Custom Search

Monday, August 20, 2007

I Don't Think TNR Got "Suckered", I Think They Just Suck

Pajamas Media did some fact checking of their own into the whole Scott Thomas Beauchamp affair, speaking to several people involved in the extraordinary story, including the whistle-blower and a German woman who was Beauchamp’s fiancĂ©e until just before he married, of all people, Miniter discovered, a fact-checker at The New Republic.

They titled their piece "How the New Republic Got Suckered", it is a good read.

One specific portion shows the fact checking process that TNR used:

Let’s go into the fact-checking department. Elspeth Reeve was one of three fact-checkers at the magazine.

Did she fact-check her husband’s articles? While it is hard to believe that an established magazine would make such an elementary error, so far no one at the magazine has bothered to address the question. That’s an interesting omission.

Even if Reeve did not double-check her husband’s reporting, she worked alongside the other two fact-checkers and often shared a take-out lunch with them in the magazine’s conference room. They liked her. Would they really treat Beauchamp’s pieces like an article that floated in from a stranger?

At any publication, staff writing is less closely scrutinized than freelance material. Not coincidentally, virtually all of the journalistic fabrication scandals of the past 30 years—from The Washington Post’s Janet Cooke to The New York Times’ Jayson Blair—involved staff writers. Insiders. Trusted people.

More pointedly, the last two sets of New Republic journalistic scandals—Ruth Shalit and Stephen Glass—were perpetrated by staffers.

Scott Thomas Beauchamp was not a staffer; he may not have ever stepped foot in The New Republic’s two-floor rabbit warren of offices. But he was an insider, through his wife.

Perhaps the fact-checkers believed that they didn’t have to check his work thoroughly because they knew and trusted his wife, who they affectionately called “Ellie.”

The New Republic’s fact-checking department may be structurally flawed. At the magazines with the best reputation for fact-checking, The New Yorker and Reader’s Digest, fact-checking is a career. At The New Republic, it is an entry level job known as “reporter-researcher.” It is a stepping stone, a dues-paying drudgery endured so that one can become a full-time writer. Even the job title is revealing. The “reporter” part comes first. Often the fact-checkers are busy writing items of their own for The Plank, the magazine’s weblog, or the magazine itself. (Elspeth Reeve has written a number of pieces; one was about Bob Tyrell’s book party at Morton’s.) So it would not have taken much for one of the fact-checkers to skim, not scrutinize, Beauchamp’s “Baghdad Diarist” pieces.

Maybe they feel sorry for Reeve because they are partly to blame. Beauchamp published three pieces over a six-month period. Odds are each of the fact-checkers had a hand in one of them.

Then there is the role of the magazine’s editor. Foer had met Beauchamp, shook his hand and talked to him, according to McGee.

That’s the real reason why Foer insisted on correcting his quote in The New York Times about knowing that Beauchamp was a soldier with “near certainty” to “absolute certainty.” Some of the blogosphere’s speculations look overheated once we know that Foer actually met Beauchamp.

Did the fact-checkers also give Beauchamp a pass because they knew their boss, Foer, met and liked the charming young soldier? Is Foer fighting back so hard because he just can’t believe he too was suckered?

McGee, the former assistant to the publisher, thinks so. “They dragged their feet about admitting problems with Beauchamp’s articles because he was married to a staff member,” McGee told me.

Another foot-dragging factor: The New Republic has been hoaxed before—and everyone, even Hollywood, noticed. The film “Shattered Glass” chronicles Stephen Glass’ elaborate fabrications. The Glass incident was painful; who can blame Foer for not wanting to repeat the experience?

The whole article is good and you should read it, they deal with the "cone of silence" that they have shrouded themselves in since this whole story got busted wide open by conservative bloggers.

They also discuss what facts the supposed fact checkers completely missed as well as a number of other things.

I will restate my opinion on this subject.

TNR very well could have come out of this as the "victims", but after having Mr. Beauchamp’s lies exposed, one at a time, instead of owning up to their laziness in fact checking, they continued to stonewall, cast blame in other directions and stand by the original stories.

Right then and there, their "victim" status changed, they became as culpable as Beauchamp himself was and they continued to perpetuate those lies.

All our pieces dealing with the TNR/ Scott Thomas Beauchamp affair are right here on one page.

Keep up with reactions to the PJM article.

Netflix, Inc.