"Scott Thomas": A psychological profile; Update: Rigorous fact-checking, says Foer Update: Bryan weighs in on the whole "woman in a FOB" question

More exactly, a semiotic profile. The link is going around thanks to the author’s hard knock on TNR editor Franklin Foer at the end but the tasty part is in the middle where he dissects Thomas’s style. Verdict: He’s probably a grad student with military but not combat experience who fancies himself the Dangerous Guy with Chops. Heavy on the physical detail, devoid of emotional judgment, he needs you to know that (a) he’s been there and (b) he’s farking crazy, man, beyond good and evil, and he’s willing to use every “sinister” stylistic affectation he can find to communicate those two facts. Which tends to suggest that he’s not beyond good and evil at all or else he wouldn’t be straining so hard to affect evilness.

Even so, it doesn’t always work out:

4) Physical detail is mildly slanted toward the refined senses (sight and sound) rather than the vulgar senses (smell, taste, touch, and kinesthesia); the refined-sense details tend to be more specific, and the vulgar-sense details tend to be alluded to more than specifically named. (I think this is caused by a lack of actual experience; in actual experience the vulgar senses are the strong ones, but in library research the refined senses are the ones easier to paraphrase to avoid being caught in plagiarism).

He’s a poseur, in other words, albeit perhaps one with enough experience to make a facially plausible case of combat duty. I’d actually be surprised if it turned out the guy’s a grad student: presumably a trained writer would be less heavy handed lest it be too obvious, per Barnes’s critique, what he’s “trying to do” with his dispatches, but Barnes would know far better than I would the level of subtlety to expect from MFAs. I think Ace’s theory, that TNR plucked this guy from their comments section when he professed some combat experience and hinted at dark tales of American stormtroopers run amok, is more likely but we’ll see. Foer certainly is taking his time with the investigation, which seems odd given the doubtlessly extensive fact-checking that preceded publication. Just check the fact-checker’s notes, boys. I’m sure it’s all in there.

If Foer’s smart, and he seems to be notwithstanding his lapse here, he’ll do what he can to shift this debate from whether Thomas’s stories are true to whether Thomas is a solder at all. That’s what the left did in Jamilgate with the help of some foolish right-wing bloggers, as Greyhawk reminds us:

Some time ago I advised folks not to focus on whether Jamil Hussein was actually an Iraqi police officer and instead concentrate on the accuracy of his claims. I’ll now suggest avoiding the argument as to whether “Scott Thomas” is or isn’t a soldier. The exhumation of a graveyard has already been corroborated, that alone leads me to believe Thomas is indeed a soldier here…

If “Scott Thomas” actually is a soldier, you’ll see an amazing example of Orwellian double-think. Any attempt by the Army to punish this douche bag for the behavior he confesses to (or for fabricating incidents, if his claims prove false) will be described by leftists in and out of the media as persecution for “speaking out”. [See also. — ed.] No one will commend the Army for cleaning it’s own house. This is because Thomas’ actions are seen by these same people as typical behavior of U.S. Soldiers – all of whom are as described in Thomas’ dispatches. Thus the Army will be “hypocritical” for punishing (make that “scapegoating”) one who will suddenly be described as a “whistleblower’.

Meanwhile, a second storyline will also develop. This one will be about the humbling of bloggers who will be described as naive, or part of a cover-up. Whichever might be the case, the bottom line will be that bloggers have zero credibility. Here’s how that happened in the Jamil Hussein story.

I said something similar in a comment on Patterico’s blog in the heat of Jamilgate back in December:

Mark my words: [the left will] trumpet whatever facts about [Jamil Hussein] redound to the AP’s advantage even if on balance the AP looks bad. For instance, if it turns out he exists but he’s not a real cop, the news on the lefty blogs will be “HE EXISTS.” And then they’ll set about showing why it’s not a big deal that he’s not a real cop, even though the AP has been claiming he’s a real cop for months now. Anything they can do to shore up the AP’s credibility, any argument they can make, they’ll do it, because like I said above, that’s what this is really about — protecting the left-wing media from a credible charge of malfeasance, even though it wouldn’t mean much in the grander scheme of how awful things are in Iraq.

I said they’d do it and they did, and they’ll do it again. Oh well.

Update: ABC’s story on the dispute is up. Foer:

Franklin Foer, the editor of the New Republic, said that he has met Thomas here in the States and that he is “absolutely certain” that he is a soldier in Iraq. “Not an ounce of doubt,” he told ABCNEWs.com. Asked about how he attempted to verify Thomas’ military credentials, Foer said, “I’ve got many, many data points to back that up” although one of those proofs didn’t include a military e-mail account.

As for the specific accounts in the stories, Foer said that the articles were rigorously fact-checked before they were published. “We showed the stories to people who’d been embedded in Iraq to make sure that it all smelled good. We talked to one of the members of his unit to confirm the woman, a female contractor. We talked to a medic who’d served in Iraq to make sure that a woman could be in an FOB. We spent a lot of time with him on the phone asking hard questions.”

Every milblogger who’s looked at these dispatches finds problems with them, yet Foer’s embeds all signed off?

Update (Bryan): Quoth ABC–“We talked to a medic who’d served in Iraq to make sure that a woman could be in an FOB.”

I’d have loved to have seen the medic’s face when Frank Foer asked whether a woman could be in a FOB. A FOB is a military base — “forward operating base” to be specific. We have women in the military serving in Iraq. Ergo, a woman can be in a FOB. What genius came up with that question?

But hey, we have photographic proof that a woman can in fact be in a FOB and not even be in the military. See this picture? Taken on a FOB, with a woman front and center. I took the picture, so I can tell you under my own name that it isn’t a photoshop. That’s FOB Justice, on the west bank of the Tigris in Baghdad.

Where on earth does the brilliant Franklin Foer think that we stayed when Michelle and I went to Baghdad? Where do most male and female reporters stay when they embed with troops in Iraq? They stay on FOBs. Mystery solved. “Can a woman be on a FOB?” That might be the dumbest question of all time.

If that’s the level of fact-checking that we can expect from TNR, we’re in for a long, hard slog in getting them to admit that they’ve been had.

Also keep in mind, kids, these are the people we’ve been arguing about the war with for the past four years. They still don’t even know what a FOB is, and they’re publishing stories that they claim were written by a soldier.

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David Strom 8:31 AM on October 05, 2022