, he would have found that Horton’s conflict of interest is even greater than it appears. Not only was Scott Horton a law partner of Hussein’s defense attorney Paul Gardephe, but Horton was also an investigator for Hussein’s defense team through the end of 2006, according to none other than Scott Horton himself.


I was involved with Bilal Hussein’s case through the end of last year and I personally conducted investigations that disproved many of the contentions advanced – and then quickly withdrawn – by U.S. Forces in Iraq. From my own examination of the case and discussions with U.S. representatives, I was convinced that Bilal Hussein was seized and has been held in captivity for the last year for one reason: the Pentagon was embarrassed by the photographs he took of the fighting in Al-Anbar province. They contradicted the message the Pentagon was putting out about the nature and scope of fighting in Al-Anbar and senior figures in the Bush administration were particularly galled that the AP won the Pulitzer Prize for its photographic coverage of the war. The Pentagon wanted to send a message to the entire press community in Iraq: Cross us, and we can just lock you up. And we don’t need reasons. This is justice in the style of the Bush administration.

While Horton states in his December 23 Harper’s entry that he interviewed several Iraqi judges “in the spring of last year,” he neglected to mention that he was actively involved in Hussein’s defense case at the time. Likewise, when Horton claimed on April 24 that “the accusations publicly stated [against Bilal Hussein] by [Pentagon spokeman] Brian Whitman and others have already been largely disproved,” he neglected to mention that he is the person who stated those accusations had been disproved months before.


On November 21, Horton wrote that “a Pentagon source who requested anonymity advised me that the Pentagon has prepared a total of nine charges against Hussein.” Why would a source request anonymity for something that was already on the public record?

AP’s Tom Curley mentioned a review of the nine original charges in the case in Horton’s April 24 post:

Curley said that when Whitman arranged a review of the nine original charges in the case, they eliminated seven, and the other two are simply “nonsense.” He closed: “We have fired others who have worked for us. When Bilal Hussein gets out of jail he will continue to work for The Associated Press.”

Does Horton have real anonymous Pentagon sources, or is he, as Hinderaker suggests, a “conduit for anonymous slanders of the American military,” packaging already known information and putting “his own prejudices into the mouth of an anonymous source” for a former client he thinks is innocent?

We already know Horton has seen fit to omit his own personal involvement in the case from his most recent articles on Bilal Hussein’s trial. As someone acting on behalf of the Associated Press at one point in the investigation surrounding the Hussein case, it would seem Horton owes it to his readers to disclose his involvement in the investigation, or recuse himself from commenting on this case in which he was personally involved.


Bob Owens blogs at Confederate Yankee.


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