State Department hits out at NYT's 'sloppy journalism' after Beirut explosion article

The destroyed silo sits in rubble and debris after an explosion at the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, on Aug. 5, 2020. (AP)

The US State Department Tuesday lashed out at the “sloppy journalism” of the New York Times after an article was published about an American contractor reporting on the explosive chemicals stored in the Port of Beirut as far back as 2016.

On Tuesday, NYT published an article that a US contractor spotted and reported the ammonium nitrate that led to last week's deadly explosions, during a security inspection to the Port of Beirut in 2016.

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“The diplomatic cable, marked unclassified but sensitive, was issued by the United States Embassy in Lebanon on Friday,” NYT said about a cable that included the details of the contractor’s findings who was working with the US Army at the time.

The contractor was a consultant and advised the Lebanese Navy from 2013 to 2016, the cable read.

In an email to Al Arabiya English, a State Department spokesperson referred to the article as a "false report" as "blatantly irresponsible."

"This false report claiming that someone who was not employed directly with the US government and who was conducting an unofficial walkthrough at a port four years ago somehow represents evidence of the US government's complicity in the Beirut blast is blatantly irresponsible.

"Such sloppy journalism misleads their readers about the cause of the tragic explosion in Beirut and reflects poorly on the NYT," the spokesperson said.

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A US official who spoke to the NYT on the condition of anonymity said that the contractor made an unofficial visit to the Port of Beirut, but “was not at the time a US government or State Department employee.”

And according to the official who spoke to the NYT, the State Department had no record of the contractor’s finding until after the Aug. 4 explosions.

This comes after Reuters cited official documents and Lebanese security officials as warning resigned-Prime Minister Hassan Diab and President Michel Aoun last month that the 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate at the port had the potential to destroy the capital.

The State Department official told Al Arabiya English that the underlying cause of the explosion - and the dire economic conditions throughout the country - was "the decades of mismanagement, corruption, and the repeated failure of Lebanese leaders to undertake the meaningful, sustained reforms needed to put Lebanon on the path to security and prosperity."

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Last Update: Wednesday, 12 August 2020 KSA 00:11 - GMT 21:11
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