Tuesday, August 07, 2007

 

Significance

Michael Goldfarb, posting at The Weekly Standard, reports that Private Second Class (PV2) Scott Thomas Beauchamp signed a sworn statement on day one of the Army investigation, admitting that all three of his “diaries” for the New Republic were exaggerations and fabrications:

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."

Goldfarb has been dogged in his pursuit of this story since TNR published “Shock Troops,” purported to be the “in-combat” account of PV2 Beauchamp. Goldfarb alerted MILBLOGGERS to check out Beauchamp’s accounts for accuracy or plausibility, and many of us responded (I did numerous times, here, here, here, here, and here.)

While I certainly think it possible that Beauchamp lied under oath to military investigators as a way of minimizing any criminal or administrative punishment, I think that the most plausible explanation is that he fabricated his stories to fulfill his stated intent to come back from Iraq “an author” and anti-war critic with “real credibility,” having seen combat “firsthand” and growing “dehumanization” as a result.

What’s saddest about this episode is that Beauchamp chose a kind of negative attention getting as his manner of seeking significance. (Reality-based communitarians, beware: there are many more Beauchamp’s than truly tortured souls vying for your attention.) Had he served his country, done his time, absorbed the realities of his real soldierly existence in training and in Iraq, grew familiar with his genuine experiences rather than his dark fantasies, he might well have accomplished more of what he wanted.

Sure, no guarantees he wouldn’t have spun his stories the other way upon his return. But that’s sort of a military tradition, too.

Many who served in Afghanistan and Iraq enjoy all the attention, praise, and support a bit too much, and don’t want to let go of what may become the high point of their lives. Veterans have every right to feel satisfaction and the sense of accomplishment for their wartime service, as Veterans always have. I can better sympathize with those Veterans of prior wars who seemed to dwell on their service, linger and languish in story after story of a faded glory. Some people feel that way about high school or college, or sports achievement, or moments of romantic ecstasy, lost now.

The need to grab hold of sudden significance is strong, and the fear of falling back into the obscurity of everyday-ness and everyone-ness can prove too great.

I think I can understand this pitiful Private better than most. I remember the temptation in youth, not always resisted, to embellish, exaggerate, elevate and inflate all manner of experiences to get attention. (Or some desired end result, you one-time lotharios can come clean.)

I remember the (claimed) Vietnam Vet in college who sought to find Joseph Smith’s plates in upstate NY, and by some residue of unexplained intrigue, both the FBI and CIA were after him. I remember the guy in Basic Training who swore that he’d worked for the CIA and run guns in Central America. (Fabulists often seem to single out the CIA as the object of their intrigues. Plausible deniability, I think, and all that. “The CIA makes sure there’s no evidence.”)

In the end, this has never been nor should it remain about Beauchamp. Rather, this sorry spectacle illuminates the sullen prejudice of journalistic elites against the military, and their willingness to be lulled into duplicity by stories that too easily fit their biases. Wags at NRO refer to poor Beauchamp as “Private Second Glass,” in reference to TNR previously falling victim to fabricated reporting.

This has always been more about TNR and editor Franklin Foer, than the substance (or lack thereof) of Beauchamp’s fabrications. The question remains:

Now that the military investigation has concluded, the great unanswered question in the affair is this: Did Scott Thomas Beauchamp lie under oath to U.S. Army investigators, or did he lie to his editors at the New Republic? Beauchamp has recanted under oath. Does the New Republic still stand by his stories?

Also commenting: Uncle Jimbo at Blackfive, and a definitive round-up from Glenn Reynolds, who links to John Podhoretz:

The New Republic has, in essence, defended the personal essay by U.S. soldier Scott Thomas Beauchamp on all grounds save one: That Beauchamp relocated to Iraq an incident in which he participated in Kuwait. In that incident, he supposedly made fun of a horribly burned woman while others laughed along.

It is now looking like that incident was entirely invented, and that The New Republic had reason to know there were problems with its veracity before it published its defense of Beauchamp.

Instapundit also links to Jeff Goldstein, The Corner, Ace of Spades, and Hot Air:

“So Beauchamp was lying the whole time, and now that he has two entirely different stories, he was either lying to TNR, which probably paid him $50 per article and which can’t put him in prison for lying to them (because he’s not under oath when he’s spouting off to Franklin Foer), or he lied to the Army, which pays his entire salary and can and will put him in jail for quite a while if he lies to them . . . . So guess which one Beauchamp is more likely to have lied to — the people who couldn’t jail him, or the ones who could. And would. That’s about as definitive a refutation as we’ll get in this saga, but it’s a good one.”

Two more via Instapundit:

Bill Quick: “The biggest mystery to me is why the mainstream media has any credibility left at all. Maybe its users aren’t looking for credibility any more. Just reinforcement.”

Mark Steyn: “If that Weekly Standard story is correct, it moves Private Beauchamp into full-blown Stephen Glass territory. In essence, they made the same mistakes all over again - falling for pat cinematic vividness, pseudo-novelistic dialogue, all designed to confirm prejudices so ingrained the editors didn't even recognize they were being pandered to. But this time they did it in war, which is worse.”

Discussion:

Dave Price / Dean's World:   TNR "Scott Thomas" Admits Fabrication, Army Finds No Corroboration

BloggingHeads.tv:   Jonathan Chait & Ross Douthat: Special Not-even-spell-checked Edition

Stephen Spruiell, posting at The Corner, notes the irony of differing media reactions, depending on which side of media prejudice a story plays:

What we have argued, repeatedly and in other contexts, is that our counterparts in the Iraq debate have lost all perspective with their focus on American "atrocities" as opposed to Al-Qaeda atrocities. Demand for evidence of the former is so high — and documented abuses so relatively scarce — that we have ambitious aspiring writers willing to lie and exaggerate in order to get published in prestigious national journals, and the editors of those journals willing to believe even the most dubious accounts of wrongdoing.

Compare this state of affairs with the relatively scant attention paid to the unspeakably evil acts of the men who would take hold of Iraq. Take, for instance, the complete lack of interest on display in the media when war correspondent Michael Yon reported, with pictures and on-the-record sources, the existence of an entire village wiped out by Al-Qaeda. If the perspective in the Western media were not totally skewed the other way, perhaps we'd see our aspiring writers rushing to Iraq to make up stories about Al-Qaeda brutality. Then again, one hardly lacks real examples.

It has long been clear what kind of Story mainstream media (MSM) wants to tell about our military. It remains to be seen what story about her military America will want to read.

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