August 07, 2007

It Didn't Have To Be This Way

Michael Goldfarb at The Weekly Standard reports that according to an anonymous source close to the investigation, PV-2 Scott Thomas 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.

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."

The military sources I contacted will neither confirm nor deny Goldfarb's report, citing Beauchamp's right to privacy and on-going administrative actions.

I think that in light of everything else we know about this unfolding scandal, however, that the statement is quite plausibly correct.

Sadly, if the editors of The New Republic had actually fact-checked Beauchamp's claims prior to "Shock Troops," obvious fact errors in his second post, "Dead of Night," should have alerted them to the fact that Beauchamp was not a reliable or accurate source of information.

It didn't have to be this way

In "Dead of Night," Beauchamp wrote a paragraph that contained two factual inaccuracies that should have been quite easy to discern with even a minimal attempt at fact checking, fact checking that it is obvious that The New Republic did not engage in.

Beauchamp wrote:

Someone reached down and picked a shell casing up off the ground. It was 9mm with a square back. Everything suddenly became clear. The only shell casings that look like that belong to Glocks. And the only people who use Glocks are the Iraqi police.

Anyone with even minimal familiarity with firearms--and by "minimal," I mean anyone who has paid the least bit of attention to firearms in news stories, television programs, or movies--should know that there is no such thing as a "9mm with a square back." All modern cartridges in common use are tubular cases with a round base, or in Beauchamp's parlance, "back."

Here is an excellent photo of the base of a spent 9mm cartridge casing as captured by PAXcam:


Note that this is a fired case manufactured by CCI, and in the middle is the primer. In the center of the primer, lending to a "bull’s-eye" visual effect, is an indentation made by a standard firing pin. It is round in shape, due to the fact that most pistols in common use have rounded firing pins.

Taken in the context of the paragraph, it could be reasonably be concluded that what Beauchamp probably meant to say was that the indentation made on the primer was square or rectangular in shape, leading him to believe that the indentation was made by the squared striker used by Glock pistols. As a matter of fact, this is what I stated when I first addressed this "red flag" article on July 20.

Oddly enough, though, he returns to state "The only shell casings that look like that belong to Glocks." He is once again talking about the case itself, and not the mark on the primer.

In retrospect, as such shell casings do not exist as a clear matter of fact (and this is beyond dispute), I don't think it unreasonable to conclude that Scott Thomas Beauchamp never saw such a shell casing, and that this entire paragraph was fabricated based upon stories he probably heard from other soldiers, and then was inaccurately retold in this tale.

I could reasonably forgive The New Republic for missing this factual untruth, as it may simply be that they had no one on staff to vet this article that has even a passing familiarity with firearms.

The second factual error, however, was exceedingly easy to fact check, and would have exposed Beauchamp as being a fact-challenged writer well in advance of the publication of "Shock Troops."

This is the statement that should have sent the red flag:

And the only people who use Glocks are the Iraqi police.

The obvious implication of this statement is that Scott Thomas Beauchamp was specifically implicating the Iraqi police in a shooting.

Such a implication demands at least a cursory attempt at fact-checking the claim that only the Iraqi police carry Glock pistols, and the easiest way to do that is to simply Google the words "Glock" and "Iraq."

If TNR's editors had taken even that minimal fact-checking step, they would have discovered articles from the New York Times, military press releases, video-sharing web sites and other media outlets that would have shown that Glocks are very common in Iraq. Glocks are quite likely the most ubiquitous handgun in Iraq, carried officially or unofficially by those on all sides, and those on no side at all. The New Republic utterly failed to fact-check an inflammatory charge made by Beauchamp that implicated the Iraqi police as the only group that could have fired that cartridge.

In one paragraph in his second article, Beauchamp should have been exposed as a questionable writer, whose articles needed to be thoroughly vetted before publication. Franklin Foer's editorial staff utterly failed to fact-check "Dead of Night." Had they caught these errors, it is possible that "Shock Troops" would have faced more scrutiny that it obviously did, and the article that now has caused such a firestorm, and may yet cost Foer and other TNR editors their jobs, may have never gone to publication.

Even after "Shock Troops" was published, it wasn't too late

After "Shock Troops" went to press and Michael Goldfarb called the account into question in "Fact or Fiction?, various bloggers and military officers starting to pick the story apart.

Franklin Foer should have admitted at that time that they were relying on the word of a soldier well-known to them, and that they did not see a need to fact-check the stories prior to publication as a result.

Instead, Foer announced that TNR would conduct an investigation, and that conversations with soldiers have done nothing to undermine--and much to corroborate--the author's descriptions." Foer was conveniently and self-servingly ignoring structural problems with the story, apparently convinced that fervent testimony has more use than facts.

Just four days later, TNR made the rather outlandish claim that "the article was rigorously edited and fact-checked before it was published," which is a blatant untruth.

As a matter of fact, it was obvious that fact-checking had not been completed prior to TNR's August 2 publication of the results of their investigation, as senior editor Jason Zingerle admitted yesterday at The Corner, when he stated that he did not receive word back from Kuwait-based PAO Major Renee D. Russo prior to publication of their self-styled vindication, and perhaps more damning, did not deem fit to print her statement that Beauchamp's story was a "likely urban legend or myth" once he had it.

Where do we go from here?

PV-2 Scott Thomas Beauchamp is probably finished as a writer, and possibly finished as a soldier. At this point, if he has the common sense to keep his mouth shut, his role in this sad drama, at least in the public eye, should be over.

We in the blogosphere will move on at some point in the near future; as a matter of fact, so many of those who have defended Beauchamp and TNR on ideological grounds alone already have.

Others--myself included--will likely follow the incident for a while longer.

The New Republic's ordeal, however, is only just beginning.

TNR's owners, Canwest MediaWorks International and the TNR's editor-in-chief Martin Peretz have some tough decisions to make in the days ahead.

It seems obvious that TNR did not fact-check Beauchamp's stories before they were originally published, which is not by itself an unpardonable sin. What is far harder to justify is the decision of the editors to try to insist that they fact-checked Beauchamp's articles when they clearly did not. That, in my opinion, amounts to a lie.

Franklin Foer and other editors at The New Republic apparently tried to fool their readers with a combination of what they said and what they decided not to say, and abusing your readership in such a manner is one way to assure that an already shrinking readership will continue to collapse.

If The New Republic is to survive this latest scandal, it appears that that excising a significant portion of their editorial staff is the only real option.

Sadly, it the editors had only been forthright and admitted their mistakes early on, their futures at The New Republic--and perhaps even the future of the magazine itself--would not now be in doubt.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at August 7, 2007 11:07 AM

Franklin Foer did his best to follow in the footsteps of Dan Rather at CBS, except that his sights were set a bit lower than CBS's blatant attempt to reverse the re-election of George Bush by publishing unverified lies about National Guard service.

In fact, it's breathtaking that Foer was so dumb as to follow that example, given that Rather lost his cushy job through his overreaching. Yes, CBS and the rest of the MSM did their best to give Rather a soft landing, and maybe Foer expects similar support from high places. But, he's busted big-time. It's all too obvious he never intended to check facts, when his 'source' was such an ideal fit with the antimilitary prejudices of the illuminati. And, it's even more breathtaking that he was so dumb as to think that he'd get away with his journalistic malpractice when he insisted oh so loudly that he'd confirmed and checked Scott Thomas's stories over and over again.

If that's the example of an 'intellectual' in action, give me GI Joe comics any time.

Posted by: Insufficiently Sensitive at August 7, 2007 11:30 AM

I've never fired a Glock. However, I have worked with all manner of weapons chambered for the 9mm Parabellum/Luger cartridge and done my own reloading, never seen a fireing pin that didn't leave a round dimple in the primer.

Posted by: Tom TB at August 7, 2007 11:43 AM

I've been over here in the Middle East as a contractor for 3 and a half years... 22 months of it in Baghdad.... I had a Glock 27 that was my 'daily carry'... does that mean that I'm possibly guilty of having shot that particular person that Beu-CHUMP wrote about? The Glock I had I picked up thru my 'fixer' for $400 US Dollars... The running price is more about $800 and up nowadays, but then again, it was only $200 for a full stocked AK or $300 for AKS folder... Just goes to show what a load of crap the whole set of articles was/are/were... I for one got $50 that sez chumpstain will be sent home MIGHTY fast if only to prevent a fratricide by his fellow outraged soldiers.

Posted by: Big Country at August 7, 2007 11:58 AM

File Beauchamp under "MSM lies" along with the APs "Jamil Hussein/blown up mosques/burned Sunnis fiasco" and their ongoing "our insurgent stringers report at least X civilians killed in a bomb attack fiasco(s)".

Posted by: MikeE at August 7, 2007 12:10 PM

Of course, when it’s all said and done, he’ll be lifted up by the Left as a hero who “spoke truth to power” — how long until he’s a regular contributor at the Huffing-and-puffing Post?

Posted by: Robbie at August 7, 2007 12:28 PM

Thanks, BohicaTwentyTwo; I learn something every day!

Posted by: Tom TB at August 7, 2007 01:44 PM

Interestingly, you refer to Beauchamp as a PV2, but Major Lamb refers to him as "PVT Beauchamp."

This implies, to me, that perhaps he's already received an Article 15 [perhaps for failure to follow orders, WRT his OPSEC violation] and been reduced in grade. Odd how a college grad isn't at least an E-4, or even an E-4(p).

Posted by: Russ at August 7, 2007 01:45 PM

TNR will survive regardless of what they do. They don't have to fire Franklin Foer. The base of their readership is made up of the kooks who will inevitably think Beauchamp recanted under duress or buy into the "fake but accurate" line.

So, no, TNR doesn't have to fire anybody. The people they are accountable to, their truther type subscribers, won't demand it.

Posted by: T.Ferg at August 7, 2007 02:25 PM


Posted by: patriot at August 7, 2007 02:31 PM

"Whoops" is right. They come back with less than before, and we're supposed to take that seriously?

They're down to stating that a group of soldiers that have apparently refuted what TNR says they said as their support. That's not very good for them.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at August 7, 2007 02:39 PM

Russ, I haven't been looking lately, but early on there was nothing that even implied that Beauchamp had completed a college degree. He did apparently attend the University of Missouri (which, if I remember right, has/had a well-regarded J-school [assuming you think that's a big deal]), but there was no evidence that he ever graduated. I am picturing him as one of those drop-outs with delusions of adequacy.

Posted by: JorgXMcKie at August 7, 2007 04:25 PM

JorgXMcKie, you're correct; I wrote in error.

I've been led to believe that he had enough college, though, to warrant promotion to E-4 in fairly short order. I had more than 2 years of college when I enlisted (long long ago) and was thus promoted to E-4 one year after I enlisted (even before I had made it out of language school, before I'd even been to AIT); I assumed that Beauchamp was on the same sort of program.

I'll stand by the initial point I made, though, about the difference between PV2 and PVT, assuming MAJ Lamb wrote correctly. However, I should note that it is usual for both grades to be referred to simply as "Private" without distinguishing between the two.

Posted by: Russ at August 7, 2007 05:02 PM

In corroboration about the Glock firing pin shape: See (apologies for the bare URL).

You can see that the firing pin "business end" is not a round-ended full cone, which is the shape of a typical firing pin, and which would leave a circular dent. It's more like a round-tipped cone with large chunks missing from each side. So it will make a roughly rectangular dent in a primer.

[Sidebar for those who are curious: The tips of properly-formed firing pins are always rounded because you don't want something sharp penetrating the primer.]

It's barely possible that the "square back" malarkey is a result of the active listening / groupthink of the reporter(s) or their editor(s). But either way, it's one of those damning dubious details.

Glocks have a lot of malarkey associated with them.

Posted by: Nortius Maximus at August 7, 2007 05:25 PM

I'm not saying this is how it went down but I am imagining a situation where Beauchamp is some 'tag along, wanna-be chump and the guys who are really in the field are telling stories (tall tales) about some of their exploits.

They see that he is hanging on their words so they embellish or just make things up and then laugh at his gullibility behind his back. They are telling him 'fish stories' and he is buying it hook, line and sinker.

Or maybe I the only one who had dumb-a$$ associates who would believe everything they were told.

Posted by: Anon at August 7, 2007 06:23 PM

Anon, you're not the only one.

I, personally, never served (disability prevents it), but a former co-worker and Air Force vet tells the story of sending new recruits to the supply depot for 10 gallons of propwash and 50 yards of flightline.

The guys in supply would play along, asking the recruit if he wanted red or blue flightline.

That sort of stuff appears rampant in the Armed Forces.

Either that or my co-worker thought I was gullible enough to fall for it.

Posted by: C-C-G at August 7, 2007 08:38 PM

FWIW, I don't believe a "9mm with a square back" rises to the level of "factual inaccuracy."

There are, after all, no square bullets anywhere (except perhaps in the work-shop of some failed inventor). It's reasonable then to assume that he meant "a 9mm casing with a square detent on the back."

As to the second gaffe, though, regarding Glocks and the Iraqi police, well, I reckon that one's a super-sized Factual Inaccuracy.

Posted by: Frogwhistle at August 7, 2007 10:41 PM