New Republic editor Frank Foer’s nearly 7,000-word retraction of his magazine’s Scott Thomas Beauchamp stories has already received plenty of attention since appearing this weekend. But it’s not immediately clear what precipitated its publication.
Based on Mr. Foer’s account, it does not appear that TNR‘s four-and-a-half-month investigation turned up any new inconsistencies in Mr. Beauchamp’s stories. Nor has Mr. Beauchamp confessed to making anything up.
So why is TNR backing off now?
In an interview this afternoon, Mr. Foer told Media Mob that while there was no evidence to suggest that Mr. Beauchamp had fabricated any of his Iraq dispatches, TNR’s editors had lost confidence in their correspondent over the course of the fall, and had reached a dead-end with their investigation.
“Aside from the Iraq-Kuwait mistake, which is extremely serious and did a lot to throw our confidence in him, we didn’t find other mistakes,” Mr. Foer continued, referring to an anecdote which Mr. Beauchamp had originally described as taking place in a Baghdad mess hall, but which he later admitted occurred in Kuwait. “We just had questions that we weren’t able to answer to our satisfaction. We wanted a layer of evidence and corroboration that went beyond what we were able to obtain via him and our own reporting.”
Mr. Foer continued: “We kind of reached the point of diminishing returns in our reporting, so we felt like we needed to render a final verdict based on the evidence that we had.”
Asked why TNR had not demanded this layer of evidence and corroboration before Mr. Beauchamp’s pieces were published, Mr. Foer said, “There’s a baseline level of trust you have in writers when you assign them pieces.”
Mr. Foer said he had trusted Mr. Beauchamp—then 23 and without journalistic training—largely on the recommendation of Elspeth Reeve, who at the time had been working at TNR for six months as a reporter-researcher.
As Mr. Foer noted in today’s account, Ms. Reeve married Mr. Beauchamp soon after putting him in touch with the magazine. Later, she was assigned to fact-check “Shock Troops,” one of the articles for which Mr. Beauchamp has come under fire.
Mr. Foer said he had asked Mr. Beauchamp to send him copies of the statements he’d made to the Army regarding events he’d described in his TNR pieces, but that Mr. Beauchamp had failed to hand them over.
As a result, said Mr. Foer, “Over time, our confidence in Beauchamp did diminish.” He went on: “We were told he had a legal right to obtain them and he told us he was working on obtaining them.”
Mr. Foer said he has no plans to resign from the magazine, and that no one at TNR has asked him to.