The New Republic's Willful Cover-Up
Yesterday The Drudge Report posted a breaking story, containing three PDFs relating to the Scott Thomas Beauchamp saga. Beauchamp is the author of the fraudulent "Shock Troops" story in The New Republic, which contained three separate anecdotes portraying groups of American soldiers fighting in Iraq as unprofessional, sadistic, and cruel.
The three PDFs have since been deleted from Drudge's site, but not before the files were copied by other websites. The first two files posted were part of a transcript of a conference call between author Beauchamp, TNR editor Franklin Foer, and TNR executive editor Peter Scoblic, along with several others. The third contained the memorandum of the military report that concluded that the accounts written by Beauchamp were false.
These documents, which I sought via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, were apparently leaked at a high level, and the information contained in the documents is unredacted. They have been verified as being accurate by military sources, and the source of the leak is said to be under military investigation.
Presently, you can download copies of the telephone call transcript, along with the results of the formal U.S. Army Investigation and a document Drudge alluded to but did not link, the Memeorandum of Concern addressed to Beauchamp by a senior officer, from many blogs and Wikipedia. Before I address the story that came as a result of these documents being published, I'd like to make three comments.
About the Leak
The documents leaked to The Drudge Report were documents I have every reason to suspect were compiled as part of one of FOIA requests on this subject sent to the U.S. Army's Central Command FOIA office. I originally submitted my request to the United States Army on September 6. That request is still pending, though results could come as quickly as next week.
As a citizen-journalist, I am concerned that someone, most likely within the Army, went outside proper channels to leak unredacted official military documentation to the press. It is dangerous to leak personnel information about our soldiers to the media, and it is of questionable ethics for media outlets to publish classified or sensitive information that could jeopardize the lives of American servicemen, servicewomen, and civilians.
There is a formal, recognized FOIA process for getting information to the press that does not put our soldiers lives in danger. I just spoke with a member of CENTCOM's FOIA team moments ago, and she stated that my request (and more than likely, the other two requests) were close to being completed.
We've waited this long for the story. Waiting another week for these and any other documents would seem to be reasonable.
For all of his faults, including writing three stories published in The New Republic that contained inaccurate, un-fact-checked, or blatantly false information, sources who have recently interviewed the soldiers in his unit indicate that Beauchamp is attempting to atone to his fellow soldiers and reearn their respect. He has, as much as I think he can without setting himself up to be sued for fraud by TNR, done as much as he can to rectify the wrongs he's committed. His fellow soldiers and commanders are willing to give him a second chance. Perhaps we should, as well.
About the veracity of the documents
Military sources have confirmed that these documents are legitimate. While I do not like the fact that they were leaked, they are real documents, confirmed by the military, and at least as far as the transcript goes (the only part they could verify), undisputed by The New Republic.
Now, back to the content of the documents, and more importantly what these documents tell us about the editorial staff of The New Republic.
That there was a conference call between editors of The New Republic and their debunked author Scott Thomas Beauchamp is a disclosure that I made on my personal blog on October 9, roughly a month after the call was made. Now that we see Beauchamp's side of the conversation amounts to a weasely "I will neither confirm nor deny what I wrote," it seems obvious that The New Republic should have printed a retraction almost immediately after the call.
Instead, they chose to remain silent, even though they knew at the time that a formal U.S. Army investigation had determined the charges made by the author were false and that the author himself would not support his own stories, even under direct questioning by TNR editors.
When one also considers that even TNR's own experts were denying claims made by the magazine, it becomes clear that the editors of The New Republic were involved in a willful and malicious cover-up to support a story that slandered American soldiers in combat, perhaps with the sole intention of retaining positions they are no longer ethically fit to hold.
Yet another disturbing element of the transcript is Foer's claim during the call that Beauchamp's wife, former TNR fact-checker and reporter Elspeth Reeve, sent Foer an email stating that she wanted Foer to tell Beauchamp that it was the most important thing in the world for her to say that he didn't recant.
We know that Beauchamp's telephone and laptop were returned to him prior to this conversation, and that Beauchamp was always allowed to contact family members via a landline even when his laptop and cell phone had been confiscated. It seems odd that Reeve would use this conference call to relay a message to her husband through Foer, when she could have easily contacted him herself directly via email, a cell phone, or a call paid for by U.S. taxpayers.
Last night, I sent an email to Reeve, who is no longer employed at TNR, asking about the veracity of this claim made by Foer and if she had sent Foer such an email. As of this morning, she has not responded.
And last, but not least...
There is still the outstanding issue of the other documents.
Foer, as noted in the transcript, has been badgering Beauchamp to release his personal statements made during the course of the investigation. It is obvious in reading the transcript that Beauchamp has no intention of making that a priority. The Army cannot release those documents to TNR without Beauchamp's authorization.
But there are other documents.
After getting off the phone with CENTCOM's FOIA office just moments ago, I now know that there are a total of 58 pages of sworn statements that have been collected from Beauchamp's fellow soldiers and are now on their way to legal review.
I must stress that just because there are 58 pages of statements, much of the information contained in these documents is likely to be heavily redacted. The (leaked) letter of concern, and the (leaked) transcript of the call between Foer, Scoblic, and Beauchamp were also part of that request, but at this point, are somewhat unnecessary other than as housekeeping items.
That leaves us with one other known document remaining, the transcript of the interview of investigating officer Major John Cross by The New Republic, which occurred after my interview with Major Cross, published September 10.
I've just submitted a new FOIA request for that information, wondering if those speaking on the The New Republic side of the call will still be employed by the magazine by the time the request is processed.
At this moment, I'd say that both the odds, and the truth as we know it, are against them.
Bob Owens covers American politics, media bias, and foreign military affairs from Raleigh, North Carolina in his personal blog, Confederate Yankee.