Thursday, July 26, 2007

Another Stink Bomb at The New Republic?

The Morning News:

This has nothing to do with travel, although I guess you could consider war to be an extreme form of business travel.

It looks like the New Republic magazine has another stink bomb on its hands. The magazine published three separate accounts by an American soldier in Iraq, writing under a pseudonym, describing truly awful atrocities committed by fellow-soldiers (parading around with disinterred skulls, group-taunting a woman disfigured by a bomb, et cetera)

I've been to a war, and I know that atrocities occur. But frankly, when I read the New Republic's soldier-correspondent's accounts, my trusty old city-editor bullshit-detector went off.

Just doesn't smell right. Furthermore, some of this soldier's accounts mentioning matters that can readily be checked -- the mechanical specifics of trucks and weapons, for example --are already being belly-laughed away by fellow soldiers.

My guess: Another pipe-job. Right now, the New Republic editors, in their defensive crouch, are claiming that it's "conservative bloggers" who are out to get them.

Say what?

I recall the reaction I had years ago when I read Stephen Glass's obviously made-up stories in the New Republic, especially the one about the brilliant computer hacker ("I want a Miata!") who supposedly was able to make bizarre demands of, and otherwise bully, awestruck software and other tech executives. I wasn't three paragraphs into that turkey before I decided it had been fabricated.

Oh, and I should mention that if you look up the granddaddy of all piped stories -- "Jimmy's World," by Janet Cooke, published in the Washington Post in 1980 and a recipient of a Pulitzer Prize that was subsequently withdrawn -- you will probably see by the end of the first 500 words that the whole story is so unlikely-sounding that it appears at face value to have been cooked, so to speak.

Reading it years later (see for yourself), I couldn't believe any editor would have put it in the paper.

And yes, of course, there was that odious twerp, Jayson Blair, who bamboozled editors at the New York Times into publishing fairly innocuous stories -- most cribbed from others' reporting -- from places that Jayson never visited, despite expense accounts asserting otherwise. Blair was a common plagiarist, a pickpocket, but not a fabulist, in that he didn't really have the ability to entirely make up a really major big fat whopper.

A pretty good movie was made of the Stephen Glass incident, assuming you accept the movie's position that the New Republic was a vitally important publication, rather than a marginal magazine of limited circulation, mostly in Washington and New York.

Now comes the New Republic's breathless GI Joe with his journalistic IED.

Serious questions are being raised about the accounts of this guy, who wrote under the name Scott Thomas, and whose real name is Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp. That's "Pvt." as in not even "Pfc", by the way. You'd think it might have seemed to a competent editor that, for a buck private, this Beauchamp fellow really managed to get around.

Now the New Republic has published online the sort of pious statement that almost invariably precedes the "Oh shit, are we frigging sorry we published this, please forgive us!" correction. (Scroll down the online New Republic feature called "The Plank" to the post dated July 26 and titled "A Statement from Scott Thomas Beauchamp")

"Thus far we've found nothing to disprove the facts in the article," the editors say. I say always watch out for anyone who begins a sentence with the words "Thus far..."

And then comes the kicker. In his own statement, Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp wails that "it is maddening, to say the least, to see the plausibility of events that I witnessed questioned." (Italics mine)

He pleads "plausibility." He doesn't actually state that the stories are true, or deny that they were invented. He says they were plausible.

Whoop-whoop! Stink bomb alert!

Quick, call the development people. I see a movie.


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