The “Scott Thomas” Saga at TNR Continues
My post on the “Scott Thomas” affair at The New Republic elicited a spirited debate. It has now taken some interesting turns. First of all, the author has now identified himself. Here is what he wrote in TNR:
My Diarist, “Shock Troops,” and the two other pieces I wrote for the New Republic have stirred more controversy than I could ever have anticipated. They were written under a pseudonym, because I wanted to write honestly about my experiences, without fear of reprisal. Unfortunately, my pseudonym has caused confusion. And there seems to be one major way in which I can clarify the debate over my pieces: I’m willing to stand by the entirety of my articles for the New Republic using my real name.
I am Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp, a member of Alpha Company, 1/18 Infantry, Second Brigade Combat Team, First Infantry Division.
My pieces were always intended to provide my discreet view of the war; they were never intended as a reflection of the entire U.S. Military. I wanted Americans to have one soldier’s view of events in Iraq.
It’s been maddening, to say the least, to see the plausibility of events that I witnessed questioned by people who have never served in Iraq. I was initially reluctant to take the time out of my already insane schedule fighting an actual war in order to play some role in an ideological battle that I never wanted to join. That being said, my character, my experiences, and those of my comrades in arms have been called into question, and I believe that it is important to stand by my writing under my real name.
As a number of folks have noted, neither he nor TNR have proved the veracity of his stories, which I still believe do not ring true. Here is what my friend Tom Lipscomb has written about the issue. I am especially struck by Tom’s point about where the burden of truth in this case lies. “It is TNR’s responsibility to PROVE these assertions they ‘rigorously fact-checked and edited,’ not that of its critics to ‘disprove’ them.” That was the mistake that CBS made when the network ran its bogus story about President Bush and the Texas Air National Guard. Here is the whole thing:
Good for TNR… They let Pvt. Beauchamp out of the closet.
But as I posted above, the real problem is still an editorial one. What remains to be seen is how TNR’s investigation of Beauchamp’s questioned postings proceeds.
It would hardly be fair of TNR to try to divorce itself from any responsibility for Beauchamp’s statements. It claims to have published them after his work was “rigorously edited and fact-checked.”
Fortunately what TNR announced today is a good roadmap on how to run their accuracy down, albeit after the fact.
“Although the article was rigorously edited and fact-checked before it was published [very hard to see without comparing what he turned in and how many changes exist between the original copy submitted and what was published], we have decided to go back and, to the extent possible, re-report every detail. [The New York Times gets credit for this kind of expensive and time-consuming analysis of the Jayson Blair disaster. NB It would not have been necessary if the the NYT “rigorously fact-checked and edited” Blair the way TNR says they did Beauchamp.]”
“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.”
Last sentence has the process upside down. It is TNR’s responsibility to PROVE these assertions they ‘rigorously fact-checked and edited,’ not that of its critics to “disprove” them.
Military and former military personnel (including me) already have raised simple and serious procedural and operational military questions about 1) The mess tent incident, 2) the bizarre Bradley vehicle story and 3) non-existent “square 9mm” cartridges.
These have nothing to do with the poisoned politics of left blogs vs right blogs. And they are easy for Beauchamp to prove with cites and witnesses that can be interviewed.
This has been common newsroom practice for reporters for a long time and I always expect to provide them to my editor when turning in a piece to back up my quotes and assertions. And BTW it doesn’t take a “considerable time” to assemble them IF you already required them before publishing the piece. Let’s start there.
Bob Tyrrell cited Tom Wolfe’s recent remarks about Marshall McLuhan’s predictions in his column today that are directly to the point I raised earlier:
“Forty years ago, he [McLuhan] said that modern communications technology would turn the young into tribal primitives who pay attention not to objective ‘news’ reports but only to what the drums say… .”
“Mr Wolfe continued… ‘The universe of blogs is a universe of rumors, and the tribe likes it that way.”
Let’s hope that TNR and its tormentors can prove they hold to a higher standard than a competition of rumors.
Let the drums stop now, and an objective evaluation take place.
Thomas H. Lipscomb
Annenberg Center for the Digital Future (USC)
1360 York Avenue, Suite 3D
New York 10021
It also seems to be the case that Beauchamp is either married to or the fiancée of a writer at TNR, Elspeth Reeve, which might explain how he got the gig. How very Valerie Plame-ish.
It also seems to be the case that the individual at TNR who leaked the story about the relationship has been fired. Curioser and curioser.