THE WEEKLY STANDARD has learned from a military source close to the investigation that Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp--author of the much-disputed "Shock Troops" article in the New Republic's July 23 issue as well as two previous "Baghdad Diarist" columns--signed a sworn statement admitting that all three articles he published in the New Republic were exaggerations and falsehoods--fabrications containing only "a smidgen of truth," in the words of our source.Amazing, but not really amazing. It's easy to see how things like this happen. Beauchamp is a gifted writer, with a point of view and raw material. If the Weekly Standard's report is true, it means that Beauchamp -- who could have published a novel, perhaps an excellent one -- is also a man who subverted his own work by calling it true and making it a lie -- not fiction, but a lie. The motivations are not hard to fathom. He gained access to The New Republic -- which gave him stature and an instant readership.
Separately, we received this statement from Major Steven F. Lamb, the deputy Public Affairs Officer for Multi National Division-Baghdad:
An investigation has been completed and the allegations made by PVT Beauchamp were found to be false. His platoon and company were interviewed and no one could substantiate the claims.According to the military source, Beauchamp's recantation was volunteered on the first day of the military's investigation. So as Beauchamp was in Iraq signing an affidavit denying the truth of his stories, the New Republic was publishing a statement from him on its website on July 26, in which Beauchamp said, "I'm willing to stand by the entirety of my articles for the New Republic using my real name."
It's also easy to see how The New Republic succumbed. The writing was sharp, the man was on the scene where he could witness important events, and he was speaking in a voice they wanted to project. Why weren't they more afraid of being duped? Was it because he was saying what they wanted to be true, giving weight to their arguments against the war? (Here's the lead story over there right now.) Maybe they thought they were protected from the suicidal blunder of getting taken in by another Stephen Glass because they were publishing the writing not as a news article but as a "diary."
Let's look back at Stephen Glass:
“My life was one very long process of lying and lying again, to figure out how to cover those other lies,” says Glass....Read that whole article: Glass went to some trouble to beat the fact checkers. Here's some analysis in The Columbia Journalism Review about how TNR fell for Glass:
Glass' main job was at The New Republic, a distinguished magazine with a 90-year history of publishing political and social commentary. It also has a reputation for discovering young, talented writers like Glass.
He was editor of his college newspaper at the University of Pennsylvania and joined The New Republic as an editorial assistant in 1995. Not long afterward he was assigned to write a story on an arcane piece of Washington legislation. He thought it needed sprucing up and a serial liar was born.
“I remember thinking, ‘If I just had the exact quote that I wanted to make it work, it would be perfect.’ And I wrote something on my computer, and then I looked at it, and I let it stand. And then it ran in the magazine and I saw it. And I said to myself what I said every time these stories ran, ‘You must stop. You must stop.’ But I didn't.”
“I loved the electricity of people liking my stories. I loved going to story conference meetings and telling people what my story was going to be, and seeing the room excited. I wanted every story to be a home run.”...
“Everything around him turned out to be incredibly vivid or zany or in some other way memorable,” says [TNR literary editor Leon] Wieselteir. “And at the meetings, we used to wait for Steve's turn, so that he could report on his next caper. We got really suckered.”...
“I would tell a story, and there would be fact A, which maybe was true. And then there would be fact B, which was sort of partially true and partially fabricated. And there would be fact C which was more fabricated and almost not true,” says Glass.
“And there would be fact D, which was a complete whopper. And totally not true. And so people would be with me on these stories through fact A and through fact B. And so they would believe me to C. And then at D they were still believing me through the story.”
[T]he truth is Glass gamed the system, and brilliantly. He'd often submit stories late to the checkers so they were pressed for time. When they questioned his material, [TNR editor Charles] Lane says, Glass would provide forged faxes on fake letterheads of phony organizations, as well as fictitious notes, even voice mail or actual calls from people pretending to be sources....Asking questions... and then blowing it, all over again. You'd think, after Glass, TNR would be exceedingly careful when confronted with vivid writing with great quotes and anecdotes. Yet somehow, it seems to have gotten less careful. There's this notion that war makes the soldiers crazy. Journalists love it. Beauchamp reinforced it. It appears that war makes journalists crazy.
Shouldn't all the unnamed sources, obscure organizations, and wild scenes viewed only by the writer have been another tip-off? "I've searched my soul and asked, "Why didn't my bullshit meter go off?" says Lane. "But it's hilarious. By the time I got there so many wild stories had run and seemingly stood up, I trusted him."
Some journalists see in Glass the dark side of a new magazine journalism that puts a premium on sensationalism and style....
But those who knew Glass insist that his story is more about one rotten apple. After all, many writers are under pressure and don't make stuff up....
If there is any value to the saga of what may be the biggest hoax in modern American journalistic history, it's that it has many journalists asking questions about their checking systems.
There's plenty of commentary following on the Goldfarb piece.
Like me, Mark Steyn thinks of Glass: "[TNR] made the same mistakes all over again - falling for pat cinematic vividness, pseudo-novelistic dialogue, all designed to confirm prejudices so ingrained the editors didn't even recognize they were being pandered to. But this time they did it in war, which is worse."
Roger L. Simon says: "Fact-checking, in my experience, is a big lie. It barely exists in the mainstream media."
Cathy Young is skeptical of the notion that TNR fell for Beauchamp because of his antagonism to the war:
Is I recall, Beauchamp was recommended to TNR by his fiancee Elspeth Reeve, a staffer at the magazine. It's not as if the magazine went looking for a soldier to write "Diarist" pieces. I do think that, to a large extent, Beauchamp was given a platform because he was someone the TNR editors saw as "one of us": a guy with a background in creative writing and journalism, as well as a Howard Dean supporter. I think it's also fair to say that the first Diarist piece, while not negative toward American troops in Iraq, showed them as mired in bleak and awful futility: at the end, Beauchamp reflects on his feelings of helplessness at his inability to protect the boy. So in that sense, it certainly fits into the current world-view at TNR. On the other hand, it could also be read as implying that if we withdraw from Iraq, we will leave the population in the hands of people who cut out children's tongues to make a point.Hugh Hewitt calls TNR editor Frank Foer "the Dan Rather of the political magazine world, a laughing stock caught up in trying to publicly maintain an obvious lie as truth." He wants a head to roll.
On the left, one theory has it that the army coerced a false confession out of Beauchamp.
And John Cole somehow winds up "now, more than ever, convinced that a certain segment of the Republican party and the right wing blogosphere is certifiably insane." Okaaaay...
Responding on the right is Uncle Jimbo:
So as it turns out US troops are not heartless barbarians and that far too many people on the left can't accept that. Well from one of those barbarians who just happens to have more humanitarian and disaster assistance work under his belt than any of the smirking elite sitting around the table at Franklin "Which way is the door?" Foer's editorial meetings, F**k you very much! You finished what Glass started, and may this serve as a lesson to the many other supposed honest media sources, your agenda is pitifully obvious and your tactics so childishly unsophisticated that I almost feel guilty smacking you around. But I will, and I hope it stings.Enough for now. Suffice it to say there's a big fight on.
UPDATE: TNR responds:
We've talked to military personnel directly involved in the events that Scott Thomas Beauchamp described, and they corroborated his account as detailed in our statement. When we called Army spokesman Major Steven F. Lamb and asked about an anonymously sourced allegation that Beauchamp had recanted his articles in a sworn statement, he told us, "I have no knowledge of that." He added, "If someone is speaking anonymously [to The Weekly Standard], they are on their own." When we pressed Lamb for details on the Army investigation, he told us, "We don't go into the details of how we conduct our investigations."Goldfarb responds to that:
(1) They neglected to report that the Army has concluded its investigation and found Beauchamp's stories to be false. As Major Lamb, the very officer they quote, has said in an authorized statement: "An investigation has been completed and the allegations made by PVT Beauchamp were found to be false. His platoon and company were interviewed and no one could substantiate the claims."
(2) Does the failure of the New Republic to report the Army's conclusions mean that the editors believe the Army investigators are wrong about Beauchamp?
(3) We have full confidence in our reporting that Pvt Beauchamp recanted under oath in the course of the investigation. Is the New Republic claiming that Pvt Beauchamp made no such admission to Army investigators? Is Beauchamp?