Even after the Steven Glass embarrassment, The New Republic once again faces yet another major journalistic scandal. Earlier this year they published pieces by a “Baghdad Diarist” and “Scott Thomas” that talked of how US soldiers abused Iraqis, killed dogs and insulted a woman horribly disfigured in an IED blast. His piece, entitled “Shock Troops” was designed to paint a terrible picture of how US soldiers were cracking under the horrors of war. Those in the military immediately latched on to gaping holes in the stories, such as the fact that heavy Bradley fighting vehicles couldn’t be driven in such a way as to swerve to hit things. The questions mounted as The New Republic and its editor, Franklin Foer, continued to stall.
The Baghdad Diarist was revealed to be a Pvt. Scott Beauchamp, who did serve in Iraq, but began to quickly change his story. First, he admitted that the story about the burned woman didn’t occur in Iraq, but claimed it had occurred in Kuwait. This admission itself undercut the whole point of his story that the Iraq War was turning soldiers into monsters. Beauchamp also happened to be married to a TNR staffer, Elspeth Reeve.
Now, it appears that his story is falling completely apart. An Army investigation into the matter has revealed absolutely no evidence that any of his stories were true. No other witnesses, no corroborating evidence, and findings that Beauchamp wanted to the next Hemingway and had manipulated the truth to get there.
This report, along with other evidence uncovered by Matt Drudge paints a very damning picture. Beauchamp himself doesn’t stick by his stories, and understandably doesn’t want anything more to do with the story. He doesn’t directly confess to TNR, but the Army’s Article 15 papers indicates that he has confessed and the Army has found that a preponderance of evidence supports his stories being false.
In short, TNR got hoodwinked again. They fell for someone who told them the stories that matched the biases, and they didn’t bother to check. After all, “Scott Thomas'” allegations fit their particular worldview. They had no way of knowing that his story was false since so few journalists have any military experience and tend to be lazy in checking facts. So they ran with the story, defended in from the initial attacks and dug in against their critics.
One would think that TNR would have learned from the Steven Glass scandal—but sadly, they seem to have made the same mistake again. What this means for the future of TNR is not yet known. However, their credibility has been destroyed not once, but twice now. The numerous journalistic scandals of the past few years only highlight the need for substantial reform in American journalism. The question then becomes whether or not it will take even greater collapses and scandals before professional journalists get the message.