What Have We Learned? The Saga of Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp

Over the weekend, a report surfaced that Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp had recanted his controversial essay. According to a military source quoted by The Weekly Standard,

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.

The Weekly Standard also published the following 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.

Few commentators suggested that Pvt. Beauchamp could have simply invented his material. Otherwise, how could The New Republic have permitted itself to post the following:

[W]e spoke with five other members of Beauchamp’s company, and all corroborated Beauchamp’s anecdotes, which they witnessed or, in the case of one solider, heard about contemporaneously.

Now, pending the Army’s final report, we know that these tales were cut from whole cloth, presumably for the glorification of Pvt. Beauchamp’s ego. The reputations of The New Republic and its editor, Franklin Foer, are in tatters. How can The New Republic recover?

Last Friday, I wrote an open letter to Mr. Foer, suggesting that he publish Michael Yon’s dispatch “Bless the Beasts and Children” as a companion to “Shock Troops.” Publishing Mr. Yon would establish that The New Republic is committed to serious journalism and inform its readers about an actual, thoroughly documented atrocity committed only weeks ago by al-Qaeda in Iraq.

I reiterate this advice, and add to it the following: Mr. Foer, launch an internal investigation. Your recklessness and Pvt. Beauchamp’s callowness delivered a material advantage to al-Qaeda in the crucial war of perceptions and slandered thousands of brave American fighting men and women. Pvt. Beauchamp’s juicy, slice-of-life perspective on “how war works” was false. Explain to your readers how this transpired, in full candor.

Now, what have we learned? “Shock Troops” was posted at The New Republic’s website 25 days ago. The oblivious “statement” that revealed the author’s identity was published 12 days ago. Last Thursday, The New Republic’s editors released a new statement purporting to confirm the claims in “Shock Troops,” but, by evading unequivocal confirmation, it instead stoked speculation that Pvt. Beachamp exaggerated or invented key aspects of his stories.

Most specific claims in the original essay were flatly incredible to veterans of Iraq, including soldiers stationed with Pvt. Beauchamp. Yet no flags tripped at The New Republic. Instead of careful fact-checking in advance, it spent three weeks backfilling. All of its corroborative sources were anonymous. To debunk this tissue, Pvt. Beauchamp’s unit and chain of command have wasted hundreds of hours.

While Pvt. Beauchamp was making up horseplay, al-Qaeda in Iraq was slaughtering civilians. Mr. Yon’s report details the excavation of a mass grave containing the decapitated bodies of children. He offered his writing and documentation free of charge to all media outlets during July. The New Republic could have verified and published it at any point.

Mr. Yon easily exceeds any conceivable journalistic standard set by Pvt. Beauchamp. Yet Mr. Foer and his fellow editors chose to publish “Shock Troops” instead of reporting that was far better verified, better written, about an actual and newsworthy atrocity, and free. Instead of Michael Yon, the former Green Beret who has been in Afghanistan and Iraq for most of the past three years, The New Republic published “Scott Thomas,” a conflicted, immature writer who described himself verbally abusing a disfigured woman during a meal, and then complained “my character … [has] been called into question.”

The juxtaposition of “Bless the Beasts and Children” and “Shock Troops” created a perfect test case for The New Republic. Its editors’ subsequent choices reveal their character and biases. In the age of the Internet, there is no possible reason for preferring to publish Pvt. Beauchamp’s essay over Mr. Yon’s – even if Pvt. Beauchamp’s every word were true. By doing so, The New Republic‘s editors showed that for them, stereotype and agenda trump the facts on the ground.

If you read The New Republic, you are getting only part of the news, the part that seems about right to Mr. Foer and company, the part that shows American soldiers for the thugs they are, and that ignores what Mr. Yon calls al-Qaeda’s “monstrosities.” In the future, make sure you also read (at least) Bill Roggio, Michael Yon, Michael Totten, and Badger 6.

Of course, if Pvt. Beauchamp is vindicated, we will retract our charges against him and The New Republic. Although we place great weight on the analysis and refutations we have received, we wish to know more. If further substantive information comes to light, Zeal and Activity will, of course, share it with you.

* * *

TAKE YOUR BOWS: Michael Goldfarb of The Weekly Standard first brought “Scott Thomas” to the blogosphere’s attention and ran the story to ground; here are key posts: Reporting from FOB Falcon, Foer the Record, Fact, Fiction, or “Proven to be False,” The U.S. Army vs. the New Republic, and Beauchamp Recants. John Barnes had “Thomas” pegged as “an MFA program Boy Wonder Macho Man, possibly in a military specialty that let him think he could fake combat experience” – don’t miss this interesting and funny post. Dean Barnett compares the confirmations found in last week’s statement with the original language of “Shock Troops” and draws some lessons (and here is much more). Instapundit has a set of links on the reported recantation. Hugh Hewitt calls for Franklin Foer’s resignation. Captain Ed calls for perspective. Roger L. Simon says blogs have better safeguards. Anne Althouse has a roundup of reactions from across the political spectrum (via Instapundit).

NOTE: As of this writing, Mr. Foer had not responded to our open letter.

PREVIOUSLY at Zeal and Activity: An Open Letter to Franklin Foer and Fighting Perceptions.

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