For months, our magazine has been subject to accusations that stories we published by an American soldier then serving in Iraq were fabricated.
Imagine that! Accusations! For such Sterling work, all you get are... accusations.
When these accusations first arose, we promised our readers a full account of our investigation.
Then we stalled, prevaricated, and just plain old hoped-it-would-just-go-away.
We spent the last four-and-a-half months re-reporting his stories.
Re-reporting? Were you not supposed to be verifying? Were the UNVERIFIED parts of the story not the problem?
These are our findings.
When Michael Goldfarb, a blogger for The Weekly Standard, left me a message on a Tuesday afternoon in mid-July, I didn't know him or his byline. And I certainly didn't anticipate that his message would become the starting point for a controversy.
Yes. His message was the "starting point". Not the fiction you sold as fact, but his message is the problem. I think I discern a pattern of blame in this here first paragraph.
Goldfarb said he had been contacted by tipsters who thought these scenarios sounded concocted by a writer with an overactive imagination--or perhaps by a total fabulist. He asked for evidence that might answer these complaints, "any details that would reassure that this isn't fiction." Among other things, he wanted the name of the base where the author had mocked the disfigured woman.
A day earlier, The New Republic had published a piece titled "Shock Troops." It appeared on the magazine's back page, the "Diarist" slot, which is reserved for short first-person meditations. "Shock Troops" bore the byline Scott Thomas, which we identified as a pseudonym for a soldier then serving in Iraq. Thomas described how war distorts moral judgments. To illustrate his point, he narrated three disturbing anecdotes. In one, he and his comrades cracked vulgar jokes about a woman with a scarred face while she sat in close proximity. In another, a soldier paraded around with the fragment of an exhumed skull on his head. A final vignette described a driver of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle who took pride in running over dogs.
Because Life in Iraq is disturbingly similar to a 80's era Vietnam movie.
Hmm - rather specific questions - Could you name all of them in one list? Or is being concise not really a part of this here exercise?
The same afternoon, we contacted the author, asking permission to answer Goldfarb's queries. We thought we could provide details that might answer these concerns without revealing the author's identity and violating the compact we formed when granting him a pseudonym. He agreed.
I told Goldfarb that the insults to the woman had occurred at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Falcon. A day later, Goldfarb sent a link to an item on the Standard blog. It quoted an anonymous source who said the story sounded like a collection of the "This is no bullshit ... stories soldiers like to tell." Goldfarb called on the military blogosphere to do "some digging" and for "individual soldiers and veterans to come forward with relevant information."
Embarrassing huh? When you verify something, you ask the same guy who may have told you the lie in the first place, while Mr. Goldfarb goes and does what is called "independent verification" That is, he checks the information as close to the actual event or place of the event as he can, and independantly of the author, whose work is suspect.
By the weekend, the Standard's editor, William Kristol, published an editorial that, without evidence, pronounced the Diarist an open-and-shut case.
Yeah. No evidence. All he had was your and "Scott Thomas’s" word, which are not to be questioned at ALL, for fear of , umm , becoming a starting point in a controversy? You are kinda right he had no evidence. He had no evidence that what you guys printed was true. And right now, here today, it turns out - neither do you.
Kristol wrote, "But what is revealing about this mistake is that the editors must have wanted to suspend their disbelief in tales of gross misconduct by American troops. How else could they have published such a farrago of dubious tales? Having turned against a war that some of them supported, the left is now turning against the troops they claim still to support."
An then it goes on. And on. And on.
So, in the interests of brevity, and your and my time, Ill selectively quote and fisk as without regurgitating the entire bore fest Mr. Foer coughed up.
Here goes more!
"Naturally we wanted to learn more about the dog-hunting and the skull--although, in hindsight, the genesis of these anecdotes in such a nonchalant aside should have provoked greater suspicion. Beauchamp revised the piece, and we sanded down the prose. A month after he submitted the first draft, after several revisions, it entered into galleys."
Here we learn that TNR's Editors had a LOT of time to look at this piece. They had time to "sand the prose" and make "several revisions" Nowhere in this process, it seems, did anyone question the actual events being desccribed.
Facing the difficulties of verifying the piece, but wanting to ensure its plausibility before publication, we sent the piece to a correspondent for a major newspaper who had spent many tours embedded in Iraq. He had heard accounts of soldiers killing dogs with Bradleys.
They fact checked this piece, about the agile-as-dogs armored vehicle with another MSM Journalist? And he had "heard accounts" Tell us. who is this man, and what is his opinion of the Iraq war?
Reeve also asked a National Guard medic who had served in Iraq if he had seen burn victims in chow halls. He replied, "[N]ot many ... but a couple."
Could you actually find any yourself? Scratch that - If you cannot find the one that is mentioned in the story, your story is horseshit. And She must also verify the incident - OK?
I almost fell for the clever little lowering of standards there - fact checking now seems to have become "probability searching" "If it is at all possible, it HAS to be true!
He also added details to his accounts. The woman Beauchamp said he had mocked loomed large within his circle of friends. They called her "Crypt Keeper" or "Mandrake's Bride."
Um, Yay. Did you consider the the embellisher might be embellishing? Some more?
The bones, meanwhile, had been uncovered while filling sandbags in a small section of his combat outpost. (I received a photo of Beauchamp holding a bone in one hand while obscuring the name on his uniform with the other.)
No pic, no believe. Print the picture.
He provided us with the names of the soldier who wore the skull and the driver who ran over dogs. And he solicited corroborating accounts from five other soldiers.
Provide these names, Please.
Soldier A: "While digging we came across several bones and a guy named [name withheld] said he was part Indian and danced around the bones to show he was peaceful and he did a proper burial procedure."
The nature of these contacts wasn't ideal: Beauchamp was soliciting his own witnesses. But, once Beauchamp established the initial contact, we tried to communicate with these soldiers independently. We always considered the possibility that they were lying to cover for their friend, but there was no way for us to know that for certain, and we couldn't dismiss what they told us. They were not only Beauchamp's buddies, but, in some instances, the only witnesses to the events described.
Wait. You only thought of that afterward, right? Not before?
Beauchamp instant-messaged us that officers had "made people sign sworn statements saying that brads don't intentionally hit dogs and that no mass grave was found" at his combat outpost--"in fact, that no human remains at all were found there."
Beauchamp said he was under enormous stress.
Yeah, that happens to Liars when they get caught out.
"[I] wanted to get out of the room alive," he told us.
Because the US army Executes those who refuse to sign? On the spot?
He signed statements but tried to phrase them carefully. "[I] think i worded it pretty well enough to buy me some more time without contradicting myself."
"buy me some more time" The Meme is set!
Earlier that morning, we had received an e-mail from a soldier in Beauchamp's unit who had mentioned seeing the disfigured woman in Kuwait
A pattern began. Beauchamp's behavior was sometimes suspicious--promising evidence that never arrived--but so was the Army's. Beauchamp had corroboration, but his confusion over Iraq and Kuwait was troubling. And we were running out of leads; one of the few remaining was a former member of Beauchamp's unit named Kristopher Kiple.
A Name! Who remembers Beauchamp's Fantasy! And might have read the fantasy, Like everyone involved most likely did. Did he ask you for a job?
You see, Mr Foer, by now anything you say gets questioned. Nothing less than FULL transcripts of ALL your conversations with EVERYONE about this will do. But we won’t be getting them from you, now will we?
"Without new evidence to be gleaned, we began to lay out the evidence we had assembled. It wasn't just the testimonials from the soldiers in his unit. Among others, we had called a forensic anthropologist and a spokesman for the manufacturer of Bradley Fighting Vehicles. Nothing in our conversations with them had dissuaded us of the plausibility of Beauchamp's pieces."
Nothing....had dissuaded us of the plausibility...." This is really the centerpiece, the method of your defense. The allegations you and your correspondent had made, had only to be "plausible" to be true. All you had to verify, is whether things were "possible" Not whether they actually had occurred.
For an enlightening clarification on how this works, your "fact checking" with the Bradley expert went almost to the letter, down the road of "could a Bradley possibly kill a dog?" You asked as general question as you could, got the most slight whiff of a possibility, and called it "verification". Yet, you question every one else's integrity.
You are a Laughingstock. Resign. Or Hell, Stay, and give us more fodder to laugh at.