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August 22, 2007

A Sorry State of Affairs

I don't normally read Jonathan Chait and know little about him. I don't know what role he normally plays at The New Republic, or what role he may or may not have played in the magazine's latest fabulism scandal.

What I do know of Chait is that his attack on William Kristol this morning is written with the obvious intent of distracting TNR readers from the editors' compromised ethics by attacking an ideological opposite.

It is perhaps not the oldest trick in psychology or politics, but it is close: attack a common enemy to shore up your own faltering base. Chait's none-too-subtle-variation on this is to get readers riled up at Kristol for a comment where he states that liberals are turning against the troops. I would imagine that the quote is probably accurate, even though Chait provides neither a link to the original editorial, or the context in which this passage appeared.

But what is far more interesting—both to myself, and based upon their comments, some of the magazine's readers—is what Chait doesn't say in his attempt to distract us away from the magazine's editorial deceptions with his assault on Kristol.

The topic was The New Republic's decision to publish an essay by Scott Beauchamp, an American soldier serving in Iraq, detailing some repugnant acts he said he and his comrades committed. Legitimate questions have been raised about this essay's veracity. (We've been publishing updates on our continuing efforts to get answers to them at tnr.com.) But Kristol rushed past these questions, immediately declaring the piece a "fiction."

Legitimate questions were raised about Beauchamp's articles: all three of them, in fact. And we know now based upon an internal investigation by the United States Army, interviews with military personnel, contractors, vehicle experts, and even simple Google searches, is that the major allegations made in "Shock Troops" and in at least one of Beauchamp's other stories ("Dark of Night") are indeed, fiction. They are fabrications. Untruths. Lies.

The questions that remain surrounding this fabulist's train-wreck are concerned with the editorial decisions of Franklin Foer, Jason Zengerle, and perhaps even Chait and other editorial staffers.

Those questions—what did the editors know, when did they know it, and why do they continue to cover it up—those are the questions that remain unresolved and of interest to those following this on-going example of gross editorial misconduct.

To recap:

  • TNR editor Franklin Foer claimed on July 20 that, "I've spoken extensively with the author of the piece and have communicated with other soldiers who witnessed the events described in the diarist. Thus far, these conversations have done nothing to undermine--and much to corroborate--the author's descriptions. I will let you know more after we complete our investigation." Foer has never provided any corroborating details to support these claims, despite his promise.
  • The editors claimed that "the article [Shock Troops] was rigorously edited and fact-checked before it was published." The fact of the matter is that TNR subsequently had to change the "burned woman" assault story from happening at FOB Falcon and as the result of the psychological trauma experienced by the author as the result of combat, to another location in another country before Beauchamp ever went to war, precisely because they did not rigorously edit or fact check the article before publication. This is a not only evidence of a lie by the editors when they said they "rigorously edited and fact-checked" the article before publication, it fatally undermines the entire premise of the article.
  • TNR has not released, and appears to have purposefully hidden, unfavorable testimony of those it interviewed in the course of their investigation. We know that TNR editor Jason Zengerle admitted to John Podhoretz of The Corner that a Kuwait-based PAO regarded the "burned woman" story as a myth or urban legend, yet TNR editors have never revealed these findings as part of their investigation. So much for the promise to "release the full results of our search when it is completed." We have no way of knowing if they have hidden other unfavorable information.
  • TNR's editors have led a purposefully vague investigation that does not disclose the names, qualifications, or expertise of anyone they claimed to have interviewed during the course of their investigation, hindering anyone who would like to follow behind them and verify the veracity of their claimed research. They have not disclosed the questions they asked their experts, and have thus far refused to provide their answers directly.
  • One of the experts has been located and re-interviewed, and discloses the fact that he was never specifically interviewed about the claims made by Beauchamp at all. Further, once provided with Beauchamp's direct claims, he cited the physical properties and characteristics that would make Beauchamp's claims highly unlikely if not impossible. TNR staffers are well aware of his new, more fully-informed response, and have yet to respond.

In short, TNR's editors, led by Franklin Foer, have misled their readers, hidden testimony, and perhaps even rigged an investigation in order to claim some sort of vindication for their editorial and ethical failings.

These are the matters of importance that Johathan Chait, Franklin Foer, and other staffers at The New Republic would rather we didn't focus on.

They would much rather gin up "us versus them" conflicts between liberals and conservatives, between The Weekly Standard and The New Republic, and supporters of the war versus those who would bring the troops home now, than focus on the all-too-apparent fact that the editorial leadership of The New Republic has lied to its readers, compromised their integrity, and dissembled to fellow journalists and critics alike. They've done all of this to cover-up just how poor of a job they did in allowing a staffer's husband to publish inflammatory articles without any apparent editorial controls in place.

The editors of The New Republic have rather obviously lied to us all. They continue to do so today, and no amount of blame-shifting or "look over there!" sleight-of-hand will hide that brutal fact.

In the comments to Chait's article, TNR subscriber "PJmolloy" states:

This is a vile piece. It almost makes Beauchamp look tolerable if this is the alternative.

I've subscribed to TNR off and on for forty years. But it looks like it'll be more off than on in the future. Isn't there someone who can help this magazine?

There is, of course.

Why CanWest MediaWorks refuses to do so is yet another mystery.

Update: Captain Ed pulls no punches:

Chait should save his shocked, shocked! hypocrisy for the people in his own office who violated journalistic standards to publish Beauchamp, apparently based on the word of his wife and sweetened by the themes of his inartful fabulism. Attacking Kristol for essentially nailing the strangely-silent editors and publisher of TNR may conform to the strategy of going on offense as the best defense, but it's rather transparent, like the glass house TNR has chosen to occupy.


Nor does Bryan at Hot Air:

Chaitís article is another example of TNRís defense by offense, and itís the work of a smear artist and a scoundrel.

Powerline's Scott Johnson rips the TNR editor's "Chaitred" as well.

It seems at this late stage that even an offensive by The New Republic is quite transparent and doomed to fail.

I also seem to have someone's undivided attention at the home office.

canwest
Posted by Confederate Yankee at August 22, 2007 09:56 AM
Comments

Excellent post! Mr. Chait's attack is not only intemperate, but ill-timed, inasmuch as it only intensifies the feeling that the New Republic is grasping at straws.

I do, however, have one critique: The bloggers that are putting pressure on the TNR editors to release the results of their investigation, should not forget to apply the same pressure to the United States Military to release the details of its own investigation. After all, the military has made the extraordinary (and for TNR, damning) claim that there is no substance to the tales told by Scott Beauchamp. Gaining access to (at least some) details of the military's investigation would most likely allow bloggers to put the final nail in TNR's coffin.

Additionally, the military should be asked to clear up the issue of whether or not the Weekly Standard's report concerning a signed statement by Beauchamp, retracting his stories, is accurate.

All things considered, transparency should be the name of the game here. We would all be served well by having access to the results of the investigations done by TNR, as well as the military.

Posted by: Ari Lamm at August 22, 2007 10:56 AM

Lamm, the military cannot legally release any more information without Beauchamp's permission, due to privacy regulations on personnel matters.

Since this is apparently not going to a public court-martial, but is handled administratively, the proceedings are confidential, and only Beauchamp can waive that confidentiality.

And he's not giving that permission, nor talking to anyone himself, although he is free to do so.

Posted by: Wethal at August 22, 2007 11:08 AM

Ari,

I do not think the military can legally release that information. Whether by policy or by law employers can not release personnel records. It is up to Mr. Beauchamp to do so. Beauchamp needs to be transparent.

Posted by: Rick at August 22, 2007 11:09 AM


I believe that CY's on their radar because TNR and parent Co. are checking (and hoping) to see if this is going away (yet). Please don't let up!

Posted by: Jack C at August 22, 2007 11:21 AM

how dare tnr respond to kristol's outrageously disingenuous assertions about their motives. for shame!

Posted by: neil at August 22, 2007 11:55 AM

Chait's article is merely a flash pot intended to distract his readers from the Beauchump mess. However, it is interesting that TNR has now entered into Phase 2 of what I call "The Clinton Defense":
1. We did nothing wrong!
2. Well, you're guilty too!
3. Move on already, that's old news!

Personally I still think TNR's editor Franklin Foer will be Fredo-ed on the Friday before Labor Day weekend. Expect a post-Labor Day defense of, "can't we talk about something current?"

http://exurbanleague.com/2007/08/22/beauchump-scandal-enters-phase-two.aspx

Posted by: Exurban Jon at August 22, 2007 12:01 PM

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 08/22/2007
A short recon of whatís out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by: David M at August 22, 2007 12:20 PM

Congrats as ever to CY and everyone keeping the pressure on. However, at this point I wonder how much more TNR can lose by brazening it out.

Why not keep Foer on, while maintaing TNR's aggrieved innocence, then push him out in a year or so for unrelated reasons? Would honesty be better for them in the long run compared to the damage TNR suffers if it admits that once again it has printed fabrications?

Unless someone can take TNR to court, maybe TNR is better off stonewalling.

Posted by: huxley at August 22, 2007 12:42 PM

The article appears on TNR's table of contents as "The Thuggery of William Kristol: Complexity is weakness. Dissent is treason. What neoconservatism has become" and the article closes by calling Kristol a thug.

Which only shows Chait to be an apparatchik for a corrupt organization.

Posted by: pst314 at August 22, 2007 01:19 PM

Intrigued by Jon Chait's article, The Thuggery of Bill Kristol, I began searching for evidence of the neocon's bad behavior. Imagine how shocked I was to find a photograph from a recent Weekly Standard cruise proving Chait's thug assertion:
http://exurbanleague.com/2007/08/22/thug-life-4-real.aspx

Kristol is hardcore, man.

Posted by: Exurban Jon at August 22, 2007 01:24 PM

Amazingly arrogant and hypocritical - but what else would you expect from a writer, Chait, whose greatest previous contribution to American letters was an essay about his seething, very personal hatred of the President?

Article #2 on their web offering today: "Freedom's False Ring" by Eric Rauchway, capsuled as "America's hypocritical impulse to remake the world."

So, their first article is a blatantly hypocritical hit piece against one of their critics, and the second is a typical TNR attack on someone else's supposed hypocrisy. This time it's the whole dang country that another TNR web writer is after, but, all in all, it's just snide on top of snide, as usual.

Just when you thought that the vast continent of moral bankruptcy to the point of self-parody had been fully mapped, TNR discovers new territories.

I swear to you all, it really was possible to read TNR once upon a time, even to open it up at the local coffee shop without a feeling of embarrassment.

Posted by: CK MacLeod at August 22, 2007 01:34 PM

Wethal and Rick are correct. The military can not, by law, release any more information than they have already released.

No one is keeping STB from talking but STB. And no one is working hard to cover anything up except TNR.

Posted by: Tully at August 22, 2007 01:36 PM

CK -- I quite believe you. Again, I wonder if TNR is simply being the magazine it wants to be, or perhaps feels it has no other choice to be.

Following the STB affair has impressed upon me the large reservoir of Americans for whom "Shock Troops" was spot-on, never mind the criticism or contradictions, and anyone who says different is just a wingnut.

Why shouldn't TNR play to its strengths with this audience?

Posted by: huxley at August 22, 2007 02:19 PM

Wethal (and others),

I think what you are referring to is information concerning the signed statement. From what I understand, the military is, indeed, prohibited from clearing that up at this time. But does that apply to the rest of their investigation?

No matter, the conservative blogosphere is already doing a more-than-adequate job exposing this hoax for what it is.

Posted by: Ari Lamm at August 22, 2007 03:13 PM

A comment over at QandO:

Speaking of PVT Beauchamp.
I checked out his AKO account back when he first introducted himself. I found that he was listed as a PV2 and much was made of the fact by others that he had been a PFC but must have been busted to PV2 prior to his journey into journalism.
I checked his AKO information a few days ago. It still lists his unit as 1/18th however his rank is now listed as PV1.
So that, at least to me, answers the question of what punishment he got. Looks like an ART 15, reduction in rank to PV1, and who knows if he got extra duty or loss of any more pay.

It appears from this that Beauchamp got busted down a rank.

Posted by: Neo at August 22, 2007 03:38 PM

I had thought that Chait left TNR some time ago, as he appears regularly in the LAT. One good thing about this shmuck is he does, credit to him, have the stones to appear regularly on the Hewitt show. I don't think he's been on lately and haven't seen him mentioned on the HH site. Certainly, Hugh would not shirk from asking him the relevant questions. This thing ain't going anywhere and the reason is simple: this imbroglio DOES just what Kristol and others claim... exposes the true depravity of these critters we know as Liberals. But they can't keep the mask on much longer. It chafes.

Posted by: megapotamus at August 22, 2007 04:06 PM

Tully, I'm not really sure that there IS an answer for THE NEW REPUBLIC. For years now, ever since the evil "thug" Kristol got THE WEEKLY STANDARD off the ground, TNR has increasingly been forced to choose sides, and is naturally pushed to the left. TNR could have instead fought the STANDARD for a bigger share of the center, including in particular the center right on foreign policy, but when President Bush and the war in Iraq were at 70+% popularity, there was a lot more room to maneuver.

Chait's an interesting figure in this both because he appears to lack writerly impulse control, and also because, when he's not in bruised-feelings mode, he can come across as thoughtful and open-minded. He took some heat a few weeks ago, for instance, for daring to suggest that his political allies might want to consider how they'd react if the surge strategy did work. I think that this latest piece speaks volumes not just about his own uncertain predicament, being intimately tied to a troubled enterprise under heavy fire, but about a larger state of confusion at TNR - not just over how to handle the Beauchamp affair, but over the magazine's future, at minimum its political purpose and direction, possibly its very existence.

Posted by: CK MacLeod at August 22, 2007 04:08 PM

Pretty lame attack from Chait, who's certainly smart enough to be capable of mustering stronger arguments. Well, usually; in this case, I suppose that's all he's got. It wasn't so many years ago that the New Republic still produced decent journalism; in a way, it's sad to see it in this state.

Posted by: Nathan Tabor at August 22, 2007 05:12 PM

What a novel approach it is to "distract us away from the magazine's editorial deceptions" by addressing those same "editorial deceptions" at the very beginning of the piece!

They're evil geniuses over there at TNR, and make no mistake.

Posted by: nunaim at August 22, 2007 05:42 PM

My questions for TNR are:

Have you asked Scott Beauchamp to sign a waiver allowing the Army to release his statement (allegedly a full retraction) and other details of the investigation?

If you asked him, what did he say?

If you didn't ask, why not?

I don't think TNR had a sinister political agenda in publishing Beauchamp. But they screwed up badly in not getting something with Iraq experience -- or common sense -- to check his assertions. Then they gravely compounded the error by putting more energy into ass covering than into determining the truth about Beauchamp's stories.

Some of the people who've gone after TNR and Beauchamp have a political agenda; some don't. What counts is that they've poked big holes in Beauchamp's credibility on everything's he's written -- I'm dubious about the Al Qaeda tongue amputation too -- and TNR has not acknowledged that they screwed up.

Posted by: Joanne Jacobs at August 22, 2007 06:15 PM

TNR = Mother Jones...

Posted by: DirtCrashr at August 22, 2007 06:45 PM

I'm not sure if anyone has been rude enough to point out yet that Chait was already on the staff of TNR at the time of the Stephen Glass affair almost 10 years ago, and actually shared a byline with Glass on at least one story. (Though obviously, it was not one of the pieces that Glass had fabricated entirely out of thin air.)

Posted by: Throbert McGee at August 22, 2007 07:01 PM

And another bit of Chait trivia: In the movie Shattered Glass, most of the TNR staffers portrayed were highly disguised, fictionalized, and in some cases composite versions of the real people involved. (I believe that Mike Kelly, Chuck Lane, and Glass himself were the only "real-life names" used.)

Jon Chait himself was gender-switched to become the character "Amy Brand" -- played by Melanie Lynskey, who's best known as Kate Winslet's mousy co-star in the fabulous Heavenly Creatures.

Posted by: Throbert McGee at August 22, 2007 07:07 PM

Chait says:

"We've been publishing updates on our continuing efforts to get answers to them at tnr.com."

"been publishing updates" is a bit of a stretch, since the last one was almost a month ago, and contained no verifiable statements about their "continuing efforts," just "trust us, we're working on it, but so far it looks like we'll stand by STB." In other words, this assertion has the same arrogant, dismissive tone, and plays as loosely with the facts, as the "updates" themselves.

Posted by: notropis at August 22, 2007 07:33 PM
....and TNR has not acknowledged that they screwed up.

TNR still hasn't told it's readers that the Army has investigated and come to a diametrically opposed conclusion. They haven't told them anything in 10 days.

I think the next news will be hearing out of this is Frank Foer's sudden desire to "spend more time with family."

Posted by: Pablo at August 22, 2007 07:38 PM

The loony Left's newest convert and all around nutjob, John Cole over at Balloon Juice, has a contrary view, opining that: The Chait article is an "[e]xcellent piece....on the increasingly unstable folks at the Weekly Standard..."

I've been told that Cole has a job teaching at a university, which I guess speaks volumes about the current sorry state of the US educational system.

Posted by: Vick H at August 22, 2007 08:32 PM

Me thinks that this whole episode calls for a new "slogan";


Beauchamp Lied, TNR Died.

Posted by: Jack Coonan at August 22, 2007 08:39 PM

Jack,
Maybe Beauchamp lied, TNR cried. Then, perhaps, died. A truly pathetic spectacle to be sure.

Posted by: Chris at August 22, 2007 09:49 PM

Sorry, Chris

Maybe He LIED, (won't go into qual's) isn't an answer, He did.

Posted by: Jack Coonan at August 23, 2007 02:01 AM

If Chait and TNR were upset and vented their furstration at Kristol, you can bet dollars to donuts that they will react to the possible busting of their "budding Hemingway" with even more vitriol.

This is all part of TNR as "victim".

The question that TNR will try to obscure .. who is the victimizer ?

Of course, it is the fabulist, Mr. Beauchamp.

Posted by: Neo at August 23, 2007 04:52 AM

Nothing will change for TNR. They have a subscription base of hardcore lefties who are getting just what they want from the mag. What incentive do they have to change?

Posted by: T.Ferg at August 23, 2007 08:40 AM

(notropis made this point above, but it is worth repeating):

I was surprised to see Chait claim that TNR is "publishing updates". I realized that maybe I was unfair (thinking they were steonewalling), so I went to TNR, searched on "Beauchamp" to read these recent updates.

Nothing recent.
And what's there isn't very informative.

I'm not quite as ready as you to dismiss everything Beauchamp as lies - my main point is that there are enough questions that the burden of the proof is on TNR. Not on the army, not even on Beauchamp - frankly, what he has to say is uninteresting in itself - what is important is that TNR wove a narrative, and they have the responsibility to back it up or back off.

And no blaming Beauchamp for clamming up - nor can they claim that the Army must speak. TNR spoke, TNR must support their own claim. It isn't an impossible task - the narrative involves literally dozens of people - other people in the Bradley, other people in the mess tent, other people who saw the boy. Find them, get their statements on record, and either support the TNR narrative with solid evidence or come clean and concede the narrative was a fiction.

Posted by: Phil at August 23, 2007 09:38 AM

Well said, Phil! The burden of proof is on TNR and they won't even own up to that.

>What incentive do they have to change?

However, TFerg's question is mine too. If TNR were truly concerned with responsibility and integrity, they would have handled this scandal differently from the beginning, and not by piling up further lies and evasions on top of Beauchamp's. Nonetheless, TNR does not lack for defenders, who similarly evade the issues with counter-attacks and uncritical thinking.

Unless there is some clear, unavoidable and harsh consequence for TNR's stonewalling, I see no reason for them to change.

Posted by: huxley at August 23, 2007 10:49 AM

So many of Beauchamp's claims have been exposed as lies that the reasonable position is now to treat him as an habitual liar and either ignore him or require that he prove everything he says.

Posted by: pst314 at August 23, 2007 12:03 PM

"So much for the promise to 'release the full results of our search when it is completed'."

I expect that TNR's intention is to complete their investigation about the same time that O.J. finishes searching America's golf courses for the killer of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. (Or perhaps they will simply wait until most people have forgotten all the details and then release a mendacious report of the "The Narrative Was Right, but the Facts Were Wrong" variety, whitewashing their behavior while smearing their betters.)

Posted by: pst314 at August 23, 2007 12:13 PM
Or perhaps they will simply wait until most people have forgotten all the details and then release a mendacious report of the "The Narrative Was Right, but the Facts Were Wrong" variety, whitewashing their behavior while smearing their betters

More likely TNR won't bother even admitting to wrong facts beyond the conceded relocation of the burn victim anecdote (which is almost certainly not true either).

Unless the Army releases the recantation the Weekly Standard says Beauchamp made, I see no reason for TNR to acknowledge anything.

Posted by: huxley at August 23, 2007 12:38 PM

Huxley, I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on television, but my understanding is that the Army is legally prohibited from releasing it without Beauchamp's permission.

However, TNR is not legally prohibited from releasing the names of the people they claim to have spoken to, yet they have not done so.

Posted by: C-C-G at August 23, 2007 10:49 PM

I understand that; I did read the earlier responses too. I mentioned it as a hypothetical case which might force an admission out of TNR. Otherwise, as I say, I see no reason for TNR to acknowledge anything. If someone sees differently, I would like to hear from them.

It bothers me that there really don't seem to be consequences for TNR as along as it maintains a sufficient readership which similarly favors an agenda over facts and ethics.

Posted by: huxley at August 24, 2007 12:10 AM

i cant believe you people are this dumb...bush obvously set up tnr because they had supported his illegal iraq war and then learned the truth and told people...so to punish them the shrub president had his nsa agents set up scott as the perfect writer and those artecals were probably written in the oval office

Posted by: iknowthetruth at August 24, 2007 09:16 AM

I can't believe how difficult it is to tell whether an anti-Bush, anti-war rant is the real thing or a parody making fun of anti-Bush, anti-war people.

Did the NSA also arrange for Elspeth Reeve, one of the TNR factcheckers, to fall in love and marry Scott Beauchamp? Those cynical bastards!

Posted by: huxley at August 24, 2007 10:12 AM

Huxley, in the minds of these "troofers," the NSA probably used a love potion.

Posted by: C-C-G at August 24, 2007 07:04 PM