Politics & Policy

Embedded Hostility

A case of "Beauchamping."

Baghdad, IraqThe Scott Thomas affair has, for all intents and purposes, come to a close.

Questionable from the very start, the stories penned by the then-pseudonymous Scott Thomas Beauchamp have now been declared false. The New Republic, which published the pieces by the Baghdad Diarist, defended them vigorously when their author came under fire. But according to Mjr. Steven F. Lamb, the deputy public-affairs officer for Multi National Division-Baghdad, “an investigation has been completed and the allegations made by PVT Beauchamp were found to be false. His platoon and company were interviewed and no one could substantiate [his] claims.”

The New Republic, offered stories by Beauchamp which validated their views of the military and of the war — and which were written by the future husband of one of their researchers — bit hard, and came up worse than empty. What they published was shown not to be simply “inaccurate” or “exaggerated,” but false — and TNR, along with its defenders, went to the mat for it.

The motivation for this is likely not as sinister as some ascribe to TNR — it is highly doubtful that they went to press with a story that they knew to be false, from a source they thought untrustworthy. In all likelihood, they simply found a story that validated their views about the “morally and emotionally distorting effects of war,” which also served as “a startling confession of shame about some disturbing conduct, both [the author’s] and that of his fellow soldiers.” Thinking the source unimpeachable, they ran with it.

A massive part of the problem with TNR and others who seek to run to press with the first available scandal is that, to them, such behavior is the rule in the United States military, rather than the exception (as it is in reality).

If one assumes that the magazine’s editors and its allies on the Left had been waiting for just this opportunity — an opportunity not only to validate their deeply held views of the American military, but also to break the story of a scandal in which U.S. soldiers were the culprits — then its easier to see why they ran these articles without thoroughly checking them (an exercise which ran the risk of showing these too-good-to-be-true tales to be exactly that).

This is not to say that scandal and wrongdoing do not take place, for they certainly do. American soldiers are human. They make mistakes, they do things wrong, and, as is true with the rest of the population, there will always be some very bad apples within the group (as Abu Ghraib and the Pendleton 8 clearly showed). However, if there is any group which better deserves the benefit of the doubt based on its conduct in the past — not to mention freedom from allegations in the absence of absolute proof and necessity — I cannot think of it.

Further, the idea that such a juicy story of inhumane activity and wrongdoing would come from a soldier at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Falcon borders on the absurd. More than almost any other FOB, Falcon is constantly populated with journalists. Many embeds have passed through here, writers like me and my good friends Michael Yon, J. D. Johannes, Matt Sanchez, and David Beriain. None of us has ever seen the soldiers there act even remotely in such a way — and you can rest assured that we would be the first to report it if we did. Not one of us believes that the truth — or the story — is best served by covering up less-than-savory aspects.

However, TNR thought that they had latched onto a gem, and, though holes were poked in Beauchamp’s tales early and often, the editorial staff simply dug in for the fight. They claimed, a la Dan Rather, that “those who have criticized aspects of our story have never criticized the major thrust of our report.” This, of course, was an empty point, for several of the flaws exposed in the Baghdad Diarist’s stories rendered their “major thrust” moot.

The stated purpose in publishing the Baghdad Diaries was to demonstrate “the morally and emotionally distorting effects of war.” To this end, Beauchamp told the story of a woman who had been disfigured by an IED, whom he claims he and a friend ridiculed for her appearance. After claiming repeatedly that this story had been proven true, TNR last week admitted that the incident (if it ever happened) now appeared to have taken place in Kuwait rather than Iraq. At the time that the incident now allegedly occurred, neither Beauchamp nor his companion in boorishness had yet seen war.

Far from proving President Bush’s war a horrible scourge, TNR simply proved, through publication of this “startling confession of shame about some disturbing conduct,” that Scott Thomas Beauchamp had issues long before participating in war. Put in its actual context, the alleged event reflects far more on Beauchamp and his upbringing than it does on President Bush or the effect that “his war” is having on the humanity of American soldiers.

Given the fact that it negates the entire point of the essay, it is not surprising that TNR, having published the original story, would fight to keep the reality from coming to light.

Stories like Beauchamp’s will likely keep coming as long as there is a segment of the population and the media who believe (and look for evidence to support the belief) that Scott Thomas Beauchamp is the rule, rather than the exception. Wishing, however, does not make it so.

As Air Force officer John Noonan said:

None of this detracts from the fact that, of the 160k troops in Iraq, TNR choose a real dirtball to serve as their correspondent. When other soldiers are out building schools, providing medical care, and running security operations for the Iraqi people, TNR decided to highlight a real slug of a mechanic who mocks the disfigured and disrespects the dead for kicks.

This is the crux of the situation: While the vast majority of the American military is doing amazing work in Iraq and around the world, members of the press are still searching for the Next Big Story which will show the military for the inhuman, war-scarred outfit they believe it to be.

Even if TNR’s masthead, and their vociferous supporters on the Left, will not alter their views of the American military as a result of this incident, it is important for the public to learn that these tales of depravity and inhumanity turned out simply to be the exaggerations and fevered delusions of one troubled young man who, as the alleged incident with the woman shows, was in such a state long before he ever experienced the horrors of war.

Jeff Emanuel, a columnist and special-operations military veteran, is currently embedded in Iraq and will be reporting from “Inside the Surge“ throughout August and September.

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