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Foer the Record

11:16 PM, Aug 2, 2007 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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In an interview with the New York Observer earlier today, New Republic editor Frank Foer singles out THE WEEKLY STANDARD for recklessness in raising questions about a pseudonymous column by a soldier in Iraq, Scott Thomas Beauchamp, published two weeks ago in the New Republic. Foer's accusation is misleading and unwarranted.

The article in question, "Shock Troops," was a collection of first-person "vignettes" (TNR's term) that described the author's cruelty and that of his fellow soldiers. The point, according to the New Republic, was to depict "the morally and emotionally distorting effects of war."

The Observer's Michael Calderone writes: "Of the Weekly Standard in particular, Mr. Foer said he did not assist in their reporting when contacted because of 'the reckless way they handled their investigation.'"

This is preposterous. Foer did in fact assist us in our reporting, whatever he now says to the contrary. However, a key corroborating detail that he obtained from the author and passed along to me--before I ever published a word about Scott Thomas Beauchamp--turns out now to have been false.

Before publicly raising questions about Beauchamp's reliability as a narrator of war stories, I interviewed Foer by phone on the afternoon of July 17. His description of the "fact-checking" process for Beauchamp's article did not inspire confidence. Here is how he described the New Republic's due diligence in his interview with me:

"We sent [the article] to a reporter who was embedded in Iraq . . . to see if it all smelled right."

"We pressed this guy for corroborating evidence, and we were satisfied that he provided enough details that everything felt compelling."

"We had a fact-checker talk to a medic who had served in Iraq to make sure that it all smelled right" (referring to the description of the disfigured woman in the mess hall).

After our conversation, Foer followed up with several emails. Here is our entire exchange, with only the email addresses edited out:

From: Frank Foer
Sent: Tuesday, July 17, 2007 4:14 PM
To: Michael Goldfarb
Subject:

Mike,
I have met the writer and know the answers to many of your questions. But when I agreed to publish him pseudonymously, I agreed to protect his identity. He is, after all, currently serving. To go into greater detail would, I fear, violate the terms of my relationship with this writer. I hope you understand.
Best, Frank Foer

From: Michael Goldfarb
Sent: Tuesday, July 17, 2007 4:42 PM
To: Frank Foer
Subject: RE:

Frank,
I want to assure you we've no interest in revealing the name, unit, etc. of your author. But I'd like to ask one more time if it's possible to get any corroborating details, i.e. the base, the place where the bones were dug up, the rank of the woman or whether she is a contractor…any details that would reassure that this isn't fiction.

Best,
Mike

From: Frank Foer
Sent: Tuesday, July 17, 2007 5:45 PM
To: Michael Goldfarb
Subject: RE:

Those are reasonable questions and I'll get you answers shortly.

From: Frank Foer
Sent: Tuesday, July 17, 2007 6:39 PM
To: Michael Goldfarb
Subject: RE:

Mike,
Here are some answers to you questions:
The first incident--the scarred woman--took place on Forward Operating Base Falcon.
The second incident--the skull--took place a couple miles south of Baghdad International Airport in farmland.

And the third question is answered in the piece. We just asked the author about it again, and he reaffirmed what he said in the piece: that he thinks she was probably a contractor, but he's not sure.

Let me know if you need anything else,
Frank

Only after that exchange did I publish my first piece on the subject--a request to the "milblogging community to do some digging of their own, and individual soldiers and veterans to come forward with relevant information--either about the specific events or their plausibility in general."

The reader can judge who was reckless here.