Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Fog Of War

The story of our Baghdad Diarist

by Franklin - December 10th, 2007 - The New Republic

The New Republic Lied. My excerpts here barely portray the duplicity and meandering of this FOURTEEN PAGE ARTICLE! Read the excerpts starting here and then my response at the bottom.

For months, our magazine has been subject to accusations that stories we published by an American soldier then serving in Iraq were fabricated. When these accusations first arose, we promised our readers a full account of our investigation. We spent the last four-and-a-half months re-reporting his stories. These are our findings.

When Michael Goldfarb, a blogger for The Weekly Standard, left me a message on a Tuesday afternoon in mid-July, I didn't know him or his byline. And I certainly didn't anticipate that his message would become the starting point for a controversy.
A day earlier, The New Republic had published a piece titled "Shock Troops." It appeared on the magazine's back page, the "Diarist" slot, which is reserved for short first-person meditations. "Shock Troops" bore the byline Scott Thomas, which we identified as a pseudonym for a soldier then serving in Iraq. Thomas described how war distorts moral judgments. To illustrate his point, he narrated three disturbing anecdotes.

In one, he and his comrades cracked vulgar jokes about a woman with a scarred face while she sat in close proximity. In another, a soldier paraded around with the fragment of an exhumed skull on his head. A final vignette described a driver of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle who took pride in running over dogs.

Goldfarb said he had been contacted by tipsters who thought these scenarios sounded concocted by a writer with an overactive imagination--or perhaps by a total fabulist. He asked for evidence that might answer these complaints, "any details that would reassure that this isn't fiction." Among other things, he wanted the name of the base where the author had mocked the disfigured woman.

The same afternoon, we contacted the author, asking permission to answer Goldfarb's queries. We thought we could provide details that might answer these concerns without revealing the author's identity and violating the compact we formed when granting him a pseudonym. He agreed. I told Goldfarb that the insults to the woman had occurred at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Falcon. A day later, Goldfarb sent a link to an item on the Standard blog. It quoted an anonymous source who said the story sounded like a collection of the "This is no bullshit ... stories soldiers like to tell." Goldfarb called on the military blogosphere to do "some digging" and for "individual soldiers and veterans to come forward with relevant information."

By the weekend, the Standard's editor, William Kristol, published an editorial that, without evidence, pronounced the Diarist an open-and-shut case. Kristol wrote, "But what is revealing about this mistake is that the editors must have wanted to suspend their disbelief in tales of gross misconduct by American troops. How else could they have published such a farrago of dubious tales? Having turned against a war that some of them supported, the left is now turning against the troops they claim still to support."


His first piece, a Diarist titled "War Bonds" published in our February 5 issue, described the woes of an Iraqi boy named Ali who adopted the moniker "James Bond." Soon after James Bond chit-chats with American soldiers, Beauchamp learns that thugs--most likely insurgents--cut out his tongue. This first piece didn't receive much attention, but the attention it did receive was positive. Hawks, in particular, liked that it sympathetically described the plight of sensitive young soldiers on the front line.

Several weeks passed before Beauchamp sent us another story--one recounting dialogue between soldiers in a guard tower, which we rejected. During that time, he took leave in Germany with Reeve. The two had been casual friends at the University of Missouri and resumed a relationship online, which quickly turned into something serious. During Beauchamp's leave, he and Reeve left Germany and, without telling anyone at the magazine, married at a lawyer's office in Virginia. A day after the ceremony, Reeve returned to TNR's office to share the news.


Fact-checking is a process used by most magazines (but not most newspapers) to independently verify what's in their articles. Beauchamp's anonymity complicated this process. Because we promised to protect his identity, we were reluctant to call Army public affairs to review his claims. What's more, the fact-checking of first-person articles about personal experiences necessarily relies heavily on the author's word and description of events.

But there was one avoidable problem with our Beauchamp fact-check. His wife, Reeve, was assigned a large role in checking his third piece. While we believe she acted with good faith and integrity--not just in this instance, but throughout this whole ordeal--there was a clear conflict of interest. At the time, our logic--in hindsight, obviously flawed--was that corresponding with a soldier in Iraq is logistically difficult and Reeve was already routinely speaking with him. It was a mistake--and we've imposed new rules to prevent future fact-checking conflicts of interest.


Several weeks after the monitored call in September, we finally had the opportunity to ask Beauchamp, without any of his supervisors on the line, about how he could mistake a dining hall in Kuwait for one in Iraq. He told us he considered the detail to be "mundane" given the far more horrific events he had witnessed. That's not a convincing explanation. If the event was so mundane, why did he write about it--and with such vivid detail? In accounting for the inaccuracy of a central fact, he sounded defensive and evasive.

Beauchamp has lived through this ordeal under the most trying of conditions. He is facing pressures that we can only begin to imagine. And, over the course of our dealings with him, we've tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. Ever since August, we've asked him, first though his wife and lawyer and later via direct e-mail and phone calls, to personally obtain the sworn statements that the military had him draft and sign on July 26. And, ever since then, he has promised repeatedly to do just that. We are, unfortunately, still waiting.

In retrospect, we never should have put Beauchamp in this situation. He was a young soldier in a war zone, an untried writer without journalistic training. We published his accounts of sensitive events while granting him the shield of anonymity--which, in the wrong hands, can become license to exaggerate, if not fabricate.

When I last spoke with Beauchamp in early November, he continued to stand by his stories. Unfortunately, the standards of this magazine require more than that. And, in light of the evidence available to us, after months of intensive re-reporting, we cannot be confident that the events in his pieces occurred in exactly the manner that he described them. Without that essential confidence, we cannot stand by these stories. [emphasis added]


In vague and unclear language The New Republic takes 14 pages to defend their slime-ing of American troops. Along the way they sort of imply that this was a really hard call and maybe this guy exaggerated a bit but all in all they just can't defend him, though it is not said until the last paragraph of this 14 page defense of their actions.

They do note a few of things.

* From the start the articles by Scott Thomas Beauchamp sounded false to anyone who was there in Baghdad.

* William Kristol took only one weekend to determine they were lies that defamed our troops, but The New Republic still insist his opinion of them was "without evidence".

* The New Republic had the disputed writer fact checked by his wife. They simultaneously claim they did not know they were married at the time but that his wife shared the news with them. (Huh?)

* They are convinced that though in their opinion he was sometimes defensive, Beauchamp still defends his lies, or "stands by his stories" as as they phrase it (whatever that means).

They cannot seem to say it so I will. Scott Thomas Beauchamp lied and defamed our troops. The New Republic aided him in this and still at this late date cannot call him the liar that he is. They still try to defend their actions and make them sound reasonable in this rambling and dissembling piece of garbage. This story is the most contemptible thing they have published in this entire fiasco. It is not until the 14th page of this garbage that they conclude "we cannot stand by these stories."

They slimed America's brightest and best, our soldiers, with lies . . . . but they still cannot admit they did so. Let me say it for them. The New Republic LIED!


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