At 9:52 p.m. on the evening of Aug. 6, Michael Goldfarb, the online editor of The Weekly Standard, struck gold.
He’d been hammering away at political rival and fellow beltway-cognoscenti handbook The New Republic for a series of reports run by an anonymous soldier serving in Iraq, who until recently had been known only by the pen name Scott Thomas.
The stories Scott Thomas told were almost too bad to be true.
There was the Iraqi boy whose tongue is cut out for talking to Americans; the dog eating a corpse lying in the street; the troops mocking and sexually harassing a woman whose face had been damaged by an I.E.D.; and the soldier who wore a part of an Iraqi boy’s skull under his helmet.
And on July 18 he said so, asking other military bloggers to check out the stories of the anonymous columnist and find out whether they were true.
“Is it possible that American soldiers would be so sadistic?” Mr. Goldfarb asked rhetorically, referring to the mocking of the I.E.D. victim and then, in turn, to each of the stories told in TNR’s “Baghdad Diarist” column.
Soon, the right-wing blogosphere had taken up the cause. Bloggers exploded with rage that an anonymous soldier might be telling tall tales that maligned the dignity of American troops serving in Iraq. Only, it was not completely clear where the doubts were coming from initially—other troops found the stories implausible and wrote in to Mr. Goldfarb and others to say so; to many, the stories were simply too upsetting to be possible.
On Aug. 2, TNR issued a statement—based on an internal investigation—claiming the magazine had corroborated most of their correspondent’s account. A week earlier, the editors had identified him as Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp.
They did, however, find one serious error. The burned woman described in one of the pieces was indeed mocked in the way Pvt. Beauchamp had described, but the incident took place while she was stationed in Kuwait—before Mr. Beauchamp had been in the country.
The statement released by The New Republic was therefore hardly a triumphant vindication of their writer. But there was some detail about how the magazine had investigated Mr. Beauchamp’s story.
“In this process, TNR contacted dozens of people,” their statement read. “Editors and staffers spoke numerous times with Beauchamp. We also spoke with current and former soldiers, forensic experts, and other journalists who have covered the war extensively. And we sought assistance from Army Public Affairs officers. Most important, we spoke with five other members of Beauchamp’s company, and all corroborated Beauchamp’s anecdotes, which they witnessed or, in the case of one solider, heard about contemporaneously. (All of the soldiers we interviewed who had firsthand knowledge of the episodes requested anonymity.)”
A TNR source confirmed to The Observer that the “re-reporting” project wasn’t just for junior fact-checkers but senior staff, including senior editors Jason Zengerle, Lawrence Kaplan and Michael Crowley—and even former senior editor Ryan Lizza, who officially left the magazine, but had not yet started his new gig at The New Yorker.