Earlier this year, The New Republic published first-person accounts from an anonymous U.S. soldier in Iraq. The articles recounted gruesome — often crude — behavior from American service members, including the brutal killing of dogs and one instance of soldiers openly mocking a disfigured girl.
In July, a few media outlets — The Weekly Standard chief among them — began to doubt the veracity of the anonymous soldier’s claims. Editors from The New Republic, including Franklin Foer, initiated an aggressive investigation to test the accuracy of the stories. After several conservative bloggers raised doubts of the anonymous soldier’s existence, TNR managed to convince him to come out in the open, and he revealed himself to be Scott Thomas Beauchamp, a private in the United States Army and a member of Alpha Company, 1/18 Infantry, Second Brigade Combat Team, First Infantry Division.
After several months of investigating, TNR published a 14-page article detailing their findings. Many within the conservative blogosphere claimed immediately afterwards that the article admitted that Beauchamp had lied. “The maxi-mea culpa runs more than 10 pages and thousands and thousands of words (self-pitying, rationalizing, messenger-blaming),” wrote conservative Michelle Malkin, “but this is the belated bottom line: The Beauchamp stories are bullcrap.”
But is the article an admission of untruth? After reading it in its entirety, I can conclude that it’s nothing of the sort. In fact, Foer managed to find several soldiers to corroborate Beauchamp’s claims, and the editors only really unearthed one definite factual error.
This is not to say that all their questions were answered; there are several mysteries surrounding the soldier’s claims. But this is not because of TNR or Beauchamp — rather it’s the obfuscation by the U.S. Army that blocked the editors from fully investigating the articles.
While TNR tried continuously to get access to Beauchamp and others who could speak authoritatively on his situation, officials from the Army, many under the cloak of anonymity, began to leak carefully-selected information to highly partisan bloggers in order to smear the soldier’s character. The most notorious incidence of this was when excerpts of an interview transcript between TNR and Beauchamp were leaked to Matt Drudge. It was a very deliberate attempt to undermine the magazine’s investigation while at the same time defaming the soldier’s character.
Many bloggers — typically on the right — have accused TNR from stonewalling the public and not issuing an immediate retraction. But after reading that 14-page document, I can only wonder: “What choice did they have?” How can you release an immediate retraction if you have to go a full month just to speak to the writer in question? By pointing out how long it took TNR to publish this article from the time they were first alerted to the problem without at least acknowledging the magazine’s lack of access to information is engaging in intellectual dishonesty.
Did The New Republic make horrible editorial decisions in this matter? With the revelation that the person assigned to fact check Beauchamp’s work was his own wife, there’s no doubt in my mind that their was some shoddy journalism. But because of the questionable media tactics of the U.S. Army and the highly-partisan echo chamber of those rooting for TNR to be proven wrong, we may never know to what extent.
SLIGHTLY RELATED: Compare TNR‘s attempts to aggressively investigate Beauchamp’s articles to the terrible journalism practices of The National Review when they published outright falsehoods and then refused to investigate them after it was pointed out.
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