After running a series of dispatches from the Baghdad Diarist series, the 90-year reputation of the once prestigious New Republic depended on finding and positively identifying a woman with a melted face, a heavily up-armored vehicle nimble enough to hunt down stray dogs and remnants of a baby’s skull that could be worn comfortably under a helmet.
This was the silly and precarious wild-goose chase Editor-in-Chief Franklin Foer led his staff, readers and reputation through to get a “soldier’s introspection.”
Before Foer could move on from the sneers and jeers of his detractors, not to mention the protesters from PETA, he had to throw up a smokescreen, or what is what is commonly known as an internal investigation. What came out, several months later, was a long, pedantic soul-search on how tough it is to prove what you know is right when the facts are just unwilling to comply. Franklin Foer is like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, constantly advocating for what the “American people want,” but refusing to recognize that what they don’t want are people like Pelosi or Reid.
Months after readers called the Baghdad Diarist series a sham, the publication decided it “could not stand by” the stories the New Republic solicited, vetted, edited, printed and distributed. This, of course, was code for Foer’s followers to lament the passing of the old days when the “fake-but-accurate rule” used to govern ideological reporting.
You see, for people like Franklin Foer and many New Republic readers, the fact that no one would stand behind the stories, including the author, was hardly as important as what the stories tried to convey. It reminds me of those Duke professors who signed a petition condemning the white Lacrosse team players, because in the end the team players’ provable innocence was just a distracting fact from the real issue.
By the 6,000th word of Foer’s “Fog of War” essay, it was plain to see Foer cared too; he cared about making sure everyone knew what a thorough, responsible, bright and blameless editor he was. He also cared about discrediting any criticism of the stories and chalking it all up to the amateur “right-wing conspiracy.”
The Baghdad Diarist tales were several drama-packed “short, first-person meditations” from the front lines of a war zone. The prosaic author who was to remain anonymous – which is exactly what you want when you don’t expect to be held accountable – was later revealed to be Thomas Scott Beauchamp, who just so happened to be married to one of the New Republic’s “reporter-researchers.” To Foer’s credit, he recognized that putting a wife in charge of fact-checking her battle-hubby’s war stories was a bit like putting Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., in charge of troop morale. In a moment of adulthood Foer writes, “there was a clear conflict of interest.” Of course, the clarity of that interest only became crystal once he got busted.
Foer, never the shrinking violet, asserts his detractors weren’t professionals, just conservatives, bloggers and pornstars. Franklin may have learned this haughtiness from his time at Columbia University where the righteousness of one’s leftist cause is always beyond reproach.
In frustration, Foer writes that Gen. David Petraeus’ spokesman, Col. Steven Boylan, took forever to get back to him, because he apparently didn’t realize that a call from the New Republic in Washington was far more important than all that silly surge stuff going on in Baghdad.
No one had a problem contacting Maj. Luke Luedeke, public affairs officer at Forward Operating Base Falcon, the home of the Baghdad Diarist. In fact, when I returned to FOB Falcon, Luedeke told me he was swamped by major media requests. I specifically asked if Franklin Foer or someone from the New Republic had been in contact. Luedeke replied, “They called once, a couple of days ago and haven’t called back since.” This is what Foer called “pleading with the Army” for information.
Once at Falcon, I just spoke to the public affairs officer and proceeded to execute what is commonly referred to as reporting.
The higher-ups at FOB Falcon said Beauchamp quickly recanted his Baghdad Diarist stories. I asked the Army if I could talk to the private and was told Beauchamp did not want to speak to any more media. As anyone who has been around the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan knows, there are plenty of jokes and rumors told just to pass the time, or as the editor-in-chief of the New Republic likes to call them, an opportunity to give his liberal readers the kind of imagery they need to justify those long therapy sessions and costly anti-depressants.
During his monologue, Foer repeatedly reminded Beauchamp, “You’re not a professional journalist. If you got anything wrong or exaggerated things, people will understand; it’s better to admit error than get caught in a lie.” Ironically, this was the closest Franklin Foer ever got to being in the same situation as a soldier in Iraq.
Franklin Foer could have ended all this by just erring on the side of caution. At the very least, he could have apologized to members of the military after discovering the holes in credibility. Instead, he came to the conclusion that everyone else came to months before: The Baghdad Diarist was actually a Baghdad Dramatist trying to write the script for the next Hollywood anti-war film flop.
Matt Sanchez, originally from California, is a New York City-based writer currently embedded with the U.S. military in Iraq. His work has appeared in the New York Post, National Review and the Weekly Standard.
A corporal in the United States Marine Corps Reserve and a student at Columbia University where he’s working on degree in American Studies, Sanchez says his mission in Iraq is “to report on the stories that matter the most, first-person accounts by the men and women on the ground.” His blog, Matt-Sanchez.com, chronicles his work.