Embedded Journalists and Inbedded Bloggers
This will probably be my last post on the subject of the coordinated attack on The New Republic magazine and Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp by Michael Goldfarb and his employer, the Rupert Murdoch-owned publication, The Weekly Standard.
Not because I have ceased to be interested in this almost textbook smear campaign, nor because I believe that the blogosmearers' camp has either lived up to the bar height for truth that THEY demanded, nor because I am convinced that any stunning new information has "nailed it" -- as nearly as I can tell, in the epistemological sense of truth, of proof, of facts, the issues still stand at deuce -- but mostly because I get the feeling that you don't give a shit, that progressives don't give a shit, that journalists don't give a shit, and, frankly, because there's nothing I can do to stop this lynching any more than Henry Fonda's character could in 1943's The Ox-Bow Incident, which is what this all reminds me of -- minus, of course, any remorse.
Except that a crime had actually been committed in the movie and book. They just strung up the wrong men. Here, we just have the lynching. (By the usual suspects.) And they are stringing up EXACTLY who they intend to lynch.
Oh, I understand why the pussified mainstream press has ignored the story until today. And I understand why, when the New York Times and the Washington Post declare "game over," the "common wisdom" will now claim that the smear is now "fact."
I learned that lesson with Gary Webb:
On December 18, 1997, The Washington Post and The New York Times reported that CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz's investigation found no links between the CIA and the cocaine traffickers.
Webb alleged that the 1997 backlash was a form of media manipulation. "The government side of the story is coming through the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post," Webb stated. "They use the giant corporate press rather than saying anything directly. If you work through friendly reporters on major newspapers, it comes off as the New York Times saying it and not a mouthpiece of the CIA."
James Aucoin, a communications professor who specializes in the history of investigative reporting, wrote: "In the case of Gary Webb's charges against the CIA and the Contras, the major dailies came after him. Media institutions are now part of the establishment and they have a lot invested in that establishment." [Wikipedia]
But, like I said, you don't seem to give a damn, so why should I?
Here's what the New York Times says :
Army Says Soldier’s Articles for Magazine Were False
By PATRICIA COHEN
Published: August 8, 2007
An Army investigation into the Baghdad Diarist, a soldier in Iraq who wrote anonymous columns for The New Republic, has concluded that the sometimes shockingly cruel reports were false.
“We are not going into the details of the investigation,” Maj. Steven F. Lamb, deputy public affairs officer in Baghdad, wrote in an e-mail message. “The allegations are false, his platoon and company were interviewed, and no one could substantiate the claims he made.”
The brief statement, however, left many questions unanswered. Just last week The New Republic published on its Web site the results of its own investigation, stating that five members of the same company as Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp, who had written the anonymous pieces, “all corroborated Beauchamp’s anecdotes, which they witnessed or, in the case of one soldier, heard about contemporaneously. (All of the soldiers we interviewed who had first-hand knowledge of the episodes requested anonymity.)”
...Private Beauchamp is married to a reporter-researcher at the magazine, Elspeth Reeve. [NOTE: WHY this is important, I don't know. Kurtz in the Washington Post ALSO seems to find this valuable, indicating, perhaps they're reading the same press releases -- HW].
Michael Goldfarb, the online editor at The Weekly Standard who had initially raised doubt about the columns, wrote yesterday that The Standard had learned from a source close to the Army investigation that ... *
[From NYU Professor of Journalism, Jay Rosen:
In fact, there is a gentleman’s agreement among journalists not to investigate each other’s confidential sources. Whenever I have asked about this, I have never heard a reporter try to justify the arrangement. (I don’t think it can be done) Nor do they deny it. Good question for Howard Kurtz to ask on “Reliable Sources.” ]And, speaking of Howard Kurtz, the rather gullible "media critic" at The Washington Post chimes in, completing the two-paper trifecta:
Army Concludes Baghdad Diarist Accounts Untrue
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 8, 2007; Page C01
Army investigators have concluded that the private whose dispatches for the New Republic accused his fellow soldiers of petty cruelties in Iraq was not telling the truth.
The finding, disclosed yesterday, came days after the Washington-based magazine announced that it had corroborated the claims of the private, Scott Thomas Beauchamp, except for one significant error.
"An investigation has been completed and the allegations made by Pvt. Beauchamp were found to be false," an Army statement said. "His platoon and company were interviewed and no one could substantiate the claims."
But New Republic Editor Franklin Foer is standing his ground. "We've talked to military personnel directly involved in the events that Scott Thomas Beauchamp described, and they corroborated his account," Foer said. The magazine granted anonymity to the other soldiers it cited.
A military official, who asked not to be identified because the probe is confidential ...
Whooh. SOME confidential. Can you say "intentional leak"? Naw. No media manipulation here. Move along. Move along.
Besides the heaping helpings of quotes from Michael Goldfarb (in both newspapers, you'll note), in the story, here's a FAUX NOOZish paragraph in Kurtz' story that neatly accuses TNR through another's words (for you collectors) , AND snarkily revives the old Glass scandal that the blogosmear is HOT to tar TNR with, anew:
The Army probe provides ammunition to conservative critics who have accused the liberal magazine of publishing Beauchamp's "Baghdad Diarist" essays without adequate checking and being too quick to believe that American soldiers would engage in questionable conduct. It also revives fading memories of the magazine's 1998 fabrication scandal involving writer Stephen Glass.
But even Howard Kurtz is uncomfortable with this whole mess (and it's 'confirmation'), so he stages a little "debate," acting as puppeteer:
[New Republic Editor Franklin] Foer said the New Republic had asked Maj. Steven Lamb, an Army spokesman, about the allegation that Beauchamp had recanted his articles in a sworn statement, and that Lamb had replied: "I have no knowledge of that." Before going incommunicado, Beauchamp "told us that he signed a statement that did not contradict his writings for the New Republic," Foer said.
"Thus far," he added, "we've been provided no evidence that contradicts our original statement, despite directly asking the military for any such evidence it might have."
But Weekly Standard writer Michael Goldfarb said: "We have full confidence in our reporting that Private Beauchamp recanted under oath."
It is not clear whether investigators might have pressured Beauchamp into disavowing the articles...
But Kurtz wants us to understand how an inquisition works, so he tosses this charge and this explanation into the Punch & Judy Show:
The Weekly Standard, the conservative magazine that has led the charge against Beauchamp, cited an unnamed military source yesterday as saying that Beauchamp had signed an affidavit acknowledging that his three articles were filled with exaggerations and falsehoods. That could not be independently confirmed, but it is common practice for the subject of an investigation to sign a statement confirming or denying the conduct in question.
And he concludes with the old trick of having someone else come to a conclusion:
Mark Feldstein, a journalism professor at George Washington University, called the Army's refusal to release its report "suspect," adding: "There is a cloud over the New Republic, but there's one hanging over the Army, as well. Each investigated this and cleared themselves, but they both have vested interests."
[NOTE: this is not a 'Fisking' of Kurtz. But considering the "weight" that the appellation 'The Washington Post says' carries, it's worth taking a moment to look at the writing critically. It's still a "he said/she said" story, advanced not a whit, but now is taken as THE GOSPEL, because of the two papers.]
Of course, behind the scenes, the media manipulation continues, now that they've got the brand names to bash with. Here, from Brent Bozell's "Newsbusters" ("Exposing and Combating Liberal Bias in Media"):
New Republic Refuses to Retract Thomas 'Reports'
By Bob Owens | August 8, 2007 - 13:37 ET
In an e-mail message, Mr. Foer said, "Thus far, we've been provided no evidence that contradicts our original ...
Gee. That's funny. Bob Owens, who supposedly received the first Army email from General Petraeus' official mouthpiece, P.R. Officer Lt. Col. (now Col.) Stephen Boylan (but the New York Times and The Washington Post and The New Republic only get Major Lamb, Boylan's deputy) which forms the BASIS of this story, along with Michael Goldfarb's evident pushing in BOTH the media and the blogosphere (remember, he CALLED for this firestorm, back in mid-July). Bob Owens, "Confederate Yankee," calls for, I guess, the public castration of The New Republic by quoting the NYT and WashPo stories -- stories in which he's not mentioned, but of which he was an architect, and Newsbusters has the GALL to talk about "liberal bias"?
So, is Owens a partisan,* or is he a journalist, or is he engaging in media manipulation? None of the above? Or all of the above?
[*A Pajamas Media blogger -- Pajamas Media having been founded by Little Green Footballs' Charles Johnson and mystery writer (e.g. "Fabulist") Roger L. Simon, a Powerline(blog) partner. LGF is proud of his part in a similar smear on Dan Rather. Powerline is prominent in this smear, as were they prominent in MY smearing last month at about the time this whole Beauchamp affair was whipped up.]
But then, Col. Stephen Boylan, General Petraeus' top Public Relations flak answers HIS emails. So he's got to be SOMEbody. (As opposed to the NYT, WashPo and TNR, who only get his deputy Maj. Lamb).
Gee, do you suppose that this campaign was looking for a victim, jumped over me (after finding out that I was "an obscure blogger") and landed on The New Republic? Naww. Or perhaps this was a campaign looking for PR cover for the Pentagon, what with the rape-murder convictions, continued Gitmo controversies, and the Pat Tillman story? You know, if they could push THIS story into the news cycles, it would help obscure the aforementioned scandals? Of course not! That would smack of media manipulation, and, as we all know, NOBODY in the Bush administration engages in active manipulation, disinformation and intimidation of the press. Heaven forbid the very notion! Why, just today, General Petraeus attributed the 190,000 missing weapons in Iraq to "clerical errors. (And "Bookkeeping deficiencies" according to the Washington Post's story on "in an interview broadcast last night on Fox News Radio's 'Alan Colmes Show'.")
But it's kind of strange how we find Brent Bozell's looking-glass version of MediaMatters less concerned with "accuracy" in reporting than in advancing the ball up the field.
The "article" on liberal bias that ends with this tag:
Cross-posted at Confederate Yankee.
The article that reads like the final Affirmative rebuttal in a debate. Except that this hasn't been so much a debate as an inquisition. (Which quotes the NYT and WashPo articles as its PROOF that the case is true. The case that was shoved down the NYT and WashPo's throats, it should be noted.)
[Old Bob's a busy 'journalist' today. In addition to his summation of the Case Against Heretic Beauchamp, he's going after Reuters for 'falsely' reporting a massacre, aided by, mysteriously, Maj. Rob Parke, an Army Public Relations officer in Iraq:
Ho-Hum: Yet Another False Media-Reported Massacre In Iraq
On Sunday, Reuters reported that the scene of a large massacre had been discovered near Baquba:
BAGHDAD, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Iraqi police said on Sunday they had found 60 decomposed bodies dumped in thick grass in Baquba, north of Baghdad. There was no indication of how the 60 people had been killed, police said. Baquba is the capital of volatile Diyala province, where thousands of extra U.S. and Iraqi soldiers have been sent to stem growing violence.
Why did the police have such a hard time providing an indication of how the 60 people had been killed? Probably because there were no bodies to examine.
Via email from Major Rob Parke, U.S. Army:
Bob, This story is false. We have had coalition soldiers looking for the last two days at the locations that IPs reported these bodies. We've asked all the locals in the area and they have no idea what we are talking about. We've gone to areas that might be close, gone to suspicious locations, all turned up nothing.
Most of the news stories all say the report stated decomposing bodies which would indicate if it was true, it happened before we arrived. Considering we discovered an Al Qaeda Jail, courthouse, and torture house in western Baqubah, it wouldn't surprise me if there were 60 bodies buried out there somewhere. Bottom line is we have done some extensive looking and found nothing.
This is the second large-scale massacre reported in major wire services in less than six weeks that seem utterly without merit; both Reuters and the Associated Press were duped by insurgents posing as police officers who claimed 20 beheaded bodies were discovered near Um Al-Abeed on June 28.
That was also false.
As we can all clearly see, Bob Owens "private citizen" is a completely independent voice, whose veracity is beyond doubt. Glad to know that Reuters is lying to us. Good catch Bob! Onward.
So, since I'm finished with this story, like you, I will just note that on Sunday, I went to the official Iraq Coalition webpage (Army*) and got the official press contact (a generic address, and not very easy to find on the "press" website) and I wrote them this:
[* For some weird reason the website for the Coalition is a DOT com, registered through Tucows. What? The Pentagon has their own Top Level Domain! (.mil). They INVENTED the bloody internet. So WHY are they paying for a dot COM registered site? What the hell kind of insanity is that?]
from: Hart Williams Aug 5 (3 days ago)
date: Aug 5, 2007 12:08 PM
RE: Investigation policy
To whom it may concern:
I am a freelance journalist in the USA. What is official policy on releasing the results of internal investigations?
What information can you release to me regarding the investigation of Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp vis a vis a "Baghdad Diary" published in THE NATIONAL REVIEW, and the subject of much press speculation stateside?
Oddly, unlike blogger Bob Owens, and Michael Goldfarb at The Weekly Standard, I have received no response to my query. I was under the impression, of course, that the U.S. Army responds to ALL media requests in an equitable manner, but I guess maybe blogger Bob Owens and Michael Goldfarb's clearly stated agenda --to punish The New Republic and, oh, now that we know who he is, to crush Pvt. Beauchamp in the press, a sort of "anti-Jessica Lynch" -- more closely conforms to the Administration's agenda than does the modest query of one freelance journalist. That's ungentlemanly of me. I'm sure that Owens and Goldfarb aren't in cahoots with the Pentagon. They've got nothing to hide, and certainly don't manipulate the press as part of their mission.
No reply. Three days later and counting on a "hot" story that the Army recognizes is hot ENOUGH that they've been burning through the tubes of the internets to get their confirmations (that refuse to divulge details) and via anonymous Army sources that the story has been RECANTED.
It is entirely fit and proper that we use the language of inquisition to denote this result. Beauchamp has RECANTED. His statements "exaggerations and falsehoods — fabrications containing only 'a smidgen of truth'," according to New York Times writer Patricia Cohen QUOTING Michael Goldfarb's blog report on his orchestrated and ofttimes self-referential story.
The point being that I was curious as to how come it was that this North Carolina blogger, Bob Owens, was getting earth-shaking emails from the Army officer in charge of ALL embedded media in Iraq, Col. Stephen Boylan? I would have settled for less.
And how come the story has now been shuttled down the chain of command to Public Relations officer Major Stephen Lamb?*
[*See Online Journal's report:
The Pentagon's 'thought police'
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Jan 11, 2006, 02:16
The Pentagon's "Media Engagement Team" has set up shop in the region. Its members, consisting of military personnel and contractors approach various publications and ask for an appointment, whereby owners and editors are urged to publish "positive" stories concerning the US military's activities in the area.
On some occasions, the team receives a polite hearing. On others, it is shown the door. I find this Orwellian behaviour offensive on many different levels...
Mostly because you won't hear a WORD questioning the Pentagon in all of this.]
What was the news today? Only a confirmation that Goldfarb and Bob Owens' quoted letters were real, and not forgeries (which, you'll note, I did not question in my prior posts as authentic, even though the sheer concord between the Army emails and the bloggers' agendas EXACTLY coincided.0
Which tells us nothing new, except that the Washington Post and the New York Times have now drunk the Koolaid, and the story has achieved the status of "fact."
NOTHING new has transpired, except that 'anonymous' Army officers confirm, and, perhaps the Goldfarb letter was sent to the New York Times reporter who either confirmed its contents with the official Pentagon Press Officer, or else didn't. (The NYT, remember, has been guilty of journalistic crimes at LEAST as egregious as The New Republic's Steven Glass scandal -- which the Goldfarbs and Owenses are harping on as "proof" of some nefarious intention of TNR to fake stories between 1998 and 2007. )
Howard Kurtz, on the other hand, sounds like a bit like a reporter who's drunk the Koolaid only after his jaws were pried open and a tube shoved down his esophagus. But, with the WRITER of the piece in question SILENCED and unable to defend himself, the debate can now conclude. Fair and Balanced. Balanced and Fair.
Sure am glad that those "Newsbusters" are there to expose and combat bias in the media. Liberal bias, I mean. Good going, Brent Bozell. And I'm glad that Michael Goldfarb can orchestrate a three-week concerted effort to silence, expose, smash and humiliate a young writer serving in the Iraq war. And I'm really proud that a thousand Rightie bloggers can strut and preen and posture and, being the sore winners that they are, swagger into mainstream blogs to bitch-slap non-complicit journalists:
From The Atlantic [Magazine] Online:
The Atlantic Online
Of my conversation with Jon Chait this morning - in which I argued that TNR probably shouldn't have run the Scott Thomas Beauchamp pieces, but also contended that the right-wing blogosphere's reaction has often run well over-the-top - Ace of Spades writes:
- Okay, Ross.You keep earning your reasonable stripes by basically kissing your liberal pals' asses while meanwhile saying nothing at all -- except to the extent you just agree with what your betters have figured out before you did. On the other hand, it gets rather good here. Here Douthat notes what was pointed out to him by the "ludicrous" "Michelle Malkin slash Ace of Spades front" -- namely, that Beauchamp seems to have most likely lied, and not made an "error," in claiming the Burned Woman mockery occurred in Iraq rather than Kuwait -- and Jonathan Chait admits that it does seem reasonable to conclude Beauchamp did not make an "error" but rather deliberately lied. Remember, though, Douthat, who did nothing on this story, is superior to any of us rightwing crazies simply by parroting what we have written.
Equally ludicrous is the amount of attention - thousands upon thousands of words of speculation and vituperation - paid by right-wing blogs to a story that, while interesting and worth investigating, tells us nothing all that significant about the media except the obvious truth that magazines often run ill-chosen, under-vetted pieces, particularly in the less-frequented pages of an issue, particularly when the author of the piece has a personal connection to someone on staff, and particularly when the subject matter is largely "on author" and therefore difficult to fact-check. (I tried to make this point in the dialog with Chait, but I'll make it again: a lot of people in the blogosphere seem to think that magazines have infinite time and resources with which to fact-check their pieces, when in fact there wouldn't be any political magazines if they all lavished the kind of care on fact-checking that the Atlantic and New Yorker can lavish on a story.) TNR certainly deserved to be called out, by Mike Goldfarb and others, for running a piece that seemed fishy, and nothing that's followed has altered my sense that Beauchamp's tales seemed at least touched by exaggeration. On the other hand, nothing that I've seen has convinced me that he's a Stephen Glass-style fabulist, either, and I don't think that Beauchamp's recantation to his superiors settles anything one way or another; given the threat of court-martial involved in standing by his stories, he seems at least as likely to be lying to his superiors as to be lying to TNR...
[HW note: links and emphasis added]
Media manipulation? Perish the thought. The rightie blogosmear being held to the same bar of truthfulness that their victims are held to? Don't make me laugh.
Like I said, nobody gives a damn. But, if you read "Air On A G-String" you might recall my citation of Jay Rosen's essay "Rollback." The thesis is important here:
No more honest brokers; claims take the place of facts. Disguised by the culture war’s ranting about media bias, these very things are happening all around us today. Limits on what liberties could be taken with the factual record without triggering a political penalty are being overcome.... I should add that rollback intersects with trends in journalism that, as Tom Rosenstiel notes, are promoting a 'journalism of assertion' (cheap, easy, safe) over the discipline of verification (expensive, hard, and certain to spur more attacks as the culture war wears on.)
But now the event has acquired the authority of the printed word (e.g. the NYT and the WashPo) and thus, the battle is over. NOW they crush those that opposed them, and force the editor of The New Republic to walk The Plank.
As the sharks rejoice.