“Yeah, it’s a bummer, but it’s hard to shed any tears over Frank,” Elspeth Reeve was telling The Observer in a phone interview Friday, the day before her husband, U.S. Army Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp, joined her at her mother’s house in Missouri for his 30-day leave.
Earlier that week, Ms. Reeve’s former boss, The New Republic’s editor, Franklin Foer, had published a 7000-word piece that concluded by formally retracting three first-person columns that the 24-year-old Mr. Beauchamp had written for the magazine over the summer. Soon after their publication, a chorus of conservative bloggers had raised questions about the veracity of the columns, in which Mr. Beauchamp offered first-person accounts of American troops in Iraq engaging in shocking behavior, such as running over dogs with their Bradleys, and mocking a woman whose face had been disfigured in an explosion. After carrying out a nearly five-month investigation, which involved attempts to corroborate Mr. Beauchamp’s claims with other members of his unit, Mr. Foer had concluded that the stories could not be verified.
It was Ms. Reeve, 25, who, while working at TNR as a reporter-researcher, had recommended Mr. Beauchamp—not yet her husband at the time—to the magazine’s editors. Nevertheless, Ms. Reeve said, she wasn’t going to let the fact that Mr. Foer had publicly denounced Mr. Beauchamp’s work spoil her mood on the eve of her reunion with her husband.
“[Scott] survived the war, he’s coming home, we’re newlyweds, it’s Christmas,” she said. “I’m living in a romance novel. It’s kind of hard to be down.”
Ms. Reeve said she was surprised to learn, in early November while visiting her husband in Germany (where he was transferred upon completing his tour of duty in Iraq), that Mr. Foer planned to retract the stories. She said that she and Mr. Beauchamp had not expected Mr. Foer to take any decisive action until Mr. Beauchamp returned to the U.S. this week, at which point they thought it would be much easier for him to speak up in his own defense.
“I think Scott thought Frank was on his side, you know? And that he understood that he was in a really difficult situation and so would be patient until Scott got out of Iraq,” Ms. Reeve said. “I don’t think Scott realized the limits on Frank’s patience.”
Ms. Reeve also argued that Mr. Foer’s retraction, titled “The Fog of War,” had failed to prove that any of Mr. Beauchamp’s stories contained fabrications—all it did, she said, was demonstrate that Mr. Foer was tired of dealing with the scandal.
“When I first heard about this piece,” Ms. Reeve said, “I thought they would have taken all the different things that the soldiers had said about each of the three stories and analyzed them for inconsistencies, and said, ‘Here’s where we think Scott exaggerated’ or ‘Here’s where we think the stories don’t match up and that’s why we can’t stand behind them anymore.’ But instead they were like, ‘Here are all the reasons to support Scott, but this is hard.’ And they just threw up their hands.”
Indeed, Mr. Foer’s piece was a classic Alford plea, which declared that even though the re-reporting effort had failed to turn up any discrepancies in Mr. Beauchamp’s stories—other than his placing a key scene in Iraq when in fact it took place in Kuwait, which Mr. Beauchamp has said was an honest mistake—the investigation had hit a dead end. TNR could no longer stand by the stories because too many of the facts were impossible to check, Mr. Foer wrote, and because Mr. Beauchamp, who continues to maintain that he did not fabricate anything, had consistently failed to help TNR in their attempts to vindicate him.
According to Jonathan Chait, a senior editor at TNR, the magazine received little cooperation from Mr. Beauchamp throughout the investigation process. “The basis [for the retraction] was just that Scott is maddening,” he said. “He’s just flaky, he’s irresponsible, he doesn’t do things that are in his own obvious interest to do. … Scott was the guy who lives in the group house and is supposed to pay the electric bill and just doesn’t, and the lights get shut off. Frank was the guy who had the lights shut out on him.” Mr. Beauchamp declined to comment for this story.
According to Mr. Chait, some of Mr. Foer’s colleagues at TNR, though generally supportive of the steps he has taken during the past few months, were not certain that the pieces deserved to be retracted outright just because Mr. Beauchamp had failed to cooperate with the investigation. “I don’t think anybody on staff had a clear idea of what the article would or should conclude before Frank wrote it,” Mr. Chait said.
But Martin Peretz, the magazine’s editor in chief, who, until earlier this year, was also its owner, stood behind the decision to retract the stories. “Certainly in retrospect we shouldn’t have published them,” he told The Observer Monday. “They did not meet the highest standards of proof.”
Mr. Peretz also said Mr. Foer’s piece should finally put to rest the notion, advanced by some conservative bloggers, that Mr. Beauchamp’s stories were intended to undermine the troops’ mission.
“There was certainly no editorial decision to trash the United States Army, because as you know, The New Republic has a very—what shall I say?—careful view of the war,” said Mr. Peretz. “So we would not be motivated in any way to say, ‘Hey this is hot! It makes our soldiers look like shit!’”
As for what the future holds for Mr. Beauchamp and his bride—they’re moving to Germany, where Mr. Beauchamp has two more years of service to complete. Ms. Reeve said Mr. Beauchamp does not yet know what he wants to do when he leaves the Army.