Franklin Foer has officially withdrawn his support for the reporting of Scott Beauchamp. I’m not terribly surprised with how this turned out, having thought from the beginning that the stories had a certain…Glassian quality about them. It still hasn’t been proven that Beauchamp has a Glass-like fabulist, but believing difficult-to-prove-or-disprove stories comes down to the reliability of the storyteller, and in this case it’s pretty clear that faith in his reliability isn’t warranted. The story probably shouldn’t have been printed, and it was also obviously a mistake to have his wife involved in fact-checking the article.
Having said this, I don’t see anything especially problematic with anything Foer did after questions were raised about the story. I think this passage is worthy of emphasis:
My colleagues and I placed calls throughout the military’s public affairs apparatus in Baghdad and Washington, hoping to set up back channels. We asked officials to provide us any conclusive evidence, even off the record, that would give us faith in the Army’s findings.
We never received this cooperation. 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. After we had posted an online statement explaining that we had been unable to communicate with Beauchamp–who, according to Reeve, was under orders not to speak with us–and pleading with the Army to make him available to us, General David Petraeus’s spokesman, Steven Boylan, told the Standard, “We are not preventing [Beauchamp] from speaking to TNR or anyone.” One of our editors called Boylan’s office on a near-daily basis to set up a phone call with Beauchamp; every time, they told us they were working on our request. After several weeks, we stopped hearing back from them. The Army later confirmed to us that it had, indeed, prevented Beauchamp from speaking.
If the Army has actually provided evidence to TNR that the stories were false, or were even allowing Beauchamp to speak freely, a great deal more of the criticism directed at Foer would be warranted. But that wasn’t the case. Given that Beauchamp wasn’t retracting his stories, and TNR was being prevented from effectively discerning their truth, Foer did the right thing in not saving himself by throwing his writer under the bus prematurely. (He’s also right, of course, that many of the arguments made against the article at the time were obviously specious.)
I also agree with Andrew Sullivan — claims that TNR published Beauchamp in the hope that the “piece would help turn people against those serving in the war” are beyond ludicrous. Leaving aside the fact that TNR‘s turn against the war has been pretty subtle — it doesn’t seem to involve supporting a withdrawal, for example — it doesn’t make any sense. First, if TNR wanted to publish a diarist who would undermine the war effort, publishing someone whose first story was about how a vicious militia cut out the tongue of a boy who was friendly with American troops seems like an odd choice. And secondly, nobody opposed the war because…American soldiers might make cruel remarks about a disfigured woman. I can understand why people defending the fiasco in Iraq want to make arguments about the valor or the troops rather than attempting to defend the war on its actual merits, but they really need to stop projecting.