Sunday, August 12, 2007

Fraud?

Left in the West recants its acceptance of reports in The New Republic by now notorious soldier Scott Thomas Beauchamp. "I backed the wrong guy," writes Jay Stevens.

I'm not so sure. I was an agnostic about Beauchamp's honesty before the Army investigation, and I remain one. The only remarkable thing about his story, it seems to me, is the war-backing blogosphere's surprise at learning that soldiers can be cruel and insensitive during wars.

I served in the Army and used to subscribe to The New Republic. Given a choice between the Army's version of events and The New Republic's, I tend to lean toward TNR. For every Steven Glass at TNR, the Army has a Pat Tillman cover-up. Taken in sum, the Army has more incentive and more power to get the results it wants out of an investigation than TNR does.

A couple of other things incline me Beauchamp's way. One is that at least one of the anecdotes he tells makes him look like a real jerk. In my experience, people rarely tell lies that make themselves look bad. The only exceptions I can think of are professional comedians and people who concede a small indiscretion in hopes of concealing a larger one.

The other thing is that the stories are so unexceptional. If I were willing to risk my writing career and professional reputation on a pack of lies, I would print more sensational lies. Admittedly, I have been burned on this point before. When questions were first raised in the "60 Minutes" forged documents scandal, I figured the documents had to be authentic because anyone who would take the trouble to forge documents would have put a little more smoke in the gun. But I may have been wrong. Some people lie just because they can.

So I remain agnostic. But I do hold out against those who argue that Beauchamp's admission that one incident occurred in Kuwait rather than Iraq changes everything. They say that if the incident occurred before he went to war, then that undermines his point that war leads to cruelty. Wrong. The cruelty of war begins well before actual combat.

11 comments:

Don said...

Yeah...I was a little surprised by the retraction at LITW. There's nothing that makes me believe that the Army should be trusted on this.

Chuck Rightmire said...

You have to remember that in the letters that led to Dan Rather's "retirement" it was the provenance that was faulted and so everyone then began to believe they were wrong. But they certainly sounded correct.

The Source said...

Two forces are at work here, one social, the other psychological.

1. Society has finally recognized that the news media are not trustworthy. This is especially true of news delivered via TV. But see, #2, below.

2. An entire generation has been subjected to the virtual realities created by computers. This has lead to a widespread psychological condition wherein many people are uncertain of what is actually real.

David said...

Except that some surveys find that TV is the most trustworthy news source. See, for example: http://www.ajr.org/Article.asp?id=3369

That's a painful and mind-boggling finding for a newspaper guy.

Jim Larson said...

If people had a firm grasp of reality, the west would not have been settled, nor the continent populated. The masses are driven by myth. One of my favorites, one that helped populate the great plains was, "Rain follows the plow."

Anonymous said...

You better hurry up and stop quibbling, David. Rumor has it that the New York Times is considering Beauchamp for the 2007 Jayson Blair Award. Boston Globe Columnist Patricia Smith will make the presentation.

David said...

Quibbling? Please explain.

Jay Stevens said...

From the reports it sounds like Beauchamp signed an affadavit recanting his stories. That's hard to argue against even if it were later revealed that he signed the statement under duress. We're left with a lot of uncertainty and, basically, I didn't want the story or my arguments to be about Beauchamp, but about the realities of war.

That and I just like to man up now and then and admit I'm wrong when I'm wrong.

Anonymous said...

Quibble: 1 : to evade the point of an argument by caviling about words

Cavil: to raise trivial and frivolous objection

(And please don’t start quibbling over cavil.)

David said...

Jay, Maybe he did recant, but it's not quite clear if you read this: http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=w070806&s=editorial081007

Anonymous 101,
To define is not to explain. Why use "quibble" in this discussion? What here looks like quibbling to your tiny mind?

moos said...

Jim - firm grasp of reality? Ha! Rain following the plow, what a concept.