Despite the oddly-worded non-denial denial from the New Republic yesterday, the Army did determine that allegations made in its magazine by Scott Beauchamp were false. The New York Times reports this morning that their investigation showed no substantiation for Beauchamp's stories of petty mischief and ghoulish behavior on the part of his fellow soldiers:
An Army investigation into the Baghdad Diarist, a soldier in Iraq who wrote anonymous columns for The New Republic, has concluded that the sometimes shockingly cruel reports were false.
“We are not going into the details of the investigation,” Maj. Steven F. Lamb, deputy public affairs officer in Baghdad, wrote in an e-mail message. “The allegations are false, his platoon and company were interviewed, and no one could substantiate the claims he made.” ...
Yesterday, The New Republic posted another note on its Web site saying its editors had spoken to Major Lamb and asked whether Private Beauchamp had indeed signed a statement admitting to fabrications. “He told us, ‘I have no knowledge of that.’ He added, ‘If someone is speaking anonymously [to The Weekly Standard], they are on their own.’ When we pressed Lamb for details on the Army investigation, he told us, ‘We don’t go into the details of how we conduct our investigations.’
That rather slender reed provided TNR with the core of their non-denial denial. They focused on the claim made by the Weekly Standard that Beauchamp had recanted under oath and in writing. They skipped completely over the fact that with or without that recantation, the Army had interviewed everyone who could have been involved in these supposed violations and had found no evidence of them at all.
Franklin Foer has a lot of explaining to do for several examples of journalistic malpractice. First, the allegations made by Beauchamp hardly rose to a level of "news" at all. The misdeeds he recounted didn't even qualify as a satire on Abu Ghraib, even if they would have violated Army regulations. TNR's only purpose in repeating them would have been to pass along salacious gossip -- which leads us to his next bit of malpractice. The only point at which TNR apparently tried to verify these stories were after they were published. And third, TNR never revealed the relationship between the anonymous soldier and their staffer, which speaks to why they didn't attempt to verify his allegations with better and on-the-record sourcing.
Foer forgot one standard: extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Foer had to understand that Beauchamp's allegations would reflect poorly on the men and women who serve in Iraq, just by their extraordinarily weird and gruesome details. Rather than act like a journalist, Foer acted like a third-rank blogger and transparent anti-war activist.