August 8, 2007
The New Republic Left Holding the BagBy Jeff Emanuel
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - The door was slammed shut on the seemingly un-killable Scott Thomas Beauchamp affair this week, when the US Army completed its investigation into the formerly pseudonymous "Baghdad Diarist's" claims of reprehensible behavior on the part of himself and his fellow soldiers while living and working in Iraq.
The investigation began on Thursday, July 26 - the same day that Beauchamp "outed" himself on The New Republic's (TNR) website, giving his full name and unit affiliation, and stating that he stood by his stories 100%. "It's been maddening, to say the least," he wrote, "to see the plausibility of events that I witnessed questioned by people who have never served in Iraq. ...[M]y character, my experiences, and those of my comrades in arms have been called into question, and I believe that it is important to stand by my writing under my real name."
The New Republic, which had published - and repeatedly stood behind - Beauchamp's diaries, annotated Beauchamp's "coming out" post with a statement of its intention "to go back and, to the extent possible, re-report every detail" of the Baghdad Diarist's stories, adding:
TNR finally began backing off of its staunch support of Beauchamp a bit last Thursday, running an editorial in which it admitted that there were some inaccuracies in the original stories - but in which the editors also claimed to have corroborated two of the three incidents Beauchamp wrote about in their entirety. However, with the publication of that editorial came a massive shifting of the goal posts, an obfuscation of the points of different parts of Beauchamp's essays, and the making of claims that the factuality of small parts or underlying details rendered entire narratives accurate - thus hopefully rendering invalid the claims and opinions of those who had challenged it, while making the entirety of the story unassailable.
The tactic is, unfortunately, very typical, and demonstrates the arrogance possessed by a Fourth Estate which sees it as their duty to serve as a watchdog over all others, while being unwatchable themselves. As has been seen before, when called on a story that, like the so-called "Haditha massacre," was simply "too good to be [thoroughly] checked," TNR backed off a bit, made a few minor concessions, and then pulled the classic Dan Rather-esque "those who have criticized aspects of our story have never criticized the major thrust of our report" - which, of course, is far from accurate. As my colleague at RedState.com, Dan McLaughlin, mentioned upon reading TNR's editorial, they "have made concessions on the very things that people flagged as factually unlikely."
The rest, they were simply lazy with, and the attitude displayed in last week's editorial - and the stages through which it passed, from stolid defensiveness, to revealing details in hopes that the larger part will be accepted as factual without question, to minor concessions paired with defensiveness in hopes of the same - was poor, defensive journalism at its near-worst, reflective of a publication (which revels in accusations that others are lying) that values its short-term pride over honesty, accuracy, and long-term respectability.
In other words, never mind the fact that the small detail of Beauchamp and his companion ridiculing a "horribly disfigured woman" actually took place (still allegedly) in Kuwait, before the author had ever even seen the Iraq war - and never mind the fact that, given TNR's claim that the entire purpose behind the series was to describe "the morally and emotionally distorting effects of war," the location of the incident renders its applicability absolutely moot. The fact that Beauchamp carried out one of the most revolting acts he describes before he ever went to Iraq and experienced "the morally and emotionally distorting effects of war is irrelevant to the point which TNR was trying to make - and any who stray from that line (and point out instead that this incident appears to say far more about Beauchamp's breeding and his parents' poor job of raising him to be anything other than a horrible human being than it does about President Bush and his horrible war) are simply ignoring the "bigger truth" about this war to which TNR is so diametrically opposed.
TNR's defenses were propped up by many on the left who, rather than recognizing a ship sinking under the weight of its own disregard for the truth, sought to serve as Dutch Boys and to plug up holes with further obfuscation, and by casting aspersions on those who simply sought the truth of the matter. Pundits and bloggers like Andrew Sullivan, John Cole, and Matthew Yglesias took their turns defending TNR, attacking those who questioned the veracity of Beauchamps stories, and claiming victory on the whole when the most minute of details - like the fact that Beauchamp was an actual American soldier - were shown to be true.
Unfortunately - as the bombshell results of the Army's internal investigation show - every one of them (with The New Republic's editorial staff at the forefront) was played for a fool.
As Michael Goldfarb of The Weekly Standard reported Monday, it turns out that, on the first day of the investigation - the same day that Scott Thomas Beauchamp was telling TNR's readers that he was "willing to stand by the entirety of my articles for the New Republic using my real name" - he was also signing an official affidavit admitting that all three of his articles in The New Republic were exaggerations and contained falsehoods.
In other words, as TNR was "re-reporting" their stories the next week, and defending Beauchamp's accuracy and integrity, his stories had already been officially disavowed - by Beauchamp himself - for a week.
To add insult to insult, the Army's official report on the stories so vigorously defended by TNR did not simply cast doubt on details of Beauchamp's diaries - it blew holes in them.
Said Major Steven F. Lamb, the deputy Public Affairs Officer for Multi National Division-Baghdad:
An investigation has been completed and the allegations made by PVT Beauchamp were found to be false. His platoon and company were interviewed and no one could substantiate the claims.
Not "inaccurate." Not "exaggerated." False. TNR and its staunchest allies went to the mat for a source and for stories that turned out to be false - and for what? Simply, it would appear, for a chance to finally show the American military (thanks to the words of one of its own) as being what they already thought them to be - uncouth, brigandish, and inhumane people who have been irrevocably damaged, both in soul and psyche, by Bush's awful war.
If one approaches this from that angle, and sees that TNR and its allies had been waiting for just this opportunity - an opportunity not only to validate their deeply-held views of the American military, but also to break the story of a scandal in which US soldiers were the culprits - then it becomes very easy to understand why it was so important to run these articles without attempting further fact-checking (an exercise which ran the risk of showing these too-good-to-be-true tales to be exactly that).
Already damaged by the Stephen Glass scandal, The New Republic has been left in an exorbitantly embarrassing position by another trusted writer (and the husband of one of its own researchers), who played them for fools, admitting under oath that his articles were fabrications at the same time that he was reasserting to their faces the veracity of his every word.
TNR's credibility has taken yet another massive body blow. How much longer can good-conscienced writers bear to remain with a publication whose ship of credibility has gone down by the mast? How much longer will TNR's readership remain in place, now that they have been shown again that what is presented in the magazine's pages cannot necessarily be trusted? How much longer with TNR's defenders allow it to escape the savagery of their own quills, which had so recently been reserved for savaging those who dared question the magazine's claims?
Wishful thinking, perhaps. It is, unfortunately, altogether more likely that those who published and defended such fallacious accounts will simply shrink back into the shadows, choosing rather to lie in wait for the next opportunity to snare the American military, and the administration which they so despise, with another story which presents itself as being "too good to be checked."
Jeff Emanuel, a special operations military veteran and a director of conservative weblog RedState.com, is currently embedded in Iraq and will be reporting from " Inside the Surge" throughout August and September.