TNR: We can no longer stand by Beauchamp's stories

Hot off the presses. It’s 14 pages and will take awhile to wade through but here’s the big finish:

In retrospect, we never should have put Beauchamp in this situation. He was a young soldier in a war zone, an untried writer without journalistic training. We published his accounts of sensitive events while granting him the shield of anonymity–which, in the wrong hands, can become license to exaggerate, if not fabricate.

When I last spoke with Beauchamp in early November, he continued to stand by his stories. Unfortunately, the standards of this magazine require more than that. And, in light of the evidence available to us, after months of intensive re-reporting, we cannot be confident that the events in his pieces occurred in exactly the manner that he described them. Without that essential confidence, we cannot stand by these stories.


Off to read…

Update: I just noticed that the post date is December 10 and that the story isn’t linked on TNR’s front page. I’ve e-mailed my tipster to see how he found out about this.

Update: An interesting admission from page 3. I remember righty bloggers taking some static when the story first broke for noting that Beauchamp’s wife, Elspeth Reeve, worked for the magazine. It turns out to be relevant:

But there was one avoidable problem with our Beauchamp fact-check. His wife, Reeve, was assigned a large role in checking his third piece. While we believe she acted with good faith and integrity–not just in this instance, but throughout this whole ordeal–there was a clear conflict of interest. At the time, our logic–in hindsight, obviously flawed–was that corresponding with a soldier in Iraq is logistically difficult and Reeve was already routinely speaking with him. It was a mistake–and we’ve imposed new rules to prevent future fact-checking conflicts of interest.

Update: Comedy gold on page 8 as Beauchamp tells TNR that the disfigured woman was in fact at a base in Kuwait, not at FOB Falcon as he had claimed:

Beauchamp: theyre taking away my


tnr: fuck is this it for communication?

Beauchamp: yeah and im fucked

tnr: they said that?

Beauchamp: because you’re right the crypt keep WAS in Kuwait


this is bad isnt it

tnr: yes


Update (Bryan): I was working on a post about this at the same time AP was, so we’ll consolidate reaction in this post.

Finally. After months and months and months and months of several metric tons of nonsense, and in a 14 page, 10,000 word essay that puts up more smoke than a forest fire, Franklin Foer has this to say:

When I last spoke with Beauchamp in early November, he continued to stand by his stories. Unfortunately, the standards of this magazine require more than that. And, in light of the evidence available to us, after months of intensive re-reporting, we cannot be confident that the events in his pieces occurred in exactly the manner that he described them. Without that essential confidence, we cannot stand by these stories.

Glancing over the piece, TNR still has room to assail the Weekly Standard’s “ideological motives” in questioning Beauchamp. And I’m sure that there’s more to chew on. Check page 7 for possible legal jeopardy for Beauchamp. Check page 8 to see TNR continue to blame their own investigation’s delays on the Army (as I’ve pointed out before, TNR could have sent its own reporter to Falcon to investigate rather than rely on the already doubted Beauchamp, who had obvious motive to lie once his stories had been questioned). This part, on page 9, jumps out at me for its inanity.

Kiple understood that he didn’t make the ideal witness, given his current predicament. But he did recall the events Beauchamp described. “I remember the woman,” he told me. “She didn’t go to Iraq; she was in Kuwait. She was bald with strands of hair–her hair was gray just a little bit. Her face was kind of mangled. It looked it like it was scarred or something. It wasn’t recent. It happened in the past. She looked recovered. She wore a brown uniform, BDU [Battle Dress Uniform], with pocketed pants. It didn’t have any rank. She looked like a civilian contractor or something. She looked like an American. We saw her about every day or every other day–maybe fourteen times. Usually, mostly during lunch chow–twelve, one p.m. Yes, we called her Mandrake’s Bride, some crazy mythology that Scott and one of our buddies made up for her. I don’t remember some of the shit that they used to talk about her.”


As far as I remember, no one in the military called anything worn by a civilian a “BDU.” That’s the name given to a military combat uniform, or as Kiple says, the Battle Dress Uniform. Calling anything other than a BDU a BDU just doesn’t make sense, and ought to have raised a flag with TNR’s editors that their witness wasn’t entirely reliable and that he may be making stuff up on the fly and slipping in details that didn’t fit. Details like that, if you’re aware of their significance, raise doubts about credibility. If a witness had told me about a civilian wearing a BDU, I would have pressed him on that point since it made no military sense.

I’m sure there’s more in there. Bottom line: After all this time, TNR finally retracts Beauchamp’s work. They should have done this months ago. And Foer & Co still have a lot to answer for, starting with publishing unverified tales and then smearing their critics when the tales unraveled.

Update: Another admission on page 10 follows a long stretch of soldiers corroborating Beauchamp’s stories and allegedly being coerced by the Army into signing statements that they never saw what they say they saw:

But we also found some reason to doubt Beauchamp’s reliability: In 2006, he had written a personal blog, Sir Real Scott Thomas, which we only discovered after the controversy erupted. He appeared an angst-ridden young man prone to paroxysms: “I shoot, move, communicate, and kill … the deaths that I inflict secure the riches of the empire.” With his excited prose and tendency toward overstatement, his blog did not inspire journalistic confidence. We had good reasons never to assign Beauchamp another piece.


Update (Bryan): More fun from page 10.

It wasn’t just the testimonials from the soldiers in his unit. Among others, we had called a forensic anthropologist and a spokesman for the manufacturer of Bradley Fighting Vehicles. Nothing in our conversations with them had dissuaded us of the plausibility of Beauchamp’s pieces.

Well, yeah, when you rig the questions, you usually get the answers you want. TNR is still generating more spin than a pulsar.

Update (bp): From page 11, a snort-worthy bit.

We never received this cooperation. But conservative bloggers who were fixated on this controversy–one arrived unannounced at tnr’s offices with a video camera, another later attempted to organize an advertiser boycott of the magazine–were treated differently.

Learn to count, TNR. There were two of us.

Update: On the bottom of page 12 Beauchamp claims he was under duress, with two army officers in the room with him, during the phone conversation he had with TNR that was leaked to Drudge in October. On the top of the same page, TNR calls shenanigans on the army for claiming that Beauchamp was allowed to speak when, they later admitted, he wasn’t. And then there’s this, from page 13:

In our interview, surprisingly, [Maj. John] Cross, [Army investigator,] bolstered Beauchamp’s credibility. He stated that Beauchamp had never recanted, flatly refuting what Goldfarb and others reported. In fact, he agreed that Beauchamp had carefully crafted his signed statements in an attempt to avoid contradictions. And he admitted that, in his investigation, he had neglected to interview a substantial portion of Beauchamp’s platoon.


Update: If you’re pressed for time, just read pages 12-14. Foer’s thesis here splits the difference between pronouncing Beauchamp a liar (note the raised eyebrow on page 10 about his overheated pre-war blog prose) and pronouncing him an honest broker silenced by the military by declaring that in the maelstrom of war, with men under stress, we can never really know what the truth is. Which, conveniently, absolves TNR for being unable to verify the details. Hence the title of the piece. From the bottom of page 12:

The more we dug into Beauchamp’s writings, the more clear it became that we might have been in the realm of war stories, a genre notoriously rife with embellishment. It is telling that Beauchamp and his comrades gave the disfigured woman mythological names–Crypt Keeper, Mandrake’s Bride–and made her the subject of telling and retelling.

And 13:

Beauchamp has lived through this ordeal under the most trying of conditions. He is facing pressures that we can only begin to imagine. And, over the course of our dealings with him, we’ve tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. Ever since August, we’ve asked him, first though his wife and lawyer and later via direct e-mail and phone calls, to personally obtain the sworn statements that the military had him draft and sign on July 26. And, ever since then, he has promised repeatedly to do just that. We are, unfortunately, still waiting.


On the very first page, Foer introduces Beauchamp’s pieces as exercises in “how war distorts moral judgments.” That’s what they wanted to hear, that’s what they got. Their explanation for why they have to cut Beauchamp loose now: War distorts mental judgments, too. Perfect.

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