At 9:55 a.m. this morning, The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz broke the news on Twitter that Frank Foer was stepping down as editor of The New Republic. Twelve minutes later, he posted a micro-obituary of the man’s tenure. “Foer out: His worst moment as New Republic editor was running unproven allegations from soldier in Iraq and waiting months to retract them.” Mr. Foer edited the magazine for five years, producing some excellent journalism—but for Mr. Kurtz, a dean among journalism critics, it’s this episode that overshadows everything else.
In July 2007, The New Republic published “Shock Troops,” the first of three “diary” entries from a pseudonymous soldier then serving in Iraq, which contained explosive allegations about the conduct of military personnel. Conservative enemies of the magazine, led by the Weekly Standard‘s Michael Goldfarb, led a vigorous campaign to discredit the author, Scott Beauchamp, a 24-year-old army private.
Mr. Foer initially stood by the pieces, as Mr. Goldfarb and others sought to prove that the magazine had another fabulist on its hands—this time, one that proved the lefty publication’s secret troops-hating agenda. The ugly fight dragged on for months, with The New Republic taking a beating as it labored to verify Mr. Beauchamp’s pieces—an effort compounded by an awkward weeks-long period of radio silence from Mr. Beauchamp. (I wrote a short piece about it here.) The soldier, though, had a pretty good excuse: unlike the other participants in the media dust-up, he was risking his life every day by fighting a war on behalf of the United States. His main point of contact at the magazine was his wife, Elle Reeve, a fact-checker with whom he had eloped in May 2007.
An embattled Mr. Foer eventually retracted the pieces in the coda to a bizarre 6,828-word first-person article. Mr. Beauchamp had by then returned to safety in Germany, although a second tour brought him back to Iraq on Thanksgiving Day, 2008.
This afternoon, Mr. Beauchamp snuck onto Gchat during a class at the New York Institute of Technology, where he is studying nursing with plans to become a physician’s assistant, to talk to The Observer about his experiences with Mr. Foer. (I’ve edited his words for capitalization, spelling and punctuation.)
“While I certainly wish him the best of luck with whatever he does next, I obviously still feel very strongly about how he defended me, my wife, himself and the magazine,” Mr. Beauchamp wrote. “I feel like Frank Foer put my wife and I in an impossible situation.”
Mr. Beauchamp is still stung by the magazine’s having asked him and his wife, Ms. Reeve, to re-report his pieces after their accuracy was challenged—and then retracted them anyway.
“Fourth-rate milblogs got guys not only to Iraq, but to our base. And TNR couldn’t do that?” he wrote. “I don’t understand why TNR didn’t send someone over. I don’t understand why they took the army’s word, when it was literally my battalion investigating itself, which makes no sense. … [And] I don’t understand how he wouldn’t even offer any sort of apology after my first sergeant was convicted of murder, for executing Iraqis, during this same period.”
Come again? It’s true. Conservative bloggers had attacked Mr. Beauchamp for impugning the character of troops in his unit. In April 2009, Master Sergeant John Hatley was convicted of brutally executing four Iraqi prisoners. (Ms. Reeve wrote about the crimes here.)
The Observer asked Mr. Foer to respond to Mr. Beauchamp’s recollection of events. “I think the coverage of Scott Beauchamp was an object lesson in media stupidity,” Mr. Foer wrote in an email. “Every single major American news organization made a huge deal about possible embellishments in his description of plausible incidents-and ignored the actual war crimes committed in his unit.”
Mr. Foer continued: “I understand why Scott is angry. He should be pissed at the way his case was covered. But my treatment of the incident was very nuanced—and I stand by it. I spent several thousand words trying to present a careful, nuanced narrative of events.”
The two men haven’t spoken since the retraction.
“I haven’t really talked about it much with anyone since I got out of the army,” Mr. Beauchamp wrote. “I think some of my friends were even sick of talking about it. But it’s something that Elle and I think about every day. I wonder if Frank does.”
“I honestly don’t know much about his career outside of what happened with Elle and me,” Mr. Beauchamp continued, “but I do hope that if he considers my writing for TNR a low point in his career”—here he seemed to be referring to Mr. Kurtz’s tweet—”that he blames himself, and not my wife and me.”
Today Mr. Beauchamp lives in Brooklyn, while his wife, Elle Reeve, keeps an apartment in Washington, where she works for The Atlantic. He still dabbles in writing; as if his life did not contain enough twists already, he happened to sit for a job interview with Russian spy Anna Chapman in March 2010, an episode he wrote about for The Daily Beast.
He is still just 27 years old. “Hopefully there’s more to come,” Mr. Beauchamp wrote The Observer. “And hopefully none of it involves Frank Foer OR the United States Army.”