I haven’t offered much commentary on the Scott Thomas Beauchamp Baghdad Diarist thing going on at The New Republic because I haven’t found it that interesting, but apparently the editor of the magazine offers a long-winded reasoning for why they thought the fabulous, though disputed, claims were not untrue (Fog of War, link seen on Instapundit).
What strikes me most about the piece, though, isn’t the tone or the high-handedness, but rather the sad indicators of what passes for shoe-leather journalism and fact checking by senior staff at a national magazine.
We’ve got Instant Messages rife with obscenity, written in the gibberish that passes for the communication by most people in that medium:
TNR: where did you see the crypt keeper?
Beauchamp: are you there?
Beauchamp: the last thing i got was “where did you see the crypt keeper”
Beauchamp: the dfac on falcon or chow hall, as it IS commonly called
TNR: what about kuwait?
Beauchamp: brb [be right back]
Nine minutes of silence
TNR: you there?
Ten minutes of silence
Beauchamp: ok just did a sworn statement
Beauchamp: saying that i wrote the articles
Beauchamp: theyre taking away my laptop
TNR: fuck is this it for communication?
Beauchamp: yeah and im fucked
TNR: they said that?
Beauchamp: because you’re right the crypt keep WAS in Kuwait
FUCK FUCK FUCK
this is bad isnt it
where in kuwait?
Beauchamp: it did happen in kuwait
tnr: why didn’t you tell us that?
Beauchamp: i thought it was on falcon
till somebody here convinced me that it wasnt i just talked to [Soldier A] and he convinced me that it was in kuwait when i thought it was on falcon fuck
TNR: if what you’re saying is true it’s not the end of the world
TNR: as long as we can confirm it
i have to go like NOW though im so sorry
TNR: are you gonna be able to talk again?
Beauchamp: i hope so but i dont know
thank you again for everything
TNR: i didn’t do anything
what did you sign?
I mean, I know I am one of the six people in the world who use complete sentences and punctuation in IM conversations, but do we have to see how simpleton national media players can be?
Then, there’s this bit:
We’d left messages on his MySpace page for him to call.
Oh, goody. Postings on MySpace. Just like Woodward and Bernstein, except without the effort or the result.
Maybe I’m holding them to too high of a standard for effort or for actual journalism as I would expect it in a national magazine of purportedly lofty reporting and commentary; that is, I didn’t expect it to read like how two teenage girls discuss the latest pop idol.
But it probably is just me. After all, Foer says that the goal of the fact-checking was not to find out if the thing was true, but rather, if it was plausible:
Facing the difficulties of verifying the piece, but wanting to ensure its plausibility before publication, we sent the piece to a correspondent for a major newspaper who had spent many tours embedded in Iraq. He had heard accounts of soldiers killing dogs with Bradleys. These accounts stuck with him because they represented a symbolic shift in the war. Iraqis regard dogs as annoying pests. At the beginning of the conflict, Americans made great efforts to befriend these mistreated mutts. It seemed telling that Americans now treated dogs with as little regard as Iraqis did. He considered Beauchamp’s dog- hunting anecdote plausible.
Among others, we had called a forensic anthropologist and a spokesman for the manufacturer of Bradley Fighting Vehicles. Nothing in our conversations with them had dissuaded us of the plausibility of Beauchamp’s pieces.
Not implausible and based on the finest Internet gleanings available, they ran with the story.
Pardon me if I further assume that anything that appears in a national publication is only as reliable as a blog account or Wikipedia entry. Or if I don’t bother to read national publications.