More Beauchamp

According to Michael Goldfarb at The Weekly Standard, Beauchamp has recanted.

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.

Goldfarb also quotes 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.

Could the Army investigation be a means of sweeping embarrassing facts under the rug? Sure. Could the military pressure a private into recanting a true story? Sure — though Beuchamp, at present, has enough visibility to be more protected from retaliation than the typical soldier. Be as it may, if the story recantation story pans out, it will no doubt breathe a new life into the story.

Meanwhile, Jeff Goldstein responds to my earlier post on the topic, and specifically to this part:

[W]hile I think the story of the boy who had his tongue cut out raises further doubts about Beauchamp’s credibility, it also points to the aburdity of claims that TNR editors were eager to publish Beauchamp because his writings put U.S. troops in Iraq in a bad light. (Unless, of course, one wants to claim that TNR and Beauchamp cleverly conspired to ensure that his first diarist piece focused on atrocity by the insurgents in order to avert suspicion of anti-Americanism — which is probably not too paranoid for a few websites.)

Asks Jeff:

Consider: is it really “paranoid” to suggest that a writer working to establish credibility would be careful to describe the barbarism of “both sides” (and aren’t we always told that what separates “us” from “them” is that we do not behave like them, making the subsequent barbarism of the American troops reported in Beauchamp’s follow-up pieces all the more pointedly ironic)?

In fact, isn’t it that juxtaposition itself that gives the pieces their pointedness and, to some, their poignancy?

The idea that war turns us into what we are fighting is the “literary” conceit being serviced by Beauchamp’s collection of essays — and in the aggregate, his pieces are, in my reading, intended to supply this practiced layer to the anti-war narrative embraced both by Foer and (if we can believe his other writings, or view his political affiliations as “significant” with respect to his literary output) Beauchamp.

Sorry — I find it hard to believe that Beauchamp sought “juxtaposition” between an essay published in February and an essay published in July. People weren’t reading his essays in a collection of books, they were reading them in a weekly magazine, and except for a handful who were paying special attention to the “Baghdad Diarist,” I doubt that most even remembered that the “Shock Troops” article was written by the same guy who wrote about the insurgents cutting out a kid’s tongue. If Beauchamp wanted “juxtaposition” between the atrocities of the insurgents and the dehumanization of U.S. soldiers to the point of becoming “just like the enemy,” surely he would have made it in one article, not two different essays separated by months. Besides, especially compared to an atrocity like cutting off a child’s tongue, the behavior Beauchamp imputes to U.S. soldiers hardly qualifies as “barbaric.”

Meanwhile, in the comments, “Jeffersonian,” who says he is a longtime fan of mine and defends me against some of the more spirited comments from his fellow posters, accuses me of being “disingenuous” in this case:

TNR obviously knew what Beauchamp was going to write before he did, given the nature of his oeuvre. Of the tens of thousands of soldiers in Iraq, they just happened across this guy? … TNR picked STB for a reason, and it wasn’t because of his purple prose.

I appreciate the fan support, of course; but does “Jeffersonian” really believe that when TNR picked up Beauchamp’s first Diarist piece about the Iraqi boy mutilated by insurgents for talking to Americans, Franklin Foer knew in advance that Beauchamp would follow up with a piece chronicling bad behavior by American soldiers and that’s the only reason he decided to publish Beauchamp? Sorry, but that is paranoid, and it’s also the kind of demonization of “the other side” that I find so frustrating in political discourse.

As 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.

Finally, I’m not sure why some of Jeff’s commenters think I’m helping “close ranks” in defense of TNR, or wondering what my reaction will be “if Beauchamp’s recantation is acknowledged and TNR still holds the articles as representative of the magazine’s journalism.” Where exactly is my defense of TNR? I said I believed that Beauchamp is a fabulist or at least a partial fabulist, and that TNR is wrong to stand by him. Nor did I ever say the story didn’t matter; I specifically said does, because I think journalistic integrity, particularly in reporting from a war zone, is important. I think they’re guilty of shoddy journalism, but not of trying to undermine the war. As far as I know, no anti-war blogs picked up Thomas’s piece or tried to trumpet his allegations before conservative blogs drew attention to the piece.

This is not to say that Beauchamp’s stories should have been left unchallenged — only to say that, even unchallenged, they would have been unlikely to have much tangible effect, good or bad.

Update, August 9: TNR denies Beauchamp’s recantation. The Weekly Standard stands by its story. The Army says its investigation has showed Beauchamp’s stories to be false. In the end, everyone will probably stick by their opinion.

21 Comments

Filed under Iraq, journalism, Scott Thomas Beauchamp

21 responses to “More Beauchamp

  1. dave in boca

    Let’s remember that the new Managing Editor of TNR, Franklin Foer, is the degenerate spawn of one of the farthest left “historians” on the fake-history bash-the-USA academicide front. Papa Foer has won many historical prizes for consistently unmaksing the evils in America, especially during the Reconstruction, and still presides at Columbia U., where “left” means “centrist” and “centrists” don’t exist. Foer hates America as much as his Daddy did. Peretz should fire Franklin Foer’s ass, before more hate-America spew stains TNR.

    Evil Poppa begets evil son who enables evil chronicler. Just connect the dots. No fault on the left, as Mark Rudd told me decades ago when I was a deluded SDS volunteer. He smoked my dope & left me with the advice, “Dare to cheat, dare to win.” Could be Columbia U’s motto! At least when CSJ hands out Pulitzers!

  2. Laura

    But Cathy, with all due respect, if “This is not to say that Beauchamp’s stories should have been left unchallenged — only to say that, even unchallenged, they would have been unlikely to have much tangible effect, good or bad,” then why were you so inspired by the whole brouhaha that you returned to blogging and blogged it up so extensively and probably time-consumingly for you, thus attributing ever more importance to something you state is ultimately inconsequential? As I understood your original post, you meant to use the Beauchamp debacle to demonstrate, yet again, that the Right and the Left are both full of it – indeed, they are! – but, I’m afraid, that point got lost in the skirmish and became peripheral, while the discussion of the Beauchamp issue got spot-lit even more than it deserved to be.

  3. Anonymous

    In Ms. Young’s defense there is a tendency among bloggers to create a boomerang effect, placing undue emphasis on what are objectively small issues and turning them into large internet controversies. (such as Rosy O’Donnell’s lastest pearls of wisdom). How many people that don’t read blogs have even heard about Pvt. what’s his name? Yet within the blogging universe its a big deal, and its a fair question to ask whether making such a big deal of what was always a small story was ultimately more trouble than it was worth. Still, you have to laugh about how it all turned out, so maybe it did have its benefits after all.

  4. Jeff

    Cathy —

    Maybe it’s my paranoia again, but wouldn’t articles published in July link to other articles by the author (in the online incarnation)?

    And I find it hard to believe that YOU find it hard to believe that these disparate essays were meant to remain forever disparate.

    A collection of Baghdad Diaries, with a pedigree of publication in a respected mag like TNR, would almost certainly lend themselves to collecting and, ultimately, a book.’

    Beyond that, though, you seem to miss the thrust of my argument — specifically, that Beauchamp, the product of an MFA program, would be well-versed in how this game is played, and would be careful (in his mind) not to tip his hand by setting up such obvious juxtapositions that might destroy his credibility.

    Which is to say, these essays HAD to take place over a series, because to try to shoehorn these efforts into a single piece would suggest that the “Diary” conceit was a bit to front-loaded with significant and suggestive material to count as a believable “Diary.”

    As for Foer, I doubt that he was unfamiliar with Beauchamp’s previous works. So the question, which I posed in one of my earlier posts on the subject (I didn’t really enter the fray until I critiqued Dr Barnes semiotic analysis of “Scott Thomas”) is why HIM and why NOW?

    Again, you seem to believe, despite the growing suggestiveness to the contrary, that Foer was merely duped — and this is a scenario I posited early on, namely, that he was guilty merely of confirmation bias.

    But such a reading, as I’ve pointed out, carefully brackets the internal relationships at TNR, Foer’s own attempt to take TNR to the anti-war side (and regain the confidence of “progressives”), and Beauchamp’s accessible body of work.

    I guess a good question to ask Foer would be were Beauchamp’s pieces commissioned? And if so, on what basis?

    Another: Does TNR even take unsolicited manuscripts?

    I don’t know the answers (somebody may — I just haven’t seen them).

    You seem to believe that Foer had no way of knowing what he was going to get.

    Perhaps.

    But I think it more likely that he knew precisely what he was going to get, and that he thought it precisely the kind of thing that sells. It’s very “New Yorkerish,” if you will — and I think that’s what Foer was after, and that’s what he made sure he got by selecting the person he selected.

    If, in fact, he selected him.

    At the very least, he should have checked the facts before going to print.

    As to your final point — that compared to the cutting off of a tongue, the behavior of US soldiers hardly seems barbaric — I think you are too clever to take this tack.

    We EXPECT a certain kind of barbarism from terrorists. Stories of beheadings and torture are too numerous to deny, so the trick, for a writer, is to use that to his advantage. And besides, the tongue-cutting incident had the double effect of showing how, regardless of the (perhaps) laudable intentions of US soldiers (before their inevitable dehumanization), their very presence put Iraqi children in danger of having their tongues lopped off.

    Acknowledging the barbarism of terrorism provides him with credibility.

    But I never said that the barbarism Beauchamp attributes to US troops (and himself) was OF THE SAME KIND. Rather, I suggested (and perhaps I wasn’t as clear as I should have been) the barbarism of US forces was meant to be juxtaposed, and understood from worldview of Beauchamp’s perceived audience — the liberal/”centrist” readers of TNR.

    And from that worldview, look what we get: the humiliation of a disfigured woman (Andrew Sullivan might even call that “torture”), the wearing of a child’s skull as a hat; the intentional and gleeful murder of dogs.

    Women. Children. Dogs.

    Think Beauchamp knew which buttons to push?

    Think Foer wasn’t slavering over the pushing of those buttons?

  5. Cathy Young

    Dave in Boca: so who is this evil father of Franklin Foer? Name, please? The only three Foers listed in Wikipedia are Franklin Foer himself and his two brothers, novelist Jonathan Safran Foer and science writer Joshua Foer. There is no Foer in the Columbia University directory.

    Laura, in response to your question: first of all, I was going to resume blogging anyway. Secondly, the reason this particular story caught my attention is that (1) I think lies and embellishments in journalism are an important issue; (2) I get very annoyed by knee-jerk partisanship and wagon-circling, and the way this story was being covered was a prime example of that. (Actually, what annoyed me the most was liberal bloggers — and Andrew Sullivan, whatever side of the blogosphere he’s on now — buying into TNR’s “confirmation.”) I do see serious harm in the polarization and mutual demonization that dominate political discourse today, as well as the habit of looking at facts through partisan blinders.

    I repeat my question: If Beauchamp’s “Shock Troops” piece promoted the antiwar cause, why did not a single antiwar blog pick it up before the debunking began? (By contrast, The Nation‘s recent cover story about alleged human rights abuses by U.S. soldiers was all over the left blogosphere.) Someone in the comments section at Protein Wisdom suggests that the piece could have harmed recruitment efforts. Oh, please. TNR currently has a circulation of 60,000, and the overwhelming majority of people outside policy-wonk circles have never heard of it.

  6. Anonymous

    From TNR 8/7/07:

    “A STATEMENT ON SCOTT THOMAS BEAUCHAMP:
    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.”

    –The Editors”

    It would be great if people actually waited until these investigations were complete before jumping to conclusions.

    Z

  7. happyfeet

    Cathy, there’s a tremendous anti-recruitment apparatus at work at our schools and universities. Beauchamp’s piece would be fodder for that, no question. “Shock Troops” looks like it would fit quite comfortably on a flyer. I think at the least that’s a more plausible speculation about the impact Beauchamp’s work *might* have had, as opposed to the idea that “the reputation of American troops in Iraq would indeed be compromised if Beauchamp’s account were corroborated,” which is NOT an argument I believe I made, though I would sure allow some most likely have.

    What’s the circulation of Reason by the way? Is publishing an article in Reason somehow less quixotic and of more potential impact than publishing one in TNR? And what about the role of that Internet thing?

  8. Revenant

    so who is this evil father of Franklin Foer?

    Dave put up the exact same post on at least one other blog. A commenter there thinks he confused the Foers with the Foners (Eric Foner teaches at Columbia, and is the son of Communist historian Philip Foner of CCNY).

    In any case, while not all of Beauchamp’s writing was explicitly anti-American, I do think that it was all at least implicitly anti-war. “Shock Troops” pushed the “our troops are scum and the war is making them that way” meme, the tongue story (and the “only Iraqi police carry Glocks canard) pushed the “our allies are as bad as the people we’re fighting” meme, etc.

    I think the in-house biases at TNR (which has drifted sharply left in the last few years) were the primary reason why they treated this anti-war propaganda as fact. Not necessarily because they though “mu ha ha, this will undermine the war effort”, but because they didn’t question their own biases.

  9. Snake Oil Baron

    Beauchamp was not cleverly trying to seem unbiased. His purpose in creating the tongue story was to profess that even Iraqis who support America are being hurt by the war. It is an anti Iraq war story just like all the other ones.

    “As far as I know, no anti-war blogs picked up Thomas’s piece or tried to trumpet his allegations before conservative blogs drew attention to the piece. “

    That is likely because they have lies that are far more exciting than his. Plus they probably skip any article that claims to tell the Iraq story through a soldier’s eyes.

    But how, exactly, is it that a national publication publishing the vilest of slander against US troops is being made too much of? Considering that this comes on the heals of numerous fake photography scandals, fake anonymous scorce scandals and other disgraceful conduct by the media, all aimed at shaping opinion against the war, against Israel or in favor of the Democratic Party (not to mention the interference being run for any anti-American dictator). The media does not report on its own crimes so who should?

  10. alphie

    The U.S. military pays any personnel serving in Kuwait combat pay (actually, it’s known as “imminent danger” pay).

    Are the right-wing pundits saying anyone who received combat pay for serving in Kuwait should pay it back?

  11. Cathy Young

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. I was hoping to reply today but I’m on the road, so it will have to be tomorrow. My apologies.

    (Revenant, good to see you back!)

  12. Revenant

    Are the right-wing pundits saying anyone who received combat pay for serving in Kuwait should pay it back?

    Beauchamp’s claim was that *combat* turned him into a jerk, not that collecting “combat pay” turned him into a jerk.

    Soldiers are entitled to combat pay whenever the military says they are — I don’t know the exact rules. But whatever the rules may be, they don’t change the fact that Beauchamp hadn’t seen any combat yet when he was stationed in Kuwait.

    In any case, it now seems likely that the “sorry, it was really Kuwait, not Iraq” story was *also* bogus (and amusingly similar to the fibs Glass tried during *his* cover-up).

    Cathy, good to see you blogging again. 🙂

  13. alphie

    revenant,

    If the U.S. military considers service in Kuwait worthy of combat pay, shouldn’t the right-wing, “let the generals on the ground decide” pundits go along with that decision?

    Or do they think they know better than our military’s leaders what is and what isn’t “combat?”

  14. Revenant

    If the U.S. military considers service in Kuwait worthy of combat pay, shouldn’t the right-wing, “let the generals on the ground decide” pundits go along with that decision?

    The military and the “generals on the ground” have conducted an investigation and found that Beauchamp’s entire story was fabricated. If you want to agree that we should take the generals’ views at face value, that’s fine with me. We can agree that Beauchamp lied about everything and move on. 🙂

    Anyway, as this page indicates, you don’t have to be in or near combat to get combat pay; being overseas in wartime (i.e., now) is good enough. So even if we assume (for the sake of argument) that the military is wrong about Beauchamp’s lies, but right about him deserving imminent danger pay, the fact remains that his claim of mocking a woman because he’d been degraded by combat was a lie — he hadn’t been in or near combat yet.

  15. alphie

    “The military and the “generals on the ground” have conducted an investigation and found that Beauchamp’s entire story was fabricated.”

    Got a link to a military press release for that claim?

  16. Revenant

    Got a link to a military press release for that claim?

    Major Steven Lamb, the Army public affairs officer in Baghdad who confirmed the results of the investigation, can be reached at steven.lamb@mnd-b.army.mil.

  17. Old Dad

    STB wants to be a writer. He had an in at TNR. TNR was in the process of shifting its editorial position on the war. STB produced some copy that was consistent with TNR’s new position, and it was somewhat sensational. STB’s pseudonym was chosen for future commercial value.

    Foer sees a twofer, but cuts corners vetting STB. He relies too heavily on his staffer’s relationship. He also cuts corners (skips?) fact checking STB’s stuff. It obviouosly was never vetted by an experienced Iraq vet. I take Foer at face value when he says that an embed thought it smelled right.

    STB exaggerates and fabricates for effect. He doesn’t intend to get in trouble. My guess is that he simply didn’t understand how foolish the stuff he made up really was. My guess is that he’s never been inside a BFV on a mission. When the stuff hits the fan he’s more surprised than anyone.

    STB gets caught with his pants down, and so does TNR. STB foolishly lies to Foer who likewise foolishly believes him. Both go on record. TNR proceeds with a lame effort at re-reporting the incident while the Army does an official investigation.

    While the investigations proceed, Foer and TNR foolishly circle the wagons encouraged by some signs of support from Andrew Sullivan, et al.

    Meanwhile, the Army nails STB’s behind to the wall. He recants leaving Foer and TNR high and dry. Foer foolishly stone walls. Maybe he does’t know that the gig is up. It is. My guess is that Foer is gone in the near term. STB takes his medicine from the Army, but has damaged his future literary aspirations.

    A conspiracy to defame the troops? I don’t think so. I see two relatively young, relatively inexperienced guys probably in over their heads. Both are somewhat left leaning fellow travellers. Both probably have problems with the President and the war.

    It’s easy to understand STB’s actions. He saw a chance to get published, took it, and then bailed when the heat was on. Not very classy. My guess is that he’s not a real great guy.

    Foer took a big gamble. He trusted his staffer who trusted her significant other, who wasn’t trustworthy. Foer rode that pony way too long, and now it’s going to throw him.

  18. alphie

    revenant,

    Lamb has been contacted by several news outfits and he denies the story.

    Got a real source?

    Nice straw men, old dad.

  19. Revenant

    Lamb has been contacted by several news outfits and he denies the story.

    You’re either deliberately lying or very confused. No news outlet has reported that Lamb denied the story. He refused to confirm or deny a single aspect of one magazine’s story — the Weekly Standard’s claim that he recanted — when The New Republic contacted him, if that’s what you meant. Amusingly enough, TNR appears to have forgotten to ask him about the results of the investigation (reported in USA Today, the Washington Post, and other sources), or at least forgotten to print what he told them.

    The official military statement statement, initially released by Lamb, that “an investigation has been completed and the allegations made by Private Beauchamp were found to be false”, has been neither denied by him nor refuted by anyone else. It has since been confirmed by other military spokesmen.

    I’m not sure why you would think you’d get away with that “Lamb denied the story” fib here. Maybe try again over at DailyKos, where people are more willing to drink the Kool-Aid without checking to see what’s in it first?

  20. Cathy Young

    At least according to TNR, Stephen Lamb said he did not know of a recantation by Beauchamp. That sounds like a denial to me. However, I agree it was misleading of TNR not to mention the results of the Army investigation.

    Jeff: You know, I really don’t see Franklin Foer slavering over a selection of anecdotes denigrating American soldiers in ways that would make them particularly hateful to liberal readers. Nothing I know of Foer would lead me to hold him in such low estimation. I think Old Dad’s story is much closer to the truth.

    I also can’t see “Shock Troops” being used on an anti-recruitment flyer. It’s a bit of a complicated text for a flyer, for one thing. I repeat: No one was paying attention to the story until the debunking began. And once again, I’m not saying that there was anything wrong about the debunking. I’m saying that the harm was more to the cause of good journalism than to the cause of the American soldier or of the war in Iraq.

  21. Revenant

    Cathy,

    At least according to TNR, Stephen Lamb said he did not know of a recantation by Beauchamp. That sounds like a denial to me.

    TNR’s used some clever writing in its denials, I admit. But here is what TNR said:

    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.”

    What’s the “that” which Lamb claims no knowledge of? A person could be forgiven for thinking it refers to the recantation, but literally and grammatically Lamb is saying he doesn’t know anything about the “anonymously sourced allegation”.

    Then look at the second half of Lamb’s quoted statement:

    If someone is speaking anonymously [to The Weekly Standard], they are on their own. We don’t go into the details of how we conduct our investigations.

    Denying that Beauchamp had recanted would, of course, be describing the details of the investigation — the very thing Lamb goes on to explicitly state he will not do.

    The more sensible reading of Lamb’s response to The New Republic is that he doesn’t know anything about the anonymous allegation (which would make sense, since few people, especially busy soldiers in Iraq, read The Weekly Standard or its blog) and will neither comment on the details of the investigation nor support anyone who does.

    This isn’t the first time TNR has played word games in its denials, either. The initial “we swear to God the story checks out” denial from a week ago, for example, claims to have five witnesses for Beauchamp’s graveyard story — but upon further inspection it turns out that one only heard about it secondhand from an unknown source and three more could only confirm that a graveyard was found. The actual count of witnesses confirming Beauchamp’s stories was one each for the mess hall, dead dog, and skull-wearing — and TNR coyly avoided saying if those were three *different* witnesses, or all the same guy.

    Old Dad’s version of events sounds very likely to me as well.

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