UPDATE VII: A couple of thoughts that I want to put to the top. First, McQ from QandO spoke about the issue on my CQ Radio show with King Banaian and me (at the 45-minute mark), and I found his argument -- and those of most of the commenters here -- compelling. I think I was more dismissive than I meant to be in the post below. I think this is a real story, and I'm glad that the milbloggers went after it, but as I told McQ, it seems like going after a squirrel with a bazooka. McQ rightly pointed out that it deters other squirrels from appearing!
However, a few people have implied that I'm a hypocrite for sticking with the bridge collapse story. As many as thirteen people died in that collapse, and the infrastructure debate has policy and tax implications for the entire nation over the next several years. I'd also ask those people to think about how many people will know Scott Beauchamp's name in 30 days -- or how many outside the blogosphere know it now. How many people will recall the bridge collapse and still be debating the meaning and the prevention of a collapse on a bridge near them in that same amount of time?
Hell, for that matter, how many people know about The New Republic?
Original post follows ....
I have not written about the Scott Beauchamp/New Republic story for a couple of reasons. First, I do not have any personal knowledge of the specifics of Beauchamp's claims; the milbloggers have handled that aspect of the story well. Second and more important, it seemed to me that the pushback on this story was out of proportion to Beauchamp's significance (and for that matter, TNR's as well). Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb and Confederate Yankee's Bob Owens have been keeping the closest eye on the story, which appears to have hit its apex:
THE WEEKLY STANDARD has learned from a military source close to the investigation that Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp--author of the much-disputed "Shock Troops" article in the New Republic's July 23 issue as well as two previous "Baghdad Diarist" columns--signed a sworn statement admitting that all three articles he published in the New Republic were exaggerations and falsehoods--fabrications containing only "a smidgen of truth," in the words of our source.
Separately, we received this statement from Major Steven F. Lamb, the deputy Public Affairs Officer for Multi National Division-Baghdad:
An investigation has been completed and the allegations made by PVT Beauchamp were found to be false. His platoon and company were interviewed and no one could substantiate the claims.
According to the military source, Beauchamp's recantation was volunteered on the first day of the military's investigation. So as Beauchamp was in Iraq signing an affidavit denying the truth of his stories, the New Republic was publishing a statement from him on its website on July 26, in which Beauchamp said, "I'm willing to stand by the entirety of my articles for the New Republic using my real name."
Don't get me wrong. If Beauchamp fabricated these stories, then he deserves his obloquy. The editors at TNR have to face some tough questions about their standards for publication in the aftermath of this collapse. They have damaged their credibility and the bloggers have rightly called them out for a retraction.
Still, there is something of an overkill about this story that bothers me. It's not as if we can argue that cruelty doesn't occur in war. Of course it does; when it happens, our military investigates and punishes it. Baldilocks talked about this at length earlier in the story, and she's right. That's what separates us from our enemies. We prosecute cruelty, while they encourage it.
Rick Moran warns the Right that this doesn't mean the war is won in Iraq. I don't think that was the issue at all, though. This blogswarm was born of frustration over what the Right sees as slanted coverage of the Iraq effort. We're not claiming that the war has been won, but we're saying that the media has slanted their coverage to make it appear lost when it isn't. Scott Beauchamp and TNR gave the blogosphere an example of clear journalistic malpractice -- and it pounced, in droves.
But the two are really small potatoes in that argument. TNR doesn't have the influence it once had, and the stories that Beauchamp told really amounted to petty mischief more than war crimes. The Nation had a much more damaging piece regarding the experiences of fifty Iraq War veterans who now oppose the effort. While I don't believe those anecdotes can be extrapolated to make the argument that our military has gone off the rails, they are more substantial than anything published by Beauchamp and TNR.
Those bloggers who stayed on this story deserve a round of applause for doing the work that TNR's editors should have done from the beginning. However, we need to keep some perspective on this story, which never amounted to much more than gossip and innuendo at any point.
UPDATE: I'll be talking about this story in the second half of my BlogTalkRadio show today. Be sure to join the debate by calling 646-652-4889 between 2:30-3 pm CT.
UPDATE II: Be sure to read Shane's post at Heading Right, who takes a much different position than I do. Also, Anthony at Public Secrets has a good read on this. Most commenters disagree with me on this, and they make very good arguments -- but for the one who thinks I'm an apologist for the New Republic, I suggest re-reading my post. Hint: TNR does not qualify as mainstream media, and barely qualifies these days as anything more than a blog -- and not a very good one at that.
UPDATE III: Is this a coincidence?
Somewhere in Kalamazoo, Elvis weeps: The Weekly World News is folding.
The Weekly World News was not one of those sleazy tabloids that cover tawdry celebrity scandals. It was a sleazy tabloid that covered events that seemed to occur in a parallel universe, a fevered dream world where pop culture mixed with urban legends, conspiracy theories and hallucinations. Maybe WWN played fast and loose with the facts, but somehow it captured the spirit of the age -- and did it in headlines as perfect as haiku ....
Reporters loved the Weekly World News. Many fantasized about working for it and casting aside the tired old conventions of journalism, such as printing facts.
Apparently, Franklin Foer has one less employment opportunity awaiting him after his probably-upcoming departure from TNR.
UPDATE IV: Bill at INDC Journal has some thoughts on proportion as well.
UPDATE VI: Op-For weighs in on the latest two-step at TNR.