I happened to catch an ABC radio news story about the Beauchamp story last night (the man’s name is pronounced “Beecham,” btw, if the radio reader got it right). This story is an AP piece published in the Washington Post, no less. So big media is taking note of the latest Winter Soldier tale. This one’s gonna leave a mark:
A magazine gets a hot story straight from a soldier in Iraq and publishes his writing, complete with gory details, under a pseudonym. The stories are chilling: An Iraqi boy befriends American troops and later has his tongue cut out by insurgents. Soldiers mock a disfigured woman sitting near them in a dining hall. As a diversion, soldiers run over dogs with armored personnel carriers. Compelling stuff, and, according to the Army, not true…
The Army said this week it had concluded an investigation of Beauchamp’s claims and found them false.
“During that investigation, all the soldiers from his unit refuted all claims that Pvt. Beauchamp made in his blog,” Sgt. 1st Class Robert Timmons, a spokesman in Baghdad for the 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, based at Fort Riley, Kan., said in an e-mail interview.
The Weekly Standard said Beauchamp signed a sworn statement admitting all three articles were exaggerations and falsehoods…
Calls to Editor Franklin Foer at The New Republic in Washington were not returned, but the magazine said on its Web site that it has conducted its own investigation and stands by Beauchamp’s work.
Well, you know, they are on vacation over there at TNR. Of course they’re not answering the phones. I’m sure they’ll get right back to ya, AP.
While we’re waiting on the voice mail to pick up, let’s look at the ethics violations.
Bob Steele, the Nelson Poynter Scholar for Journalism Values at The Poynter Institute school for journalists in St. Petersburg, Fla., said granting a writer anonymity “raises questions about authenticity and legitimacy.”
“Anonymity allows an individual to make accusations against others with impunity,” Steele said. “In this case, the anonymous diarist was accusing other soldiers of various levels of wrongdoing that were, at the least, moral failures, if not violations of military conduct. The anonymity further allows the writer to sidestep essential accountability that would exist, were he identified.”
Steele said he was troubled by the fact that the magazine did not catch the scene-shifting from Kuwait to Iraq of the incident Beauchamp described involving the disfigured woman.
“If they were doing any kind of fact-checking, with multiple sources, that error _ or potential deception _ would have emerged,” Steele said.
He added that he was also troubled by the relationship between Beauchamp and Reeve, his wife, who works at The New Republic. “It raises the possible specter of competing loyalties, which could undermine the credibility of the journalism,” he said.
Paul McLeary, a staff writer for Columbia Journalism Review who has written about the matter, said The New Republic failed to do some basic journalistic legwork, such as calling the public affairs officer for Beauchamp’s unit.
“There is a degree of trust and faith editors have to put in their writers,” McLeary said. “If you’re on a tight deadline, you have to go as far as you can. The New Republic definitely didn’t go as far as it could in terms of checking out its stories.”
The AP, of course, has had its own problems using dubious sources with highly questionable motives in Iraq. Nevertheless, when your failure to do basic fact-checking, or even answer the phone, is noted by the AP and published in the Washington Post, you’ve got problems.
Vacation won’t last forever, TNR.
Update: I may have to borrow Ace’s flaming skull for this update over at Confederate Yankee. Just go read it. Here’s a taste.
In short, the TNR researcher did not provide the text of “Shock Troops” for Mr. Coffery [communications director for the company that manufactures Bradley Fighting Vehicles] to review, and only asked the vaguest possible questions. It seems rather obvious that this was not an attempt to actually verify Beauchamp’s claims, but was instead designed to help The New Republic manufacturer a whitewash of an investigation.
Feeling that a little context was in order, I provided Mr. Coffey with Beauchamp’s text from “Shock Troops” related to his company’s Bradley IFV:
Head over to CY to see how the story ends. Somebody’s vacation may have just become permanent.
(h/t on the AP article to Riehl)