British journalist Peter Hitchens published an article on the website of Mail on Sunday which has many statements by anonymous sources. Hitchens did not factcheck the controversial statements and as a result the article has multiple factual inaccuracies.
The piece is about the OPCW which investigated an alleged chemical attack in Douma which took place in April 2018 and killed over 40 persons. In another column published at Daily Mail Hitchens is using ad hominem to discredit Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins after he complained in the past Higgins discredited him.
Peter Hitchens is a British columnist for newspapers Mail on Sunday and Daily Mail. In recent months he wrote several articles about the alleged chemical attack in Douma. He believes the OPCW suppressed a report made by an OPCW whistleblower who concluded it was more likely cylinders containing gas were manually placed then dropped from air. This would imply not the Syrian president Assad was responsible for the alleged usage of chemicals but the rebels who controlled Douma at the time.
Hitches does not understand media is ignoring the OPCW whistleblower statements. This article will show why!
In his January 24 2020 published piece Hitchens provides a podium to unnamed sources close to former OPCW inspector Henderson. The article intends to inform the reader about , according the unknown sources, several “mistakes” in a Bellingcat article which criticizes Henderson. The source mentioned by Hitchens could well be Ian Henderson himself.
I asked Hitchens why he just copied what he was told by his unnamed source without doing some basic factchecking or providing some context. His response was that I do know nothing about journalism.
His double standard on factchecking is proven by an earlier Twitter conversation I had with the British columnist. Hitchens likes to state Bellingcat is funded by the United States government suggesting the work of the internet sleuths is influecend. I confronted Hitchens with the fact that National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is a private organization.
Hitchens responded by saying “Basic rule of journalism: Don’t take govt statements at face value”.
I totally agree with that rule! I do a lot of investigative journalism. However that basic rule should also be applied to sources. Hitchens simply ignores that rule for his source and seems to be lured into what he believes is a fantastic scoop.
Hitchens did not respond to my questions if any quality gate as used before publication. Factchecks, peer reviews by co-workers. Does his editor in chief knows the names of his sources? Did Hitchens do any factchecking? The answer to that last question seems no.
Ignoring rapid developing corrosion
Despite Hitchens lack of knowledge on corrosion “I know absolutely nothing about corrosion” his piece discusses corrosion.
In the paragraph titled ‘Cylinder corrosion’ Hitchens wrote ‘The inspectors reported that the cylinder at Location 4 did not discharge its contents’. Hitchens suggests the cylinder never discharged and might have arrived empty. That is not what is stated in the final report by OPCW. Paragraph 8.33 says ” From what the team observed, there did not appear to be any leakage from the cylinder at the time the team visited the location.” (I marked the bold text.)
In its conclusion the OPCW investigators (not mentioned in the piece by Hitchens) wrote:
Based on the levels of chlorinated organic derivatives, detected in several
environmental samples gathered at the sites of alleged use of toxic chemicals
(Locations 2 and 4), which are not naturally present in the environment, the FFM
concludes that the objects from which the samples were taken at both locations had
been in contact with one or more substances containing reactive chlorine”
The report also states about Location 4:
The team noted that a slat of wood was lying under the cylinder on the bed, part of which was taken as a sample. The slat of wood was damp and softened. The laboratory analysis showed that the wood sample had the highest content of chlorinated organic compounds of all wood samples taken.
This was also ignored by Hitchens. So there WAS chlorine at Location 4.
Hitchens writes (being a conduit for his anonymous source) “It was not possible to identify any clear “fresh” chloride corrosion in the room. ”
Nonsense! The OPCW final report states in paragraph 8.16 : “At Location 4 the team observed visible signs of corrosion on the metallic objects present in the apartment”.
Now nobody uses household bleach to clean bed lamps and chandeliers. The humidity on April 7, 2018 was according the OPCW final report 27%. The humidity in a home is normally over 30%. So corrosion by natural factors seems extremely unlikely.
The progress of the corrosion of the harness around the cylinder at Location 4 can be seen in this series of photos. Photo 1 to 5 were all made while the cylinder was on the bed in Location 4. Photo 6 was taken severall weeks later.
It is very clear the colour of the harness changes rapidly from black to brown in about two weeks time.
1: Still from video by Forensic Architecture, 2: Still from video by Forensic Architecture, 3: Image taken on 8th or 9th April, 4: image from Russian news report aired on 26th April, 5: image of cylinder in FFM final report, 6: image of cylinder in Final FFM report after tagging, indicating it was taken on the 3rd June 2018.
Hitchens then writes:
The appearance of the cylinder was described as “already old” by the time it was seen in the room, but the more advanced corrosion was observed when the inspectors went, a month later, to re-inspect the cylinders and to apply tags and seals. The cylinders were lying on the ground in an outside location, so this was expected. (bold marked by me).
Hitchens suggests the cylinders corroded because the cylinders were lying in an outside location for a month. He fails to mention the corrosion started within hours after the cylinder was discovered and filmed.
Hitchens then writes:
There were no reported observations of chlorine-induced corrosion by the inspectors.
More nonsense! The OPCW final report states in paragraph 8.16 : “At Location 4 the team observed visible signs of corrosion on the metallic objects present in the apartment…However, the FFM team was
unable to establish whether the corrosion was related to a corrosive substance or to natural factors. “.
OPCW does not rule out chlorine-induced corrosion, contrary to what Hitchens writes. The first draft, redacted and interim report does not mention corrosion at all.
Hitchens source Ian Henderson in his engineering assessment writes that it unlikely an already ‘old, rusty cylinder was deployed from an aircraft”. He does not mention at all the likely possibility that chlorine caused the rapid corrosion. He also does not mention that the corrosion started while the cylinder was lying on the bed. Remember the black coloured metal of the harness which started to corrode in a few days time.
An ad hominem is very often used in discussion on social media and is often a personal attack on someone’s character or motive, rather than an attempt to address the actual issue at hand. So instead countering a question, a person supposed to answer questions makes nasty comments about someone’s character, his career or other personal related characteristics.
Mr. Hitchens often refers to the ad hominem technique and he even does not deny it. Like in this Tweet.
Or in this Tweet
However Mr Hitchens himself starts to complain when he believes others as using an ad hominem to smear.
Peter Hitchens does not like others to ‘smear’ him but it seems that rule is applied only one-way! In a recent Twitter discussion, hard to get some context for others as Mr Hitchens often does not reply to the Tweet but starts a new thread, he called me a ‘Bellingcat’ boy. I have no idea why, asked Hitchens to explain but he did not answer.
Peter Hitchens writes a column for the British Daily Mail as well. On January 26 2020 a column (scroll down a bit) was published again mentioning the OPCW-investigation. In the piece called ‘The chemical atrocity – that never was ‘ he mentions Eliot Higgins:
He dropped out of a media studies course, is a keen video gamer and once worked in the ladies’ underwear industry.
Question yourself why it is relevant to know Higgins was a payments officer at a women’s underwear company. What is important is if facts are presented or not.
He runs a website called Bellingcat, which (what luck!) is partly financed by the United States government through its ‘National Endowment for Democracy’.
This is the typical way for Kremlin mouthpieces like RT and Sputnik to describe Higgins. There is no better example of an ad hominem. Hitchens does not seem to realize Bellingcat investigations are done by multiple persons.
Hitchens then praises the career of his source, OPCW whistleblower Ian Henderson. In other words, someone who worked for OPCW knows what he is saying.
The piece by Hitchens ends with this line ” Listen to Ian Henderson. He knows what he is talking about.”
From my article you just have been reading you now can understand that Hitchens seems a conduit for Ian Henderson and Hitchens decided to ignore the rapid corrosion of the cylinder in his piece and reverts to ad homimen.
I will not discussing the other statements in Peter Hitchens pieces. It is clear he is a conduit, copying what he has been told by unnamed sources without doing some basic factchecking himself. These sources, and it cannot be ruled out is was Henderson, failed to explain to Mr. Hitchens the rapid corrosion of the cylinder at location 4. Hitchens did not do any investigation to check if the statements of his beloved source made any sense. Hitchens is complaining when he believes others are using ad hominem while at the same time he is using ad hominem frequently.