Bloggers take sides in the Weekly Standard vs. New Republic battle over the "Baghdad Diarist," and they mull bad news from Basra.
Baghdad fabulist? It looks like the New Republic might have another Stephen Glass on its hands. The Weekly Standard's WorldwideStandard editor Michael Goldfarb reported that Army Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp has admitted to fibbing his way through three pseudonymous dispatches (subscription required) that TNR published between January and July. Goldfarb also writes that an Army investigation has debunked Beauchamp's claims. But TNR is standing by its man: A brief posting on The Plank todaysimply says the Army won't confirm Goldfarb's allegations. Both publications cite the same source—Maj. Steven F. Lamb. The Weekly Standard follows up on TNR's statement by sticking to its story; the Columbia (Mo.) Tribune backs up Goldfarb. It all started last month when Goldfarb mobilized bloggers to check the veracity of Beauchamp's most recent article. Last week, the editors defended Beauchamp, who's married to a TNR staffer.
Some on the right respond with irate glee. Hugh Hewitt demands that heads roll at TNR, writing that Goldfarb's revelation "can only result in the firing of, at the minimum, Franklin Foer, editor of the once-respected New Republic." And Mark Steyn sighs in the National Review's The Corner, "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." Law prof Ann Althouse says it was easy to see how TNR "succumbed. The writing was sharp, the man was on the scene where he could witness important events, and he was speaking in a voice they wanted to project." She also provides a helpful roundup of blogger reaction.
At Balloon Juice, liberal John Cole calls the reaction "absurd." And some bloggers, including Rick Moran at Rightwing Nuthouse urge their cohorts to move on: "Exposing Beauchamp was a good thing, don't get me wrong. But holding TNR and their soon to be ex-editor Franklin Foer to account for their laziness, their bias, and their incompetence is enough. … [B]y overhyping stories like the Beauchamp caper, the credibility of the medium suffers. For that reason alone, it may be time to put down the bloodstained hatchets and begin to seriously examine just what we should be doing that will increase our influence." Captain's Quarters' Ed Morrisey agrees: "[W]e need to keep some perspective on this story, which never amounted to much more than gossip and innuendo at any point."
Freelance writer Jim Henley at Unqualified Offerings smells a rat: "There's the screamingly obvious possibility that Beauchamp signed his recantation under duress … so screamingly obvious that Goldfarb won't even broach the possibility." But, as An Army Lawyer explains: "Here's the thing, if he was lying, there's not much that he can be charged with." Even so, is his military career cooked? A "former member of the U.S. intelligence community," Spook 86 at In From the Cold thinks so: "With his lies and distortions in The New Republic, Private Beauchamp destroyed the trust of his fellow soldiers, rending him ineffective for almost any military endeavor this side of KP."
But milblogger Blackfive, who has contributed volumes to the Beauchamp blogswarm, is ready to forgive and forget: "I say let the Private get back to winning the war. I've known a few sh!tbirds in my day that became decent NCOs. Not holding my breath on that, but stranger things have happened."
Here's a sober take from the Moderate Voice's Joe Gandleman: "One issue is whether the piece was accurate, embellished or made up. The other issue is those who jumped on it because it came from a Democratic magazine, was critical of the troops and either totally or partially saw it as a way to go after a publication with which they disagreed. Discrediting is a key part of the 21st century political game. And some will also ask whether TNR let its journalistic guard down due to political preferences."
Read more bloggers on the Beauchamp scandal. Slate first covered the dust-up last month. In Slate, Iraq vet Phillip Carter admits he's skeptical but writes that "bad things still happen in war and anyone who finds Beauchamp's story incredible merely because it's upsetting has no idea what war can do."
Defeat in Basra: The situation in Basra, in southern Iraq, is deteriorating as British troops withdraw, says the Washington Post. Nearly entirely Shiite, the oil-rich port city and surrounding region had been spared the worst of the sectarian violence. But warring political factions and criminal gangs have taken over.
Liberals read the news as further evidence that the war is hopeless. Daniel DiRito writes at Bring it On! that the situation "typifies what has been happening in Iraq during much of the occupation. … [S]ecurity is achieved in designated areas but soon after the troops are relocated to other hot spots, the chaos and violence resumes." Dr. Steven Taylor at PoliBlog is likewise unsurprised: "Basra and its environs have long been said to be an example of good Iraq. However, if that region is going to degenerate into internecine fighting amongst Shiites over power and economic resources, what is going to happen in Baghdad and the Sunni triangle when troops leave?" Michael J.W. Stickings adds at the Reaction: "the article is a wake-up call to get out, and get out now, while the military still has a say in what an American withdrawal will look like."
Blake Wilson is a Slate contributor and former Slate editor.