December 12, 2007

Open Season

Just when you thought the TNR debacle over "Shock Troops" was over, current and former TNR staffers have begun firing at each other.

In the New York Observer... Bridal blog?

Quoth Elspeth:

"Yeah, it's a bummer, but it's hard to shed any tears over Frank," Elspeth Reeve was telling The Observer in a phone interview Friday, the day before her husband, U.S. Army Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp, joined her at her mother’s house in Missouri for his 30-day leave.


Ms. Reeve said she was surprised to learn, in early November while visiting her husband in Germany (where he was transferred upon completing his tour of duty in Iraq), that Mr. Foer planned to retract the stories. She said that she and Mr. Beauchamp had not expected Mr. Foer to take any decisive action until Mr. Beauchamp returned to the U.S. this week, at which point they thought it would be much easier for him to speak up in his own defense.

"I think Scott thought Frank was on his side, you know? And that he understood that he was in a really difficult situation and so would be patient until Scott got out of Iraq," Ms. Reeve said. "I don't think Scott realized the limits on Frank’s patience."

Ms. Reeve also argued that Mr. Foer's retraction, titled "The Fog of War," had failed to prove that any of Mr. Beauchamp’s stories contained fabrications—all it did, she said, was demonstrate that Mr. Foer was tired of dealing with the scandal.

At least one current TNR staffers had other opinions:

According to Jonathan Chait, a senior editor at TNR, the magazine received little cooperation from Mr. Beauchamp throughout the investigation process. "The basis [for the retraction] was just that Scott is maddening," he said. "He's just flaky, he's irresponsible, he doesn't do things that are in his own obvious interest to do. ... Scott was the guy who lives in the group house and is supposed to pay the electric bill and just doesn't, and the lights get shut off. Frank was the guy who had the lights shut out on him."

Hmmm... perhaps they should have figured that out before they published three of his stories?

The most damning comment, however, comes from TNR editor in chief, Martin Peretz—who was notably mute throughout the entire scandal.

"Certainly in retrospect we shouldn't have published them," he told The Observer Monday. "They did not meet the highest standards of proof."

I would have expected Peretz to provide more backing for embattled editor Franklin Foer. Interesting...

Update: And more today, including a previously unmentioned conversation between Peter Scoblic, Elspeth Reeve, and Scott Beauchamp.

Why didn't Frank mention that conversation in his 14-page opus, and why won't Scoblic discuss it now?

Posted by Confederate Yankee at December 12, 2007 05:38 PM

Utter douchebaggery...

Posted by: Will Myers at December 12, 2007 06:36 PM

And other than Beauchamp (and that guy who fed some inside info to Ace) everyone is still working at the New Republic? We should have a pool on who gets fired first (from this date).

Posted by: Joe at December 12, 2007 06:41 PM

The New Republic pushed the Bush administration line on the Iraq war big-time, gullibly regurgitating every line they were fed. Then they tried to get back into the good graces of the left with the Beauchamp stories, gullibly regurgitating every line they were fed.

The magazine should die a slow, painful death of attrition as subscribers abandon it. And I think we'll all understand if those working there now update their resumes to say "crack whore" rather than "editor/reporter for The New Republic" for their most recent work experience, just to bump up their respectability level a notch or two.

Posted by: bob at December 12, 2007 07:11 PM

These stories always make me wonder how much other stuff out there is made up.

It's scary, because we're only catching the most obvious fakes. If Bill Burkett had had the modicum of common sense to buy a 1971 typewriter off Ebay for his fake National Guard memo story, would CBS ever have retracted or fired Rather? Seems unlikely.

Posted by: TallDave at December 12, 2007 07:25 PM


Ms Reeve, the wife, left TNR, hence her comments.

Posted by: The Drill SGT at December 12, 2007 07:26 PM

Mr. Peretz said that Scott Beauchamp's tales didn't meet the "highest" standards of proof? I have to disagree.

Beauchamp's stories didn't even meet the "lowest" standards of proof, nor is The New Republic currently meeting even the lowest standards of ethics in publishing. Not after printing Mr. Foer's 13 page non-apologetic semi-retraction, which was more an attack on the magazine's critics than anything else.

Since Mr. Foer is still employed by the magazine, while a truth-telling whistle-blower is not, one can only conclude that TNR no longer expects to be taken seriously.

And I cannot imagine that anyone still does.

Posted by: Charlie Eklund at December 12, 2007 07:59 PM

We are witnessing the death of truth. (But not by me.)

Posted by: Mary Nusbaum at December 12, 2007 08:21 PM

(I'm only pointing out that it's happening. I wish to also point out I'm taking steps to make sure truth doesn't starve of oxygen.)

Posted by: Mary Nusbaum at December 12, 2007 08:23 PM

Peretz just threw Foer over the side with that last comment.

I Am Not An Editor - but it seems to me, that in most magazines, an editor of more than one year's tenure would resign if he'd heard the publisher questioning his ability in public. Usually that is a sign that said publisher is thinking of firing said editor. Better to leave with dignity right?

So why hasn't Foer quit? Is he *asking* to get fired? Maybe he'd already told Peretz that Peretz would have to fire him before he'd leave.

Posted by: David Ross at December 12, 2007 08:27 PM

The scary thing is, is why the TNR even contemplated publishing, nation-wide, a series of articles by an unknown, untested 'writer' of no provenance or history, no background of work--then pushed them so hard and so long. Stephen Glass had a portfolio of some pretty good work behind him before he went off the rails, so there is some reason why he was supported--at first. But Beauchamp? Who is this dork? Bad editorial judgement? Uh, yeah. Oh--the next act will be when bero Beauchamp leaves the Army and starts another series of fiction-as-nonfiction, of how he was intimidated by the Army and forced to remain silent--then watch his stories get wilder and wilder, each one an exercise in self-promotion. Mark my words!

Posted by: M. A. George at December 12, 2007 08:47 PM

TallDave says: These stories always make me wonder how much other stuff out there is made up.

Years ago I was talking to a friend who's a doctor, and he said that the inaccuracy of medical stuff on TV infuriated him. I made some comment about the demands of drama, and he said, "No, the news!" He said just about every medical story was botched by the three networks and the cable networks, botched utterly, and cited examples that would be clear to any doc. "Why can't they be as accurate about medicine as they are about other stuff?"

That got me thinking. I have pretty deep knowledge in several areas, but the deepest are probably aviation and military operations, particularly special operations. And everything about the areas I know best are always misreported on the news. So I started to ask other people... businessmen, cops, lawyers, engineers. And everybody has the same problem.

Namely, we know that everything they report about our domain is bull. But we assume that the stuff they report about other domains must be accurate. Why that assumption?

In fact, it's all bull. Sometimes it's bull because they were careless or sloppy, and sometimes bull because they set out to report the story with it already framed in their little C+ English undergrad minds. But always bull.

Consider Peter Arnett, told a lifetime of phony whoppers before finally making one big enough to get the sack. He still works in TV news.

Consider Rather, who still has a job (if not an audience) despite being exposed as a phony on a scale that makes Beauchamp and his editor Fabricating Frank Foer look like Lilliputians.

The reason Peretz hasn't fired Foer is that Peretz doesn't see anything wrong with defrauding his readers, in the service of his greater cause -- whatever the hell that is. Same goes for Zengerle. These guys wanted to wear the bloody shirt of a phony, and now they're complaing the stuff rubs off on them. Duh.

But hey, the news business is nothing if not forgiving. Beauchamp, Foer, Zengerle and even Peretz have no worries about working in news and commentary.

Remember, TNR under Peretz/Zengerle/Foer kept Eve Fairbanks after she was caught fabricating a story -- as far as I know that fraud artiste is still on staff, keeping the tradition of TNR standard-bearers Stephen Glass and Ruth Shalit alive.

The only action TNR took was to fire Robert McGee -- for leaking the fact that Beauchamp's wife was a fact-checker (ha!) at the rag, a fact that Foer, Peretz and all were desperate to keep secret at the time (and a fact that may explain why both the initial fact-checking and Foer's comical "re-reporting" were so incredibly lame).

Got that? The guys who participated in the fraud, all solid in their jobs (Beauchamp was never a staffer, although, they might have fired his wife -- neither of them have said). The guy that told the truth -- he's outa there. That should tell you all you need to know about the kind of integrity Marty Peretz operates under and expects.

Posted by: Kevin R.C. 'Hognose' O'Brien at December 12, 2007 09:07 PM

Kevin R.C. 'Hognose' O'Brien wrote, "Namely, we know that everything they report about our domain is bull. But we assume that the stuff they report about other domains must be accurate. Why that assumption?"

Michael Crichton in Why Speculate? calls this the "Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect."

"Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the 'wet streets cause rain' stories. Paper's full of them."

"In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know."

"That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I'd point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say."

The rest of the article is worth reading.

Posted by: Looking Glass at December 12, 2007 09:24 PM

Toldja that Foer would keep his job.

The MSM interprets truth as damage, and routes around it.

Posted by: Mike G in Corvallis at December 12, 2007 09:39 PM

"So why hasn't Foer quit? "

Where the hell else would he get a job? What else has he ever done?

Posted by: richard mcenroe at December 12, 2007 10:03 PM

I just tell my students that I never, ever believe any stats I read or see in the MSM. The 'use' of stats in the MSM is almost always a perversion, and at minimum badly interpreted and reported.

Posted by: JorgXMcKie at December 12, 2007 10:26 PM

"I think Scott thought Frank was on his side, you know?"

Thought? It was bloody obvious - Scott had served Foer up some of the most delicious gossip since Watergate, and undoubtedly they all agreed it would strike a magnificent blow against the Army, plus Bush & Co.

Fact-checking was the smallest concern they had - the Narrative was correct, and who would know? Foer was egregious in 'verifying' the story of his pseudonymous author with anonymous voices taken on absolute faith. Foer WAS on Scott's side for months, and only some inconvenient blogs spoiled the game. The MSM of course investigated with the same factual diligence that they applied to the Swiftboat assertions - that is, zero.

Posted by: Hank at December 12, 2007 10:27 PM

The story has some interest for speculative purpose. But all these quotes come from someone at TNR.

So the comment about Murray Gell-Mann and that from Kevin should be heeded. Why think anyone involved now intends to be any more honest than before?

Posted by: K at December 12, 2007 10:31 PM

Kevin R.C., etc., etc.:

Absolutely true. Why do we need the world explained to us by liberal arts majors with little or no understanding of science, history, finance or economics?

Posted by: Vinny Vidivici at December 12, 2007 10:38 PM

Looking Glass makes a great point. I fully understood this when I got more educated about the facts concerning the effectiveness of gun control as a crime control measure, and the backgrounds of those peddling it as national policy.
In response, I stopped watching televised news programs and reading newspapers. I believe nothing I happen to see on TV news programs or what I read in the paper unless I can independently verify what is in the story.

Posted by: Mark at December 12, 2007 10:42 PM

Looking Glass makes an interesting point about the Gell-Mann effect. I had never heard of it before but it makes sense.

I have a bit of a counter example, though.

About ten years ago, I stopped subscribing to The Economist because I realized that their economics articles were often half BS. (I have a PhD in economics.) I began to wonder about the accuracy of their descriptions of Malaysian politics, particle physics and other things of which I knew very little.

The Economist's condescending cultural biases also spurred along my decision to cancel my subscription.

Very interesting though.

Posted by: Chris at December 12, 2007 10:46 PM


Please forgive me if I'm missing the obvious, but how is your example "counter" to the "Gell-Mann Amnesia effect" that LookingGlass points to or the (same effect) "Hognose" points to?

I've noticed the same thing. Whenever I read, in the MSM, about a topic with which I am at least familiar and comfortable, I find the article at best shallow and immature and at worst apparent fraud. The more one knows about a topic the more obvious this seems to be.

Yet somehow we believe they report well about everything else. Very odd.

Posted by: Knucklehead at December 12, 2007 11:06 PM

Thanks for the post, Looking Glass! My own epiphany (if you can call it that) came years ago after the incident at Three Mile Island. During the early 1980s, when I was an undergraduate in electrical engineering, the MSM was fully into the anti-nuclear power movement. I would read with horror the blatantly inaccurate stories concerning nuclear technology that were printed in the most respected newspapers and magazines. Television was no better. As a result, I stopped taking anything they said at face value.

Today, on the rare instances when I read an MSM newspaper/magazine or watch the MSM news on TV, I snort in disgust whenever they use buzz phrases like "scientific consensus", "leading scientists", “scientific community” or the ubiquitous all-purpose "experts". I have found by experience that an "expert” is MSM-speak for someone who will parrot whatever rubbish the MSM happens to believe in.

Posted by: Mwalimu Daudi at December 12, 2007 11:13 PM

It sounds like Mr. Peretz was more like Editor-in-Absentia than Editor-in-Chief. He seemed to just stand by and watch his magazine crash and burn. Why was that? What does he get paid for?

Posted by: kcom at December 12, 2007 11:15 PM

All you ever need to know about the quality of reporting is this: reporters are the guys who couldn't succeed as English majors. Why in G-d's name would you trust them with ANYTHING requiring insight and understanding?!

I have a Ph.D. in Engineering and was all-but-dissertation for one in Physics. Anything at all controversial or "news" in those fields I know better than to believe without reading the actual papers the article is based upon. And as for statistics, forget it. Middle school math is beyond most reporters, and anything involving correlations, statistics, and deeper analysis is invariably hopelessly bungled.

Strangely enough, the NYTimes is one of the few that have a couple of reporters who do decent hard science reporting, albeit with a very ideological bias. But they're not good enough to justify the rest of the paper.

Posted by: nerdbert at December 12, 2007 11:21 PM

Get this for irony: "Jonathan Chait, a senior editor at TNR, the magazine received little cooperation from Mr. Beauchamp throughout the investigation process..." Chait wrote an opinion essay in the LA Times that said liberals dominate the universities because they are smarter. These days, he and his buddies are looking really, really stupid.

Posted by: jim in L.A. at December 12, 2007 11:28 PM
"Jonathan Chait, a senior editor at TNR, the magazine received little cooperation from Mr. Beauchamp throughout the investigation process..."

One wonders if perhaps Chait immediately started blaming Beauchamp, and therefore Beauchamp wasn't in a cooperative mood.

We all know that most lefties like to blame others... it's part and parcel of their whole victimhood mentality.

Posted by: C-C-G at December 12, 2007 11:35 PM

Interesting discussion ...

I've seen this lack of factual foundation in MSM for a long time. The Reporting of the Vietnam war was were it began to become clear for me.

I for one these days, do NOT take all the rest of the MSM's reporting as good reporting, and only disregard areas I have particualr knowledge of.

Quite the reverse.

I ask myself when did it start? How long has it been going on? What has been gotten away with?
How many lies have been told?

As if this is a symptom of only the last 10 or so years.

I've long since dumped any an all MSN. I have become my own news organization.


Posted by: Rich at December 12, 2007 11:39 PM

The tendency of the press to "enhance" or outright fabricate stories is nothing new.
52 years ago when I was a sophmore in high school the local paper printed a "human interest" story about my father visiting a local sports legend to wish him a happy 80th birthday. The only true fact in the story was that my dad had been in the same room at the same time with the old gentleman and the reporter. All the rest was pure fiction. No harm was done to anyone and in fact it was a good lesson for me. Taught me not to believe ANY single news source and to seek my information from credible experts, not reporters.

Posted by: glenn at December 13, 2007 01:29 AM

Thanks Chris. I'm a long-time subscriber to the Economist. Years ago I noticed their reporting on military matters was shallow and ignorant. I shrugged it off. After my deployment to Iraq I became extremely irritated by their ignorant, opinionated, counterfactual, but utterly predicatble coverage of the war in Iraq. But, I told myself, they know a lot about economics and finance right? I guess not. That clinches it, I'm done reading their dreck.

Posted by: Draco at December 13, 2007 07:29 AM

Per the discussion on the media inaccuracy, I long ago made the decision that anything I see on TV is to be viwed as entertainment. If a "reporter" is talking about something I assume it to be just as factual as Seinfeld or any other tv show.

Posted by: The Ace at December 13, 2007 10:08 AM

I disagree that Peretz's comment is a slam on Foer. Re-read it:

"Certainly in retrospect we shouldn't have published them," he told The Observer Monday. "They did not meet the highest standards of proof."

Peretz is saying:
(1) Hindsight is 20-20. Oh, well. Gotta break some eggs, to make an omelet.
(2) By implication - The Beauchamp stories *did* (or *do*) meet, say, medium standards of proof.

In short, Peretz is saying: **In retrospect** TNR should not have published, but, publication was reasonable or understandable based on what TNR knew or believed **at the time**. Which is baloney, of course. But my point is, Peretz is providing a fig leaf for Foer and the magazine - or, I should say, has bought into Foer's fig leaf.

Posted by: tjmmz at December 13, 2007 10:34 AM

And as the Observer article goes on to say:

Mr. Peretz also said Mr. Foer’s piece should finally put to rest the notion, advanced by some conservative bloggers, that Mr. Beauchamp’s stories were intended to undermine the troops’ mission.

“There was certainly no editorial decision to trash the United States Army, because as you know, The New Republic has a very—what shall I say?—careful view of the war,” said Mr. Peretz. “So we would not be motivated in any way to say, ‘Hey this is hot! It makes our soldiers look like shit!’”

So again folks: Smell the coffee. Peretz is still providing forms of cover for Foer.

Posted by: tjmmz at December 13, 2007 10:39 AM

I have often wondered if any of the big media would still exist if they were held to the standards of every other business. When I read the type of wayward (I'm being charitable here) articles mentioned above, I think "journalism malpractice" -- and that is the least of their shortcomings. What is worse is the incredible volume of simply dishonest reporting.

Think of the incalcuable damage done by CBS/Walter Cronkite (and many others) by reporting that the Tet Offensive was a military defeat for the South Vietnamese and US. Wouldn't it be nice if we could hold journalists responsible for their malpractice (if it didn't destroy the First Amendment)? Reporting enemy propaganda as fact qualifies as journalistic malpractice in my opinion.

I, too, have had several opportunities over the years to see media coverage of events of which I have personal knowledge. I have read stories about events in which I was a participant -- and they never get it right -- usually not even very close. The best they do is to write a story which is incomplete (perhaps due to space limitations)and has minor errors (perhaps from not really understanding the topic, or not having time to cover the entire event).

Another MO I have seen is to be nearly 100 per cent factually accurate, but by selectively using facts, and quoting only one side of any issue, they write a story which is 100 per cent misleading.

And of course, there is the agenda-driven coverage, like TNR/Beauchamp, Dan Rather and the TANG issue, where, at the very least, the agenda has driven the "reporter" to be rationalizing that the ends justify the means. So we go from the old ink-smudged scribe rule of "If your mother says she loves you -- check it out" to "I know my story is right, but I just can't prove enough of the facts to say it is fully verified."

Here is one small example of the difference between what I witnessed and what was reported: About three years ago I attended an event in which Pres. Bush gave a major foreign policy speech to a crowd that was primarily military and military families. If I reported it, I would say that President Bush was greeted nearly like a rock star, and the audience was abuzz before, during and after of what a fine commander-in-chief he is, and how personable he was, and in what high regard he held the military. His concern, respect, and love for the active duty military was abundantly clear, and moving. When I read the New York Times article covering the event, I wondered if the reporter and I were really at the same place at the same time. The NYT said the president gave a "grim speech" which was greeted by "polite applause."

Posted by: jmurphy at December 13, 2007 11:31 AM

Did you see the very first comment on the wedding blog? "Can the New Republic stop hiring 22-yr-olds to tell me about politics now?"


Posted by: Kevin at December 13, 2007 12:46 PM

Reporting fiction as fact?

In 1972 I was a weapon systems officer (WSO) in an F4E Squadron at DaNang AB, Vietnam. The North had kicked off their Easter Offensive. Nixon countered with Operation Linebacker, a real air campaign over the North. The media, who had not given the war any coverage, suddenly showed up in force and uniformly unwelcome. If they filmed us taxiing out, pilots would give them peace sign, WSOs, the finger. We refused to be interviewed. Soon, we were hosting some USAF squadrons from Korea whose crews were less media hostile.

Returning from a 4 hour, 3 air-to-air refueling visual recce sortie, we climbed aboard the step van to be greeted by a NewsWeek crew. In combat, we wore subdued rank and no name tags, so we covered their lens and refused to give our names. Behind the driver was a cooler with ice cold, wet hand towels. We each took one and wrung it out and wiped our faces and draped them around our necks. 700 miles from the equator, it's better than sex. A Kunsan crew climbed aboard, engaging the reporter in conversation. He taped names, hometowns and, until I shook my head, some mission details. I heard the whole 3 minute interview.

Three weeks later, I went to the BX and bought the magazine. The only factual data were the crew names and hometowns. It was total fiction, including a comment that the crew had just enough time before their next mission to drink a beer stored in the step van cooler. The Korean units took a lot of grief.

Posted by: arch at December 13, 2007 01:01 PM

During Tet, WaPo had an experienced reporter in Saigon named Peter Braestrup. He was a USMC Korean and Vietnam combat veteran who had also covered the French war in Algeria before being sent by the Post to Vietnam.

Like most of the press corps, he lived in the Chinese quarter - Cholon - were much of the Tet combat took place. Unlike his contemporaries, however, his experience let him recognize the massive losses the communists were taking far exceeded their gains. Braestrup also reported that most of the civilian casualties were inflicted by the VC not US or South Vietnamese. Unfortunately, his rational and experienced observations were ignored.

When the war was over, Braestrup could not understand how the media had gotten the Tet story so completely wrong. He collected every story and tape he could find and did an objective analysis. In his book, the Big Story, he lays it out. It's going to sound very familiar.

1. The US media in Vietnam press consisted of 179 people including camera men, photogs, stringers and sound crews but only about 60 journalists. Few had the military experience to assess the situation.

2. The press knew there was an offensive coming, but chose to ignore the military's warning. They were not prepared to deal with their personal safety, much less observe an urban war.

3. The press viewed the localized fighting around their hotel in Cholon as a national collapse. They reported the initial VC success, but ignored the US and ARVN counterattack under which the VC collapsed. They reported Saigon was like Dresden, when 95% of the city was undamaged.

4. They characterized the South Vietnamese forces as lazy and unreliable. That message caused their readers to question our support of the war and it also undermined their efforts in country.

5. They mischaracterized the US use of firepower as indiscriminate. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Our forces did not have the urban warfare weapons such as recoilless rifles and rocket launchers, forcing us to clear enemy troops from areas house by house. This was particularly true in Hue, the old Imperial capitol, where we lost Marines rather than calling in air or artillery.

6. They reported that sappers overran the US Embassy. Actually, 19 VC breached the perimeter wall. Their two officers were killed immediately and none survived 8 hours. The enemy never set foot inside the Embassy building.

7. The Vietnam press corps and their liberal, anti-war editors decided to interpret the news rather than reporting the facts.

Have they learned anything? I apparently not.

Posted by: arch at December 13, 2007 01:21 PM

How about a betting pool on when Elsepth Reeve files for divorce from Beauchamp. He's a scam artist and has her suckered. Eventually she'll realize this. I say by New Years Eve 2010.

Posted by: Neocon Don at December 13, 2007 03:36 PM

How about a betting pool on when Elsepth Reeve files for divorce from Beauchamp. He's a scam artist and has her suckered. Eventually she'll realize this. I say by New Years Eve 2010.

Yeah, but I'd give them less than a year. Ellie may not know it yet, but she isn't so much Scott's wife as his beard. She enabled him to pose for awhile, but now her usefulness is pretty much over.

The one thing that could extend the timeline: Beauchamp probably will write a book recounting his "experiences." He won't want to piss her off before the book is on the remainder tables-- bad publicity would hurt sales and might even kill the book tours.

Posted by: Mike G in Corvallis at December 13, 2007 06:56 PM