Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

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Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

Who are we? We're a married couple who has a passion for politics and current events. That's what this site is about. If you read us, you know what we stand for.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Beauchamp Update: Foer About To Take A Permanent Vacation?

If today were Franklin Foer's birthday, his wish after blowing out the candles would likely be that this story should go away. Sorry, Franklin, but things just keep getting worse over the Beauchamp affair. Bryan @ Hot Air picks up on the WaPo's story today on this case:

A magazine gets a hot story straight from a soldier in Iraq and publishes his writing, complete with gory details, under a pseudonym. The stories are chilling: An Iraqi boy befriends American troops and later has his tongue cut out by insurgents. Soldiers mock a disfigured woman sitting near them in a dining hall. As a diversion, soldiers run over dogs with armored personnel carriers. Compelling stuff, and, according to the Army, not true.

Three articles by the soldier have run since January in The New Republic, a liberal magazine with a small circulation owned by Canadian company CanWest Corp. The stories, which ran under the name "Scott Thomas," were called into question by The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine with a small circulation owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. The Standard last month challenged bloggers to check the dispatches.

Since then, Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp, of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, has come forward as the author. The New Republic said that Beauchamp "came to its attention" through Elspeth Reeve, a reporter-researcher at the magazine he later married.

The Army said this week it had concluded an investigation of Beauchamp's claims and found them false.

"During that investigation, all the soldiers from his unit refuted all claims that Pvt. Beauchamp made in his blog," Sgt. 1st Class Robert Timmons, a spokesman in Baghdad for the 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, based at Fort Riley, Kan., said in an e-mail interview.

The Weekly Standard said Beauchamp signed a sworn statement admitting all three articles were exaggerations and falsehoods.

Calls to Editor Franklin Foer at The New Republic in Washington were not returned, but the magazine said on its Web site that it has conducted its own investigation and stands by Beauchamp's work.

Well, the staff at TNR is on vacation, so the AP will have to wait on a comment from them. We can go by what Franklin Foer stated a week or so ago about having done their own internal investigation which, by their standards, exonerated Private Beauchamp from any wrongdoing. But who would you rather believe? A magazine that is under assault right now by the right side of the blogosphere for journalistic malfeasance, or the US Army which has declared Beauchamp a liar and a charlatan? Our money is on the Army.

As if that is not enough of a beating, Bryan continues to nail the coffin lid shut on Mr. Foer's career at TNR. Continuing from the WaPo piece:

Bob Steele, the Nelson Poynter Scholar for Journalism Values at The Poynter Institute school for journalists in St. Petersburg, Fla., said granting a writer anonymity “raises questions about authenticity and legitimacy.”

“Anonymity allows an individual to make accusations against others with impunity,” Steele said. “In this case, the anonymous diarist was accusing other soldiers of various levels of wrongdoing that were, at the least, moral failures, if not violations of military conduct. The anonymity further allows the writer to sidestep essential accountability that would exist, were he identified.”

Steele said he was troubled by the fact that the magazine did not catch the scene-shifting from Kuwait to Iraq of the incident Beauchamp described involving the disfigured woman.

“If they were doing any kind of fact-checking, with multiple sources, that error _ or potential deception _ would have emerged,” Steele said.

He added that he was also troubled by the relationship between Beauchamp and Reeve, his wife, who works at The New Republic. “It raises the possible specter of competing loyalties, which could undermine the credibility of the journalism,” he said.

Paul McLeary, a staff writer for Columbia Journalism Review who has written about the matter, said The New Republic failed to do some basic journalistic legwork, such as calling the public affairs officer for Beauchamp’s unit.

“There is a degree of trust and faith editors have to put in their writers,” McLeary said. “If you’re on a tight deadline, you have to go as far as you can. The New Republic definitely didn’t go as far as it could in terms of checking out its stories.”

Ouch! Double ouch! Mr. Foer has just been called on the carpet by distant colleagues that deal with journalistic ethics, and was slapped around for his troubles. This goes to the heart of why this story was important. It had little to do with the allegations Private Beauchamp made. Those, as we have stated previously, did not pass the smell test. The real "crime" in this case lies at the feet of Franklin Foer and TNR. They did not do their jobs, as they claim. Had they done so, the scene shift from Iraq to Kuwait with regard to the deformed contractor should have raised a red flag. If it were a real mistake, the correction should have been made prior to publishing, or a correction should have accompanied his piece explaining it. Neither happened, and only after TNR was pressed did they admit a "mistake" was made.

(As a side note, those at FOB Falcon still deny that such a female contractor was ever there. Coincidentally, Hugh Hewitt received an e-mail from a soldier yesterday explicitly stating that a contractor injured in such a way would have been removed to protect the company's interests, so there is no way that Private Beauchamp could have seen her as repeatedly as he claims.)

Confederate Yankee also has an update, of sorts, regarding the fact that TNR did not do the fact-checking the way they claim. First, a reminder of part of TNR's statement regarding the steps they took to check the facts presented, with regard to the Bradley incident:

The last section of the Diarist described soldiers using Bradley Fighting Vehicles to kill dogs. On this topic, one soldier who witnessed the incident described by Beauchamp, wrote in an e-mail: "How you do this (I've seen it done more than once) is, when you approach the dog in question, suddenly lurch the Bradley on the opposite side of the road the dog is on. The rear-end of the vehicle will then swing TOWARD the animal, scaring it into running out into the road. If it works, the dog is running into the center of the road as the driver swings his yoke back around the other way, and the dog becomes a chalk outline." TNR contacted the manufacturer of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle System, where a spokesman confirmed that the vehicle is as maneuverable as Beauchamp described. Instructors who train soldiers to drive Bradleys told us the same thing. And a veteran war correspondent described the tendency of stray Iraqi dogs to flock toward noisy military convoys.

Bob Owens @ Confederate Yankee contacted a Bradely spokesman as well, who does admit being contacted by TNR, but states for the record that the questions were generalities. Nothing in-depth or specific was asked:

In short, the TNR researcher did not provide the text of “Shock Troops” for Mr. Coffery [communications director for the company that manufactures Bradley Fighting Vehicles] to review, and only asked the vaguest possible questions. It seems rather obvious that this was not an attempt to actually verify Beauchamp’s claims, but was instead designed to help The New Republic manufacturer a whitewash of an investigation.

Are we supposed to be surprised? If you said "yes" then you are crazy. Based on what we know about this "aspiring writer," his claims come as no surprise. Take a teeny bit of truth, and embellish the heck out of it; that is what this fiction writer does. Michael Goldfarb cites Mr. Coffey with regard to the actual details presented in the Beauchamp piece:

I can't pretend to know what may or may not have happened in Iraq but the impression the writer leaves is that a "driver" can go on joy rides with a 35 ton vehicle at will. The vehicle has a crew and a commander of the vehicle who is in charge. In order for the scenario described to have taken place, there would have to have been collaboration by the entire crew.

The driver's vision, even if sitting in an open hatch is severely restricted along the sides. He sits forward on the left side of the vehicle. His vision is significantly impaired along the right side of the vehicle which makes the account to "suddenly swerve to the right" and actually catch an animal suspect. If you were to attempt the same feat in your car, it would be very difficult and you have the benefit of side mirrors.

Anyone familiar with tracked vehicles knows that turning sharply requires the road wheels on the side of the turn to either stop or reverse as the road wheels on the opposite side accelerates. What may not be obvious is that the track once on the ground, doesn't move. The road wheels roll across it but the track itself is stationary until it is pushed forward by the road wheels.

The width of the track makes it highly unlikely that running over a dog would leave two intact parts. One half of the dog would have to be completely crushed.

It also seems suspicious that a driver could go on repeated joy rides or purposefully run into things. Less a risk to the track though that is certainly possible but there is sensitive equipment on the top of the vehicle, antennas, sights, TOW missile launcher, commander and if it was a newer vehicle, the commander's independent viewer, not to mention the main gun. Strange things are known to happen in a combat environment but I can't imagine that the vehicle commander or the unit commander would tolerate repeated misuse of the vehicle, especially any action that could damage its ability to engage.

The hits just keep on coming for Franklin Foer. Despite what TNR is spinning, it is highly likely that Mr. Foer may not return from vacation. The editors at TNR just may hand him a permanent one in an effort to salvage what is left of their tattered and torn "credibility." If that happens (and we are not holding our breath on the "if" part because TNR must do something to him to save their butts right now) we can also expect Ms. Reeve -- the wife of Private Beauchamp -- to leave TNR of her own volition.



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