Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Baghdad Fabulists, Left and Right

In August, Slate.com covered the conservative mil- and political bloggers' outrage by the possibility that Army private Scott Beauchamp, who had been sending dispatches to the New Republic, had actually fabricated his horrific and vivid accounts of life as a soldier in Iraq. Since then, Scott has supposedly recanted his statements; then not recanted; then admitted to simply wanting to 'use his experiences to enhance his writing and provide legitimacy to his work possibly becoming the next Hemingway'. Since then the New Republic has come under intense scrutiny from conservative bloggers, calling a clear violation of ethical reporting of the war; how could a publication with the credibility such as TNR fail to do an adequate fact-check before publishing Beauchamp's dispatches? With multiple accusations of censorship, editor Franklin Foer recently published a 14-page long explanation of the events as understood by those involved at TNR (including, somewhat famously, Beauchamp's wife):

In the New Republic case, Foer acknowledged a key "mistake" in checking on whether Beauchamp lied or exaggerated in writing that U.S. soldiers had made fun of a disfigured woman, run over dogs for sport and played with an Iraqi child's skeletal remains. Foer said Beauchamp's wife, Elspeth Reeve, then a researcher at the magazine, was assigned "a large role" in checking the story. While Reeve acted in good faith, he said, "there was a clear conflict of interest."
Ultimately, TNR concludes with the following:
When I [Foer] last spoke with Beauchamp in early November, he continued to stand by his stories. Unfortunately, the standards of this magazine require more than that. And, in light of the evidence available to us, after months of intensive re-reporting, we cannot be confident that the events in his pieces occurred in exactly the manner that he described them. Without that essential confidence, we cannot stand by these stories.
After going through such intense public (and online) criticism, TNR may have just had its day: reports are coming in that the same thing is happening over at the National Review Online. The NRO's editor Kathryn Jean Lopez is declaring that this is hardly the same situation as TNR's case of the 'Baghdad Fabulist'. Though the story over at NRO seems yet to be over (despite Lopez's claims), one uncomfortable admission from Lopez seems to be making some waves in the blogging community:
As one of our sources put it: “The Arab tendency to lie and exaggerate about enemies is alive and well among pro-American Lebanese Christians as much as it is with the likes of Hamas.” While Smith vouches for his sources, we cannot independently verify what they told him. That’s why we’re revisiting the posts in question and warning readers to take them with a grain of salt.
If Smith was too trusting of his sources, that is a journalistic faux pas of an entirely different sort. It does not, contrary to some bloggers’ claims, make him a fabulist.
Yikes! Is how they write it over at New York Magazine's Daily Intelligencer. And Jeff Bercovici over at Portfolio also seems to find this defense troubling, if not altogether racist:

So that's what happened! Here's Smith, doing his job like a good reporter, when along come those Arabs with their "Arab tendency to lie and exaggerate" and trip him up. Gotcha. If only he'd remembered this, NRO-approved simple rule of thumb: Unlike everybody else, Arabs lie!

Oh, and as for that "doing his job" part, that's only true if you define his job as "sneaking into Hezbollah bases and stealing their property, thereby endangering all Western reporters in the region."

I'm curious to know what will happen with this particular case with the NRO, post-TNR debacle. For all of Beauchamp's horrific statements with regard to what he saw and did, TNR initially granted him the freedom to say what he wanted to say without casting judgment upon the content of his own views or stories. But with the NRO, it seems as if the support for Smith goes beyond what TNR did for Beauchamp, venturing into a sticky territory lined with institutionally-based racism. Given conservative bloggers backlash at TNR, I'll be interested to see how leftist bloggers respond to the NRO, for when asked by the New York Times if he was experiencing any joy over the NRO's own troubles, Foer had responded: "I have a feeling of how difficult this situation must be for them, and I wish them luck in resolving it."

1 comment:

¡El Gato Negro! said...

Given conservative bloggers backlash at TNR, I'll be interested to see how leftist bloggers respond to the NRO...

Well, I am uncertain how much of a "leftist" (¿As opposed to "conservative"?) he is, but liberal blogger Glenn Greenwald gives just about the best response one could hope for from these horridly uncivil headless monsters.