December 05, 2007

Killing Themselves Softly

"Re-reporting" for The New Republic doesn't apparently consist of going back to talk with experts they've interviewed to discuss discrepancies in their claims.

On August 9, I published When Hidden Experts are Found, an interview with Doug Coffey, the Head of Communications, Land & Armaments, for BAE Systems. He is the corporate spokesmen TNR cited—anonymously— on August 2 (my bold):

The last section of the Diarist described soldiers using Bradley Fighting Vehicles to kill dogs. On this topic, one soldier who witnessed the incident described by Beauchamp, wrote in an e-mail: "How you do this (I've seen it done more than once) is, when you approach the dog in question, suddenly lurch the Bradley on the opposite side of the road the dog is on. The rear-end of the vehicle will then swing TOWARD the animal, scaring it into running out into the road. If it works, the dog is running into the center of the road as the driver swings his yoke back around the other way, and the dog becomes a chalk outline." TNR contacted the manufacturer of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle System, where a spokesman confirmed that the vehicle is as maneuverable as Beauchamp described.

As TNR did not publish his name—or for that matter, any other experts they claim support the allegations made in "Shock Troops"—I stumbled across Coffey purely by accident.

It quickly became apparent that TNR did not ask him to actually review the specific claims made about Bradley capabilities in "Shock Troops," and once he reviewed the exact passages, he didn't seem very convinced:

I can't pretend to know what may or may not have happened in Iraq but the impression the writer leaves is that a "driver" can go on joy rides with a 35 ton vehicle at will. The vehicle has a crew and a commander of the vehicle who is in charge. In order for the scenario described to have taken place, there would have to have been collaboration by the entire crew.

The driver's vision, even if sitting in an open hatch is severely restricted along the sides. He sits forward on the left side of the vehicle. His vision is significantly impaired along the right side of the vehicle which makes the account to "suddenly swerve to the right" and actually catch an animal suspect. If you were to attempt the same feat in your car, it would be very difficult and you have the benefit of side mirrors.

Anyone familiar with tracked vehicles knows that turning sharply requires the road wheels on the side of the turn to either stop or reverse as the road wheels on the opposite side accelerates. What may not be obvious is that the track once on the ground, doesn't move. The road wheels roll across it but the track itself is stationary until it is pushed forward by the road wheels.

The width of the track makes it highly unlikely that running over a dog would leave two intact parts. One half of the dog would have to be completely crushed.

It also seems suspicious that a driver could go on repeated joy rides or purposefully run into things. Less a risk to the track though that is certainly possible but there is sensitive equipment on the top of the vehicle, antennas, sights, TOW missile launcher, commander and if it was a newer vehicle, the commander's independent viewer, not to mention the main gun. Strange things are known to happen in a combat environment but I can't imagine that the vehicle commander or the unit commander would tolerate repeated misuse of the vehicle, especially any action that could damage its ability to engage.

This interview with Mr. Coffey has been cited once or twice, and seems to cast significant doubt on the quality of "re-reporting" done by the editors of The New Republic.

I would think that in the almost four months since this interview first posted that TNR would seek to reestablish contact with Mr. Coffey to discuss the apparent discrepancies between what they suggest he said, and what he said here, especially as this is often cited as one of the strongest claims against the quality and intent of their investigation.

To date, The New Republic still refuses to release the names of the other experts they said supported the claims made in "Shock Troops."

Posted by Confederate Yankee at December 5, 2007 12:06 PM

C'mon Bob, they said they talked to another journalist who spent time in Iraq who said he had "heard" of such stories, but hadn't seen incidents first hand. That makes it a fact checked not an urban legend.

Posted by: daleyrocks at December 5, 2007 01:55 PM

I think it's pretty clear that there is some truth to Beauchamp's Bradley accusations -- namely that animals get killed by vehicles -- and TNR is desperately trying to move the goalposts there. I think it's important to emphasize that no one thinks it implausible that a Bradley has run over a dog on occasion, whether in Iraq or somewhere else. It's also possible that there is a Bradley driver who is not particularly heartbroken over these accidental run-ins. Just like me -- we hit a dear with the van a couple of weeks back, and I am considerably more bummed by the damage to the van, and the hassle of getting it fixed and paid for, than I am sympathetic to the deer with the broken hip who was probably brought down by coyotes later.

But the part in the Fog of Foer where he basically claims that they were just about to recant Beauchamp's fabulisms when they were arrested by the news that Bradleys occasionally do hit and kill dogs is very telling. They seriously fixated on this, and still seem to think that what matters is whether or not Bradleys can kill dogs in a collision, rather than whether a Bradley has the manuverability to allow a driver to deliberately kill a dog. Because, of course, the whole point is that a Bradley is significantly less manuverable than a minvan, and as everyone who has ever faced a deer in the headlights knows, it's all up to the deer at that point. Even if there is a Bradley driver out there who is keeping a book listing dog collisions, it is a record of bad luck and bad decisions on the part of the dogs, and has nothing to do with the skill of the driver at all.

Posted by: cathyf at December 5, 2007 03:06 PM

Bob, I think this piece of the sorry Beauchamp saga is by far the most incriminating against TNR as it shows a deliberate attempt on their part to obfuscate the truth while using the BAE people as a way to give crediblity to this canard. In this case, a TNR checker deliberately asked misleading questions in an attempt to circumvent the truth. The most telling indicator was that TNR never even gave the BAE person a copy of the Beauchamp piece for review. How the owners of a magazine would allow such conduct to stand as responsible reporting/fact checking is beyond words.

Posted by: DaveB at December 5, 2007 03:53 PM

I wrote a similar comment to a number of different media outlets when this came out, but also pointed out that in an environment in which any piece of debris can hide an IED, no track commander would permit his driver to run over items in the road just for fun. In addition, the crew would be tossed around like ice in a shaker. It's one thing to be thrown against an armored compartment in order to avoid an RPG or IED, it's another to get tossed because your driver likes to run over dogs. A driver who did stupid, dangerous things for his own amusement would soon find himself relegated to the back of the track while his replacement did the job.

Media Matters got it right (for once) when they pointed out that TNR had no one on staff who knew enough about the military to spot this, but they are hardly alone in this. The elite media despises us and they'd be more likely to socialize with a homeless drug addict than a Soldier or Marine.

Posted by: Mike Harris, MAJ, USA at December 6, 2007 05:15 PM

Major Harris,

Thank you for your service. I would like to take this opportunity to cyber-shake your hand. If you are ever in Cheyenne, WY I'll buy dinner and drinks for you and your entire family.

Thank you for doing something I cannot physically do and desperately wish I could.

Posted by: Mark at December 6, 2007 09:38 PM