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August 09, 2007

WaPo and NYT Having Soft-Pedaled The Beauchamp Scandal, It Falls To AP To Get A Little Rough

Yeah, the AP. Maybe they can just spot shoddy editorial oversight a bit better, having had so much practice with it themselves.

"During that investigation, all the soldiers from his unit refuted all claims that Pvt. Beauchamp made in his blog," Sgt. 1st Class Robert Timmons, a spokesman in Baghdad for the 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, based at Fort Riley, Kan., said in an e-mail interview.

Calls to Editor Franklin Foer at The New Republic in Washington were not returned...

[Bob Steele, the Nelson Poynter Scholar for Journalism Values at The Poynter Institute school for journalists] said he was troubled by the fact that the magazine did not catch the scene-shifting from Kuwait to Iraq of the incident Beauchamp described involving the disfigured woman.

"If they were doing any kind of fact-checking, with multiple sources, that error -- or potential deception -- would have emerged," Steele said.

He added that he was also troubled by the relationship between Beauchamp and Reeve, his wife, who works at The New Republic. "It raises the possible specter of competing loyalties, which could undermine the credibility of the journalism," he said.

Just to crow a little: I have maintained TNR did not have three actual corroborating witnesses for Beauchamp's tales, but merely one, corroborating all three. Evidence for that has been 1) common sense, as TNR was clearly attempting to create the impression of wide corroboration for its story, and would have specifically said its key witnesses were different men if that were in fact the case and 2) the fact that I know that TNR is keeping tabs on this blog, and while I have asserted this two or three times before now (maybe even four), they've never contradicted me.

I have a bit more evidence now. Let's count witnesses.


The New Republic said it also spoke to five members of Beauchamp's company, all of whom corroborated Beauchamp's anecdotes but requested anonymity.

Five. Five total witnesses. But actually four because TNR itself says:

we spoke with five other members of Beauchamp's company, and all corroborated Beauchamp's anecdotes, which they witnessed or, in the case of one solider, heard about contemporaneously.

Forgive me for concluding the fifth witness actually heard about one of these episodes directly from Scott Beauchamp himself -- if he heard it from another source, TNR would say so, thus establishing five first-hand witnesses, one of whom reported his story to a sixth witness (this one a hearsay, second-hand) witness. And forgive me further for not putting much credence in what Scott Beauchamp writes nor what he might tell his fellow soldiers.

So, really: We have four soldiers TNR claims "corroborate" elements of Scott Beauchamp's story.

For the first incident, we have three "witnesses," only one who actually partly corroborates Beauchamp's claim of mocking the disfigured woman. Two only say, TNR claims, they saw her around Camp Beuhring. (Actually, all refute Beauchamp's account, as they place her in Kuwait, not in Iraq, after the horrors-of-war effect set in, but three actually say they've seen her. But only one specifically corroborates the mocking.)

Three soldiers with whom TNR has spoken have said they repeatedly saw the same facially disfigured woman. One was the soldier specifically mentioned in the Diarist. He told us: "We were really poking fun at her; it was just me and Scott, the day that I made that comment. We were pretty loud. She was sitting at the table behind me. We were at the end of the table. I believe that there were a few people a few feet to the right."

There are three of our four witnesses right there, right out of the gate.

On to the bones.

In the second anecdote, soldiers in Beauchamp's unit discovered what they believed were children's bones. Publicly, the military has sought to refute this claim on the grounds that no such discovery was officially reported. But one military official told TNR that bones were commonly found in the area around Beauchamp's combat outpost. (This is consistent with the report of a children's cemetery near Beauchamp's combat outpost reported on The Weekly Standard website.)

More important, two witnesses have corroborated Beauchamp's account. One wrote in an e-mail: "I can wholeheartedly verify the finding of the bones; U.S. troops (in my unit) discovered human remains in the manner described in 'Shock Troopers.' [sic] ... [We] did not report it; there was no need to. The bodies weren't freshly killed and thus the crime hadn't been committed while we were in control of the sector of operations." On the phone, this soldier later told us that he had witnessed another soldier wearing the skull fragment just as Beauchamp recounted: "It fit like a yarmulke," he said.

Two witnesses they claim "corroborate" Beauchamp's story here. But only one mentions anything about the Skull Yarmulke. The other it seems merely verifies the finding of bones (which the other witness also does). Note that TNR puts almost all the emphasis here on whether a cemetery exists in the first place; of course it does, WS's army sources confirmed that aeons ago. But they claim that this fact is in doubt so they can trot out the "corroboration" of one witness who is merely confirming that which is already well-confirmed, i.e., that there was a cemetery at all. And also note that the witness replying by email at first only mentions the existence of bones; it's only later, on a phone call (and at TNR's prompting) that he remembers "Oh yeah, there was a guy who wore a child's skull as a beanie. Strange how I didn't think to mention that earlier."

At any rate, the oddness of that aside, we have only one witness actually corroborating the Skull Yarmulke, and another guy saying "Yeah, we found some bones." Whoop-de-doo that TNR was able to track someone down to establish bones could be found in Iraq.

Counting up: Kiddies, we're already at five witnesses if we assume each of these witnesses to be a separate person, but we know that TNR only claims four first-hand witnesses (the "fifth" witness hearing about once incident from someone else, almost certainly Beauchamp himself).

Thus, we know for a fact we have at least one witness pulling double-duty corroborating both stories. Which witness would that be? Well, it would seem most likely that it's the same guy giving TNR its best, strongest quotes in the first incident, the Chatty Cathy Comrade in Cruelty who admits (or claims) his part in the mockery of the disfigured woman.

After all, in each of these two cases only one "witness" seemed willing to let his words be quoted by TNR. Or only one witness seems to be speaking/emailing TNR at any length, at least. It would be strange if a soldier permitted his words to be quoted for one incident but not another incident he was also corroborating. One guy is willing to be quoted as regards the first incident, and one guy is willing to be quoted as regards the second; in all likelihood it's the same guy, not two different guys who for some reason only wish to be quoted for one part of their confirmation.

So: Four witnesses down so far, one man having corroborated both stories, and almost certainly that same man providing the key quotes -- the ones most crucial for Beauchamp and TNR -- for both stories.

On to the third story:

The last section of the Diarist described soldiers using Bradley Fighting Vehicles to kill dogs. On this topic, one soldier who witnessed the incident described by Beauchamp, wrote in an e-mail: "How you do this (I've seen it done more than once) is, when you approach the dog in question, suddenly lurch the Bradley on the opposite side of the road the dog is on. The rear-end of the vehicle will then swing TOWARD the animal, scaring it into running out into the road. If it works, the dog is running into the center of the road as the driver swings his yoke back around the other way, and the dog becomes a chalk outline."

One witness here, and again a witness willing to provide an email verification to TNR. As we've already used up all four witnesses, this must of course again be a witness pulling double-duty. Or most likely: Triple duty, confirming all three stories.

Here I should admit it is mathematically possible that this particular witness only can corroborate this one story and is not one of the previous corroborators; assume both of the sources for the second story were also sources for the first, and that allows this one guy to be the fourth witness, a new witness.

But I'll just fall back on simple likelihood for this one. We have seen in the two previous incidents only one soldier willing to be quoted with a statement that actually confirms the heart of Beauchamp's tales -- i.e., not just that a woman existed, but that she was cruelly mocked, not just that bones existed, but that some jackass (Beauchamp himself?) wore a child's skull as a beanie. We may have a brand new Corporal Quotey McQuoterton for this one, but I'm guessing it's the same old Corporal Quotey McQuoterton we've met twice already.

So ultimately TNR has one confirmation for anything of any importance of any level of serious dispute in these stories. If it's not true: Well, they've read me saying it three or four times now. One would imagine they'd cry foul at some point.

Who is this single witness?

Well, it seems most likely it's the bosom chum who admits (or claims) to have roared with laughter as Beauchamp viciously mocked a disfigured woman, right to her "melted" face.

And what, precisely, is such a man's word worth?

War changes a man and hardens his heart and all that, but again, this happened before either man had stepped foot in Iraq. War can be blamed for many things, but not for the fact that Beauchamp and his buddy are born and bred assholes.


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posted by Ace at 03:06 AM

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