The New Republic Folds on Baghdad Diarist, but Times Hypes NRO Errors
The infamous case of Army private Scott Thomas Beauchamp came to a disgraceful end this weekend: The New Republic said it could no longer stand behind the tale told by Beauchamp, its discredited "Baghdad Diarist," who in a July issue of the magazine told a wild tale of how the Iraq war had dehumanized him, of how he and his pals had made fun of a disfigured woman in a mess hall in Iraq, how a fellow soldier loved to run over dogs with his Bradley vehicle, and how another fashioned a helmet out of a child's skull evacuated from a mass grave.
"In light of the evidence available to us, after months of intensive re-reporting, we cannot be confident that the events in his pieces occurred in exactly the manner that he described them. Without that essential confidence, we cannot stand by these stories."
But Arts editor Patricia Cohen managed to lump together The New Republic's gross editorial failures with factual problems with a National Review Online piece and pass them off as morally equivalent examples of journalistic malpractice in Tuesday's "Magazine Voices Doubt Over 'Diary' From Iraq."
Despite the headline, the piece devoted several graphs to the National Review situation. Yet there are big differences. The National Review article didn't appear in the print magazine; the TNR piece did.
Unlike The New Republic, National Review didn't get defensive over its article and began issuing huffy defenses of its reporting and bitter personal attacks on its critics (attacks that continued even in the 7,000 word "apology") but made a speedy,forthright apology for the mistakes. Also, National Review didn't employ a spouse of the author to fact-check the article. Lastly and most important, the article wasn't made up out of whole cloth, as Beauchamp's piece evidently was.
The Times' text box to the story nonetheless split the difference:
"Tough days for The New Republic and a rival, National Review."
More from Cohen's piece:
"After months of accusations that reports written in The New Republic by 'The Baghdad Diarist,' an American Army private, about the cruelty of ordinary soldiers in Iraq were false, the magazine says that as a result of its own investigation it can no longer stand by the articles.
"At the same time, National Review, one of the conservative magazines that strongly attacked The New Republic over the diarist articles, finds itself fending off accusations that accounts of armed Hezbollah gunmen in Lebanon reported in its blog in September were erroneous.
"The two episodes have allowed political bloggers on the right and the left to claim the moral high ground in the past few days while letting the arrows fly. Each side has questioned the other's patriotism, honesty and ethics while arguing over who had made the biggest mistake.
"The New Republic's troubles started in July, when it published an article by an anonymous soldier. The columns, titled 'The Baghdad Diarist,' were written by Scott Thomas Beauchamp, an Army private who made claims of casually cruel behavior by the men in his unit. These included one of a soldier who gleefully ran over dogs with a Bradley fighting vehicle and another of a soldier who jokingly put the shattered remnants of a child's skull on his head.
"The accounts were almost immediately challenged by conservatives. An Army investigation concluded in August that Private Beauchamp's reports were false, but aside from acknowledging one factual mistake, the soldier continued to insist they were true. The New Republic promised a full investigation.
"Over last weekend, the magazine posted on its Web site a nearly 7,000-word column to run in the Dec. 10 issue by Franklin Foer, the editor. It concluded: 'In light of the evidence available to us, after months of intensive re-reporting, we cannot be confident that the events in his pieces occurred in exactly the manner that he described them. Without that essential confidence, we cannot stand by these stories.'
"Mr. Foer said in an interview that the delay in coming to a final conclusion was due to the difficulty in 'sorting through events on a combat outpost in Iraq' and his hope that the Army and Private Beauchamp would turn over documents related to the case. (Neither did.)
"As bloggers at National Review Online continued to criticize The New Republic yesterday, National Review Online's editor, Kathryn Jean Lopez, was also on the Web apologizing, in this case over 'misleading reporting from Lebanon.'
"Ms. Lopez first posted an apology on Friday for online columns titled 'The Tank' by W. Thomas Smith Jr., a former marine and a free-lancer, which claimed that 4,000 to 5,000 Hezbollah soldiers had been deployed in the Christian sections of Beirut and that 200 armed Hezbollah militiamen were stationed in tents near the Lebanese parliament.
"Mr. Smith had said that trusted sources had given him the information about Hezbollah. But his claims were disputed by other journalists there.
"'We have not been able to independently verify the reports,' Ms. Lopez said in an e-mail statement yesterday. 'So far as I am concerned, they should not have been published as written.'
"Ms. Lopez resisted comparisons between Private Beauchamp and Mr. Smith.
"If Smith was too trusting of his sources, that is a journalistic faux pas of an entirely different sort,' she wrote in the magazine's blog on Sunday. 'It does not, contrary to some bloggers' claims, make him a fabulist.'
Cohen even lets Foer have the last word, showing himself gracious.
"Mr. Foer was asked if he were experiencing any joy over the troubles at National Review, and he replied, 'I have a feeling of how difficult this situation must be for them, and I wish them luck in resolving it.'"