The Knucklehead of the Day award
Today's winner is New Republic editor Franklin Foer. Yesterday I blogged about The New Republic and the articles it printed written by Scott Thomas. Thomas is a pseudonym for a soldier in Iraq.
Let me note first, I've subscribed to TNR since 1980, with a few lapses here and there. My current subscription goes back to the late 90's at least. So I actually am one of The New Republic's 40-65,000 subscribers. I usually find myself in disagreement with the magazine, but TFM has always enjoyed people with a different point of view than his own.(I also subscribe to The National Review, the conservative Opinion Journal).Right now I feel the magazine could have been duped. Many bloggers out there think the articles couldn't possibly be true just based on the hideous Stephen Glass affair. This is how I replied to that line of reasoning.
Some could say what's the fuss? TNR has a limited circulation and probably limited influence also. After all, the Glass affair was so horrible, who would believe anything TNR writes? Actually that is the line of reasoning some people are taking. What's the fuss then?I'm trying hard to give TNR the benefit of a doubt. As a subscriber, I hope I haven't been taken for a ride again by the magazine's editors. That lessons were learned from happened nine years ago.
Glass was a journalistic horror story and it severely damaged the magazine's credibility. It doesn't however prove TNR to necessarily be wrong today.
However, more and more of what Thomas has written sounds like BS to me and others. Take for instance this from the first article Thomas wrote.
In Baghdad, a busted infrastructure has left entire neighborhoods navigable by vehicle only. The sector we soldiers patrol is known unaffectionately as "Little Venice" because of the dark brown rivers of sewage that backwash from broken pipes. The biggest fear in these parts isn't sniper fire or IEDs, but a flat tire that forces you to wade through the reeking fluids. Occasionally, that fear is realized--like on the day when I met Ali.Michael Stuart at The Weekly Standard quotes Stuart Koehl who says-
HMMWVs [Humvees] are equipped with a special type of "run flat" tire--there is a solid rubber doughnut wrapped around the rim inside the pneumatic tire. If the inflatable gets punctured, the vehicle settles down on the run-flat insert, which allows it to be driven out of the battle area. The adjustable tire pressure system might keep the tire inflated if it has only a small hole, but its real purpose is to match ground pressure to the road surface for maximum traction. HMMWV tires are huge, heavy, and most vehicles don't carry a spare. A drop-down spare tire carrier has only recently become available as an option on Up-Armored HMMWVs.Not to mention this brochure and a National Defense magazine article that reads-
Notably, the Humvees are not issued with spare tires. When the Army initially purchased the Humvee, it specified that they would not carry spare tires, because its tires can run flat, at least for a short distance until they can return to base to get replaced.Thomas story sounds more and more like bull. Recent Humvees do come with a spare, but still soldiers would get out of harms and shit's way before attempting a repair.
Once again, soldiers in the field had to work around the system to get what they needed. Units in Iraq and Afghanistan have purchased spare tire carriers that can be bolted on the vehicle. “A run-flat tire doesn’t make it all the way when you are running convoys,” said Kern.
None of this is conclusive proof that Thomas is making everything up. Let me quote something that was written nine years ago by Adam Penenberg.
It's tough proving a negative. It is even tougher proving that something or someone does not exist.Pennenberg was referring to an article he and Forbes magazine debunked. It was called 'Hack Heaven' and was written by Stephen Glass at The New Republic.
People trying to disprove Thomas' writings face an uphill struggle. We can raise lots of doubts, but without eyewitness testimony, or the real names of Thomas or anyone corroborating his story, readers and milbloggers can't say anything for sure. TNR has the proof one way or another, and for journalistic reasons unlikely to reveal the info. We can only hope if they been fooled, they'll admit it.
Franklin Foer wrote this to TNR's readers late yesterday afternoon-
Several conservative blogs have raised questions about the Diarist "Shock Troops," written by a soldier in Iraq using the pseudonym Scott Thomas. Whenever anybody levels serious accusations against a piece published in our magazine, we take those charges seriously. Indeed, we're in the process of investigating them. I've spoken extensively with the author of the piece and have communicated with other soldiers who witnessed the events described in the diarist. Thus far, these conversations have done nothing to undermine--and much to corroborate--the author's descriptions. I will let you know more after we complete our investigation.By publishing Thomas writing, the magazine vouched for its credibility. How thoroughly did TNR check anything the author wrote before hand? If they believe its solid, more investigation shouldn't be needed.
A little personal of history of mine with this magazine. 13 years ago TNR published an article called The Imperial Senate or something like that. It was written by a freelancer, some labor attorney in the Midwest. I found 3-4 factual mistakes in the article, in addition to using the author's own words to destroy his thesis. All of this was very obvious, but TNR never printed a correction or my letter. Note- I can't recall the name of the author or exact title of the magazine. Otherwise I'd put it up in parts to point out its flaws.
On the other hand twice more recently I found small mistakes in something written at TNR. In one instance I got an email reply from the author Jeffrey Rosen. Professor Rosen, who is the magazine's legal editor, explained the mistake wasn't his but done in TNR by someone editing his article. An editor changed the amount of Nixon appointees to the Supreme Court from four to three. How outrageous! Editors making a mistake. Well you can read it which ever way you want. TNR editors either changing what Thomas wrote, that causing the article to be called into question or that editors are mistaken about the article's authenticity.
So my own personal experience with mistakes at TNR has been mixed. The magazine's offices are in Washington DC, not far from Walter Reed hospital. Did the magazine ever think of approaching someone independent of Thomas and anyone in his unit to corroborate the authenticity of his writing? Heck they could have looked for one of those evil milbloggers(I'm getting ahead of myself. Be patient) for help. I'm sure one have been willing to help if asked.
Back to Foer's reply to readers. One commenter at TNR's blog The Plank, raises many valid points.
When you chose to publish him anonymously, you vouched for his credibility with your own. With that credibility now at issue, simply vouching for him anew will not suffice. As far as I'm concerned, you need to defend your editorial judgment as well.The commenter is right. This isn't about conservative or liberal but the truthfulness of something published in The New Republic.
Here are just a few of the questions I'd like answered, for starters:
Since literary merit was clearly not a consideration, what prompted your decision not only to publish this particular "diarist" as opposed to others, but to publish only this particular diarist, and to present his stories deliberately, entirely, and I believe irresponsibly, denuded of context?
Were these stories intended to reflect on the men and women serving in Iraq, or is responsibility for the savage consequences of what you print not a factor in the New Republic's editorial process? What sort of reaction did you anticipate, if any?
Did you seek out these stories, or did the author come to you with them in hand? Does he claim to have experienced "the events described" first hand as reported?
How would you go about determining whether or not he is embellishing his own, or others' stories or his own role in them? More to the point, what verification measures did you undertake before publication?
You describe him as a "freelance writer." Does that mean he has other professional credentials, or does it simply mean you are compensating him for his entries on a piece work basis?
Do you know the diarist's real identity, and have you independently confirmed that he is a legitimate member of the armed forces serving in Iraq?
Who arranged your contact with the "other soldiers who witnessed the events described in the diarest," and how did you confirm their identities? Have you communicated personally with any or all of them?
Are you making a distinction between "communicating" with confirming sources and "speaking" with the author? Have you, in fact, literally "spoken" with the author, and have you ever met him in person? Who vouched for his reliability?
This only represents a single angle of concern, and these questions are only "conservative" in the most nonpolitical sense.
Foer doesn't owe conservative bloggers anything, he does owe his subscribers a explanation. Myself included, and I've got serious doubts. At this point Foer isn't doing that job.
Instead we get this quote in a Howard Kurtz column at The Washington Post-
As the criticism mounts, Foer says he sees an ideological agenda.The evil bloggers asking if your magazine verified anything Scott Thomas wrote. How dare them! By the way, not all the criticism is coming from Right. Click here for a liberal blogger and TNR subscriber who rather not find himself agreeing with Michelle Malkin.
"A lot of the questions raised by the conservative blogosphere boil down to, would American soldiers be capable of doing things like the things described in the diarist. The practical jokes are exceptionally mild compared to things that have been documented by the U.S. military. Conservative bloggers make a bit of a living denying any bad news that emanates from Iraq."
How often does Mr. Foer read conservative or Milblogs? A TNR editor once showed his ignorance about what is written at such blogs. Is Foer any different?
Sorry Mr Foer, I'm a subscriber who's been a victim of fraud committed once before by your magazine. Today I have doubts about something written in The New Republic. Yesterday I expressed those doubts to Brad Plummer in a telephone conversation. You owe readers an explanation, not defensiveness(Which is what your quote to Howard Kurtz comes across as. Would you question the motives of those questioning an article if they were the magazine's subscribers? Probably not, you don't want to lose a paying customer. I'm a paying customer) which only makes readers wonder if we been cheated again.
For if we been cheated, subscribers should be asking themselves if subscribing to TNR is worth a single penny of what we pay. The magazine has a circulation of 40-65,000. The movie Shattered Glass quoted 81,500. That was nine years ago, did up to one half the magazine's readers defect based on the Glass Debacle? If they did, what will happen if Thomas is found out to be a fraud too? Can TNR's reputation survive another such hit? Your magazine already cut down on how often its published, going from weekly to every other week. Editor-in-Chief Martin Peretz also sold his stake in the magazine after over 30 years of ownership. Don't think for an instant Mr. Foer that readers don't notice. I did. What's going on at the offices of The New Republic this subscriber asks.
Readers aren't dumb, don't insult our intelligence or question our motives. Franklin Foer did and that's why he is today's Knucklehead of the Day.
Also discussing Scott Thomas and The New Republic- Michelle Malkin, A Blog for All,
Linked to- Adam, Amboy Times, Big Dog, Cao, Church and State, Common Sense America, Dumb Ox, Leaning Straight Up, Maggie, Morewhat, Outside the Beltway, Perri Nelson, Pirate's Cove, Point Five, Right Wing Nation, Samantha Burns, Shadowscape, Stuck on Stupid, Third World County, Webloggin, Woman Honor Thyself, The World According to Carl,