In what appears to be a staggering example of the germination and runaway dissemination of fake news, there is considerable turmoil among U.S. media outlets as to whether Ambassador Dana Shell Smith, current U.S Ambassador to Qatar, has resigned or retired.
The controversy over the position of the envoy to Qatar began with John Harwood, a senior correspondent covering Washington, the economy and national politics of CNBC.
This morning, Harwood tweeted that Ambassador Smith, a distinguished and celebrated career diplomat, had resigned her post in Qatar, due to what he implied was frustration over Trump continually attacking the country despite the State Department’s efforts to maintain communications.
However, the veracity of his claims are in doubt.
US Ambassador to Qatar has resigned days after Trump renewed attacking the country, which undercut State Dept attempt to calm tensions
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) June 13, 2017
The only communication available from Ambassador Smith, a few hours before Harwood tweeted his view, seems to indicate that she was approaching the end of her posting in Qatar anyway.
Harwood’s report is contradicted by his own colleague, Hadley Gamble, CNBC’s Middle East anchor, who pointed out that Ambassador Smith’s tenure of 3 years was coming to its natural close, since that was the average duration of the posting of a diplomat unless specifically asked to stay on.
actually, I believe she had concluded her three years in the posting which is the usual avg of ambassadors unless asked to stay on
— Hadley Gamble (@_HadleyGamble) June 13, 2017
The tone of and choice of words in Ambassador Smith’s own communication lends credence to this latter view with responses being largely congratulatory and interested about her future plans.
1/2 This month, I end my 3 years as U.S. Ambassador to #Qatar. It has been the greatest honor of my life and I'll miss this great country.
— CdA Natalie A. Baker (@USAmbQatar) June 13, 2017
The report by Harwood, meanwhile, has already gained considerable traction in online media sources.
Jack Heretik, writing for the Washington Free Beacon, swiftly reported on the story, and has claimed that the Ambassador has in fact resigned. Among other sources, the website the Politicaldig.com has also picked up on the story.
Pieces claiming that the Ambassador’s departure was a resignation emphasised their view that Trump had been instrumental in stirring up the current crisis in the Middle East by accusing Qatar of funding terrorism.
However, Harwood’s version of Ambassador Smith’s end of service in Qatar has been assailed by several personalities and conservative news outlets.
Among others, senior fellow at the Center for New American Security, Ilan Goldenberg, said Harwood’s report was “out of context,” and pointed out that Ambassador Smith was set to retire anyway.
A State Department official in response to the Washington Examiner clarified that she will depart Qatar later this month as part of the normal rotation of career diplomats throughout the world.
However, the official added that Smith decided to leave “earlier this year,” providing substance for the speculation.
The idea that Smith may have, in fact, left her post in protest seems to draw strength from a sentiment she expressed on twitter last month, following the firing of former F.B.I. Director James Comey.
She tweeted that she was finding it increasingly difficult to explain democracy and its institutions to the authorities in Qatar, and indicated she found it wearisome.
Increasingly difficult to wake up overseas to news from home, knowing I will spend today explaining our democracy and institutions.
— CdA Natalie A. Baker (@USAmbQatar) May 10, 2017
As of this report, Ambassador Smith’s office has not issued a denial of Harwood’s report or the implications, but neither has it confirmed the speculation that she has resigned rather than retired as a matter of course.
If she has indeed retired, CNBC’s correspondent may have confirmed the worst suspicions of right-wing supporters that left-leaning media outlets put out ‘fake news’.