TNR: No Longer Able To Stand By Their Man

(earlier: “Why Did TNR Believe Beauchamp?”)

Frank Foer writes at TNR.com:

    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.

The TNR editor also told Howie Kurtz:

    “I hope our investigation and honest admissions of failure will reassure our readers that we’re committed to the highest standards,” he said.

The editor’s note also mentions Scott Beauchamp’s wife, a fact checker at TNR:

    But there was one avoidable problem with our Beauchamp fact-check. His wife, Reeve, was assigned a large role in checking his third piece. While we believe she acted with good faith and integrity–not just in this instance, but throughout this whole ordeal–there was a clear conflict of interest. At the time, our logic–in hindsight, obviously flawed–was that corresponding with a soldier in Iraq is logistically difficult and Reeve was already routinely speaking with him. It was a mistake–and we’ve imposed new rules to prevent future fact-checking conflicts of interest.

Foer also explains the difficulties inherent in fact-checking Beauchamp:

    Fact-checking is a process used by most magazines (but not most newspapers) to independently verify what’s in their articles. Beauchamp’s anonymity complicated this process. Because we promised to protect his identity, we were reluctant to call Army public affairs to review his claims. What’s more, the fact-checking of first-person articles about personal experiences necessarily relies heavily on the author’s word and description of events.

The memo also uses the occasion to knock some of the right-wing blogs that have dogged him and his magazine since this story began:

  • “By the weekend, the Standard’s editor, William Kristol, published an editorial that, without evidence, pronounced the Diarist an open-and-shut case.”

  • So it was disorienting to find ourselves criticized from the right, too, for supposedly slandering the troops.
    But, regardless of the Standard’s ideological motives, the doubts about “Shock Troops” resonated.”

  • All over the blogosphere, people who presented themselves as experts claimed that the events described in the piece could never have happened. Some of these assertions were vague and meaningless– “They are not ‘Shock Troops.’ They are our best and bravest,” Kristol wrote–as if our soldiers were plaster saints immune from the traumas of war.

  • But conservative bloggers who were fixated on this controversy–one arrived unannounced at TNR’s offices with a video camera, another later attempted to organize an advertiser boycott of the magazine–were treated differently.

    Of course, Foer can’t escape drawing the comparison to Stephen Glass:

      I hadn’t worked with Stephen Glass, who made up stories out of whole cloth, but I knew the lessons derived from that scandal. Fabulists are often nabbed by the little lies, the asides they assume that no one will check. As we began our re-reporting of Beauchamp’s pieces, we searched for the easily verifiable bits of information that would serve as crucial benchmarks. And, on the first full day of our investigation, it didn’t look good for Beauchamp.

    Towards the end of the piece, Foer writes:

      In retrospect, we never should have put Beauchamp in this situation. He was a young soldier in a war zone, an untried writer without journalistic training. We published his accounts of sensitive events while granting him the shield of anonymity–which, in the wrong hands, can become license to exaggerate, if not fabricate.