11 August 2007

The New Republic Just Doesn't Get It

Companion piece at ASP
Michelle's earlier

by Bob Parks
New Media Alliance

As many of us know, the "Baghdad Diarist" and the details of the "activities" of his American Army buddies have been, by his own recants, shown to be fictitious. However, The New Republic who published those "stories" continues to operate under assumptions borne of arrogance and ignorance….

Their latest "update" on Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp ended like this….

Here's what we know: On July 26, Beauchamp told us that he signed several statements under what he described as pressure from the Army. He told us that these statements did not contradict his articles. Moreover, on the same day he signed these statements for the Army, he gave us a statement standing behind his articles, which we published at tnr.com. Goldfarb has written, "It's pretty clear the New Republic is standing by a story that even the author does not stand by." In fact, it is our understanding that Beauchamp continues to stand by his stories and insists that he has not recanted them. The Army, meanwhile, has refused our requests to see copies of the statements it obtained from Beauchamp–or even to publicly acknowledge that they exist.

Scott Beauchamp is currently a 24-year-old soldier in Iraq who, for the past 15 days, has been prevented by the military from communicating with the outside world, aside from three brief and closely monitored phone calls to family members. Our investigation has not thus far uncovered factual evidence (aside from one key detail) to discount his personal dispatches. And we cannot simply dismiss the corroborating accounts of the five soldiers with whom we spoke. (You can read our findings here.)

Part of our integrity as journalists includes standing by a writer who has been accused of wrongdoing and who is not able to defend himself. But we also want to reassure our readers that our obligations to our writer would never trump our commitment to the truth. We once again invite the Army to make public Beauchamp's statements and the details of its investigation–and we ask the Army to let us (or any other media outlet, for that matter) speak to Beauchamp. Unless and until these things happen, we cannot fairly assess any of these reports about Beauchamp–and therefore have no reason to change our own assessment of Beauchamp's work. If the truth ends up reflecting poorly on our judgment, we will accept responsibility for that. But we also refuse to rush to judgment on our writer or ourselves.

For 18 months or so, I worked in the Public Affairs Office onboard the USS Midway so, unlike Pvt. Beauchamp and The New Republic, I have a good understanding of how these things work.

While military journalists use the same style book as mainstream journalists, they also operate under a different set of rules. Civilians answer to their editors while military journalists answer to their superiors, who are ultimately answerable to the Commander-in-Chief. While The New Republic continues to refer to Beauchamp as their "writer", the private is under contract exclusively with the United States Army, and I would doubt they would formally recognize any relationship with TNR as valid, that is unless Beauchamp was given prior approval up the chain of command.

As Pvt. Beauchamp is not an Army journalist, I sincerely doubt he received such clearance. Most military journalists aren't given carte blanche access to the civilian media, and most information distributed from the military to the press is vetted carefully for the obvious security reasons.

The New Republic may believe they have a right to speak to Beauchamp, but that illustrates their ignorance of the Uniform Code of Military justice, which for military personnel, is the U.S. Constitution. Certain rights do not apply, such as the right to free speech. This is for the obvious need to maintain discipline and morale. So the Army has no obligation to allow Pvt. Beauchamp to speak to the New York Times, let alone The New Republic. It's apparent they do not understand this.

Also, I would bet the United States Army could give a rip about The New Republic's "findings."

The main reason why the military trains people to work with the media is so news can be distributed that is approved within the chain that will not jeopardize The Mission. The Mission is all the military really cares about. The New Republic need be repeatedly reminded of this.

It is possible for service members to be approached by individuals or entities that wish to obtain information. Some of these people can be friendly; some could be the enemy. It HAS happened. That is also one of the main reasons only trained personnel are permitted limited access to the civilian press. In this case, The New Republic is an entity that may not have the best interests of the Army and The Mission at heart. The fact they were so quick to publish negative stories about the military without adequate verification with the Army may imply a motive that may not be in the best interests of the military or our nation.

Now let me be blunt.

While Pvt. Beauchamp and his fellow soldiers were in the shit, The New Republic editors were sitting in air conditioned offices, sipping hot Starbucks coffee, and saw an opportunity to exploit a naive soldier, turning him against the very Army that is not only paying, but housing, feeding, insuring, later college educating, and VA home loaning him. That, if anything, is what I'd call inciting insurrection.

It's apparent The New Republic was hoping Beauchamp would eventually violate UCMJ Article 88

Contempt towards Officials
Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

Granted, Pvt. Beauchamp is not an officer but he has made serious accusations against his fellow soldiers that can result in their imprisonment for a very, very long time. This is no longer a game.

Some at The New Republic would be high-fiving if they could post Beauchamp blaming his situation, as well as the deaths of innocent Iraqis and their dogs on Bush and Cheney…. Those at The New Republic wouldn't be in trouble, but today Pvt. Beauchamp is. Serious trouble.

Those at The New Republic can sit protected by the 1st Amendment while leaving Beauchamp exposed to a military that has no obligation to let him speak to anyone. The Army doesn't have to let Beauchamp talk to his mother, let alone The New Republic. Also, the Army has no obligation to say one damn word to anyone in the press about what color the drapes in the chow hall is, let alone speak to someone who has enabled one of their soldiers to violate the UCMJ.

The New Republic just doesn't get it, and they probably don't care as they don't see beyond their own narcissistic wants as a "news" organization. They have used this dispensable young man and when they are done making him a symbol of abuse by the military they obviously loathe, they will move on and seek another soldier to destroy.

Let this be a lesson to all you uniformed bloggers out there. The enemy you don't see may be worse than the ones you do.

Bob Parks is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. (www.thenma.org). The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.

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