TNR’s scandal goes beyond Private Beauchamp
posted at 8:55 am on October 25, 2007 by Bryan
This is all so stupid and it was so avoidable. A young journal editor who probably thought he owned a little slice of the punditry world has lied and spun his way to the very bottom of it, and for a set of stories that matter little in the big picture and for a writer whose chief claim to fame was accusing himself of boorishness. What was the point? And why continue the lies?
While Beauchamp “didn’t stand by his stories in that conversation, he didn’t recant his stories,” Foer said in an interview. “He obviously was under considerable duress during that conversation, with his commanding officer in the room with him.”
While the discussion “was extremely frustrating and engendered doubts,” Foer said, Beauchamp defended his story in a subsequent conversation that was conducted with no superiors present.
How convenient: All of the actual data that we have has Beauchamp not standing by his stories and the Army finding him an unreliable witness, or very reliable as a purveyor of fiction. But Foer expects everyone to just take his word that there was yet another conversation that TNR had with Beauchamp, but didn’t tell anyone about and which wasn’t transcribed, in which Beauchamp stood by his tales. It’s literally unbelievable. It looks like just one more in a pile of lies in this story.
Let’s start and the end and work our way back through the previous lies. I’m not talking about Scott Thomas Beauchamp’s well-documented lies. I’m talking about Franklin Foer’s lies. Beauchamp’s fabulism has exposed a serious and serial liar in TNR editor Franklin Foer.
After the transcript of a damning Sept 7 phone conversation involving Foer, Beauchamp and others became public, Foer had this to say to the NY Observer.
Franklin Foer, editor of The New Republic, said in an interview that the documents Matt Drudge posted this afternoon–and removed several hours later without explanation–could have only come from the Army.
Foer knows that that’s not true. The documents in question could have come from somewhere other than the Army, and Foer knows that. Foer may not know that they did come from outside the Army, but as a party to the conversation himself and as someone in a position to have some knowledge of who outside the Army might have access to the transcript and the other documents, Foer knows that what he told the Observer, and probably also what he said to the Army in relation to the leak, was a lie. The documents could have and did come from a source other than the Army. Anyone trying to get them from the Army had to FOIA them. The Observer would be well within its rights to burn Foer as a source if they have any means to do so. He lied to them. He also smeared the Army, and not for the first time. Blaming the Army has been one of his hallmark strategies throughout.
So that’s lie #1, the most recent one. Foer has been silent on the Beauchamp story for weeks now, so we have to go back in time a bit to find lie #2. Here it is.
The phone call in which Scott Thomas Beauchamp delivers the Mother of All No Comments, thereby refusing to stand by his own work for TNR, took place on September 7, 2007. So from that date forward, Foer has had a piece of knowledge in his head that he has refused to divulge publicly; namely, that when pressed, Beauchamp did not stand by his stories. But what did Foer’s TNR say after September 7, 2007?
Go back to what Foer’s TNR said on July 26, 2007.
Although the article was rigorously edited and fact-checked before it was published, we have decided to go back and, to the extent possible, re-report every detail. This process takes considerable time, as the primary subjects are on another continent, with intermittent access to phones and email. Thus far we’ve found nothing to disprove the facts in the article; we will release the full results of our search when it is completed.
Look at that last line again. Did TNR release the full results of its search when it was completed? I suppose they could argue that it wasn’t completed even as of today, but once they knew that Beauchamp no longer stood by his stories, they had all they needed to know. They knew that on September 7.
And they sat on it.
Foer was a party to the call. He didn’t have to wait for the Army to do a thing, and in fact owed it to his readers and his employers, one of whom was also a party to the call, to come clean. He didn’t.
And there’s another lie in that same paragraph. If the original article had been fact-checked at all, it wouldn’t have been run because the facts would not have checked out. So there’s lie #3. Their re-reporting evidently amounted to asking one of Beauchamp’s mates enough questions to get vague confirmations that have turned out to be false, and to ask misleading questions of a subject-matter expert to skew his findings toward an angle that benefited TNR. Lies 4 and 5.
And there’s one more: TNR has consistently accused the Army of keeping Beauchamp from talking to them. He’s been free to talk to them since August 6. Lie #6. They were the ones who told him not to talk to media. It’s right there in the transcript that Foer evidently never intended to see the light of day.
Now, compare and contrast all of this to the last scandal to hit the conservative yin to The New Republic’s yang, National Review Online. In March 2006, when NRO became aware that they had published many pieces written by a man who was being accused of plagiarism, they investigated. They didn’t attack the critics. They went through all of the accused’s articles and checked them for evidence of plagiarism, and when they found that he was guilty, they acknowledged their errors and apologized. National Review handled that scandal exactly as it should have been handled. Their example should have served to guide NRO’s friends at TNR during the Beauchamp scandal. But it obviously didn’t.
Throughout the Beauchamp scandal, TNR has not once acknowledged what has become obvious, which is that they published fabulism dressed up as journalism. They served up fiction to their readers, fiction that they only published because its author was married to one of TNR’s staff, and because based on that they believed the fiction to be fact. If they had really investigated Beauchamp’s articles early on, and really fact-checked them rather than blame their difficulties on the Army (as opposed to blaming the actual liar) and attack their critics, this saga would have been long over and all but forgotten by now. It would have been a black mark on TNR, but a small one by comparison to the full-body contusion that it’s become.
And it’s become such a wound because Foer tried to cover it all up, lying and spinning and covering up the whole way. This isn’t how one works through a scandal; it’s how one becomes a scandal. Mark Steyn frames it well.
The New Republic is currently owned by my old friends and compatriots, the Asper family. Back when I toiled for the company in Canada, David Asper publicly told one of his own newspapers to “put up or shut up”. He should have said the same months ago when The New Republic was bragging about its commitment to rigorous and open investigation of the matter. The magazine is unable to “put up”, so it has shut up, and hopes that its silence will help the story die in the shadows. Beauchamp’s 15 minutes are up. The issue now is the magazine’s conduct, and the Aspers should recognize that and act accordingly.
The magazine’s conduct is largely Foer’s conduct, his and Jon Chait’s and Jason Zengerle’s and Peter Scoblic’s. They have sacrificed The New Republic’s credibility.
Update: I need to clarify a section up top a bit. My point in lie #1 is that the Army isn’t the only entity that could access the documents in question. They can be FOIAed, Beauchamp can authorize their release and leak them or give them to someone else who could leak them, etc, and TNR itself knew of the Sept 7 phone call since that day but never acknowledged that it took place. TNR itself may even have its own transcript of the call, as it seems from Scoblic’s recitation of his lack of involvement in the story that they’re aware of its being recorded. They could certainly have requested a transcript from the Army to compare their recollections with the Army’s record, and may have done so. And in the phone call, contrary to Foer’s assertions that the Army has been keeping Beauchamp from talking, we learn that he’s been avoiding TNR but had set up interviews with other media outlets, interviews that TNR asked that he scuttle so they could control the story.
I bollixed all that up in the section about lie #1. My apologies.