The New Republic Speaks

Well, we know where they stand now, and it ain’t with the U.S. Army:

Since our last statement on “Shock Troops,” a Diarist by Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp that we published in our July 23 issue, we have continued our investigation into the article’s veracity. On Wednesday, for a brief period, The Drudge Report posted several documents from the Army’s own investigation into Beauchamp’s claims. Among those documents was a transcript of a phone conversation that TNR Editor Franklin Foer and TNR Executive Editor J. Peter Scoblic had with Beauchamp on September 6–the first time the Army had granted TNR permission to speak with Beauchamp since it cut off outside contact with him on July 26. During this conversation, Beauchamp refused to discuss his article at all: “I’m not going to talk to anyone about anything,” he said. In light of that phone call, some have asked why The New Republic has not retracted “Shock Troops.”

The answer is simple: Since this controversy began, The New Republic’s sole objective has been to uncover the truth. As Scoblic said during the September 6 conversation: “[A]ll we want out of this, and the only way that it is going to end, is if we have the truth. And if it’s–if it’s certain parts of the story are bullshit, then we’ll end that way. If it’s proven to be true, it will end that way. But it’s only going to end with the truth.” The September 6 exchange was extremely frustrating; however, it was frustrating precisely because it did not add any new information to our investigation. Beauchamp’s refusal to defend himself certainly raised serious doubts. That said, Beauchamp’s words were being monitored: His squad leader was in the room as he spoke to us, as was a public affairs specialist, and it is now clear that the Army was recording the conversation for its files.

The next day, via his wife, we learned that Beauchamp did want to stand by his stories and wanted to communicate with us again. Two-and-a-half weeks later, Beauchamp telephoned Foer at home and, in an unmonitored conversation, told him that he continued to stand by every aspect of his story, except for the one inaccuracy he had previously admitted. He also told Foer that in the September 6 call he had spoken under duress, with the implicit threat that he would lose all the freedoms and privileges that his commanding officer had recently restored if he discussed the story with us.Go on to read about how everything wrong with this story is the fault of the Army and right wing bloggers. Gee, guys, I am convinced. Beauchamp says the story is still good. Case closed. No consideration whatsoever that so many things in the stories have been contradicted by facts. Nope. Beauchamp says it is all good. Yeah, the soldier wearing a child’s skull under his helmet all day, soldiers mercilessly taunting a disfigured woman in the chow hall, the Bradleys that can do manuevers that those familiar with them say are not possible — these all have to be taken as fact until proven otherwise.

I am with Peggy Noonan on this one (link via Lucianne) when she wrote the following:

To read the Thomas pieces was, simply, to doubt them. And to wonder if its editors had ever actually met a soldier on his way to or from Iraq, or talked to any human being involved in the modern military.

Update: Victor Davis Hanson explains what is wrong with the behavior of the editors of TNR.

Unfortunately, journalism does not have the luxury to operate in a courtroom, where evidence is weighed and a jury decides the preponderance of proof over months. Instead, if a story is of doubtful veracity, and can’t be or won’t be supported in its entirety by the author, then the editors, for the sake of the magazine and its other dutiful employees, must distance themselves and apologize to the readers, and do so within a reasonable amount of time.

They can point out that there are few or many errors, or that the errors are or are not of a magnitude to impugn the entire story, but these sorts of judgements must be made rather quickly once an author does not supply the editors with supporting documentation or a reasonable willingness to defend his own work.

Mr. Beauchamp may think most of his story was factual, and that only a few tiny details were exaggerated to sex up the narrative’s appeal, but that is still not quite good enough. He either stands by its entirety or confesses he can’t; and if he can’t (for whatever reason) do the latter, then the editors must explain why they too won’t–even if that decision is embarrassing to themselves, delights their adversaries, and causes enormous pain to Mr. Beauchamp’s wife and friends.

Update II: Absolutely devastating. Read it all.

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