Well, well. More than four months after the controversy began, the New Republic has finally admitted that it can no longer stand by the Baghdad Diarist articles that were written earlier this year by Scott Thomas Beauchamp. (Some background on the Beauchamp affair can be found here.) Before that admission, though, in the current (December 10) issue of TNR, editor Franklin Foer spends over 6,500 words explicating the Beauchamp saga as it appeared from his end. Foer’s account is so full of blame-shifting and paranoia that it could be a case study in a Psychology 101 textbook. To hear Foer tell it, the Army has perpetrated a nefarious conspiracy with the express purpose of undermining the New Republic. “Beauchamp’s behavior was sometimes suspicious — promising evidence that never arrived — but so was the Army’s,” he writes.
Foer had an instant message conversation with Beauchamp on July 26. “After that,” writes Foer, “the Army, by its own admission, didn’t permit Beauchamp to speak to TNR for over a month.” It’s not entirely clear, though, that this is true. Beauchamp’s cell phone and laptop were apparently confiscated as punishment, but on August 11 the Weekly Standard‘s blog published a statement from Col. Steven Boylan, Gen. David Petraeus’s Public Affairs Officer, which read in part:
We are not preventing [Beauchamp] from speaking to TNR or anyone. He has full access to the Morale Welfare and Recreation phones that all the other members of the unit are free to use. It is my understanding that he has been informed of the requests to speak to various members of the media, both traditional and non-traditional and has declined.
Here’s how Foer handles this:
After we had posted an online statement explaining that we had been unable to communicate with Beauchamp — who, according to [Beauchamp’s wife Elspeth] Reeve, was under orders not to speak with us — and pleading with the Army to make him available to us, General David Petraeus’s spokesman, Steven Boylan, told the Standard, “We are not preventing [Beauchamp] from speaking to TNR or anyone.” One of our editors called Boylan’s office on a near-daily basis to set up a phone call with Beauchamp; every time, they told us they were working on our request. After several weeks, we stopped hearing back from them. The Army later confirmed to us that it had, indeed, prevented Beauchamp from speaking.
The complaint about Boylan’s office is a non sequitur. The question is not whether the Army would “set up a phone call with Beauchamp,” the question is whether Beauchamp could pick up the Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) phone and call TNR if he wanted to. Contacted yesterday by TAS, Col. Boylan stands by his August 11 statement, writing:
Based on the information that I was provided by the Division concerning this matter, he had access to the MWR phone system at that time. How much access he had depended entirely on the availability of where he was located while out on the patrol base. What may have occurred after I responded to the media query as part the investigation or subsequent unit level determination is something that will have to be addressed at the unit level by his chain of command.
Readers may be forgiven for demanding something beyond Foer’s assertion to confirm that Boylan was mistaken.
Foer also, rather ludicrously, accuses the Army of trying hide the results of its investigation, which concluded that Beauchamp’s stories were fraudulent. Foer’s evidence is that a blogger scooped traditional media outlets. Really:
The Army didn’t announce this [finding] to The New York Times or even The Weekly Standard, let alone in a public report. It first gave the story of Beauchamp’s supposed fraudulence to a former porn actor turned blogger named Matt Sanchez. Apparently, the Army wanted the matter to quietly fade away.
That’s one interpretation. Another would be that Sanchez got the scoop first because he was reporting on the ground in Iraq and was thus in a position to ask the right people the right questions. (Funny how Foer gratuitously noted Sanchez’s past but somehow left out this relevant fact.)
Foer blames the Army, in part, for his own reluctance to retract Beauchamp’s stories, writing that “the Army’s behavior — its initial efforts to bury the results of its investigation, not to mention the four months and counting it has taken to process our Freedom of Information Act request for those results — made us reluctant to rush to judgment.” That’s right, the notoriously slow FOIA process — a problem that reporters have been complaining about for decades — was taken by Foer as evidence that the Army is hiding something.
Of course, it was Beauchamp who was doing the hiding. When an anonymous Weekly Standard source said that Beauchamp had signed a statement recanting his articles, Foer was under the impression that the statement Beauchamp had signed was a Clintonian dodge:
When Beauchamp had described his statements to us, it seemed like he was walking a fine line, trying to satisfy his commanders while staying on the side of the truth. But, without the actual documents in hand, we had no way of judging. Through his wife and lawyer, we made the first of many requests for these statements, which Beauchamp was legally entitled to obtain for us.
Foer’s still waiting on that document. Because of privacy protections written into the FOIA, he can’t get it without Beauchamp’s cooperation.
Even when he’s retracting Beauchamp’s stories — though not apologizing for them — Foer can’t help smearing the Army. When critics first started raising red flags about the Baghdad Diarist articles, there were charges that TNR was advancing an anti-military agenda. Such charges were somewhat unfair in July. They’re perfectly fair now.
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