Of my conversation with Jon Chait this morning - in which I argued that TNR probably shouldn't have run the Scott Thomas Beauchamp pieces, but also contended that the right-wing blogosphere's reaction has often run well over-the-top - Ace of Spades writes:
Okay, Ross.You keep earning your reasonable stripes by basically kissing your liberal pals' asses while meanwhile saying nothing at all -- except to the extent you just agree with what your betters have figured out before you did.
On the other hand, it gets rather good here. Here Douthat notes what was pointed out to him by the "ludicrous" "Michelle Malkin slash Ace of Spades front" -- namely, that Beauchamp seems to have most likely lied, and not made an "error," in claiming the Burned Woman mockery occurred in Iraq rather than Kuwait -- and Jonathan Chait admits that it does seem reasonable to conclude Beauchamp did not make an "error" but rather deliberately lied.
Remember, though, Douthat, who did nothing on this story, is superior to any of us rightwing crazies simply by parroting what we have written.
Just to clarify what I had in mind when I used the word "ludicrous," here's a snippet from one of Ace's earlier posts:
It seems that "Scott Thomas" got himself a nice little gig at TNR -- a possible stepping stone to bigger and better things, like a literary agent and first-time-novelist's advance of $100,000 -- but he had one problem: He had nothing actually interesting to report. The routine relocation of bodies from a cemetery to a new resting place wasn't going to get him that advance, after all. So, as any budding writer would do, he used the power of imagination to make it all seem much more interesting than it actually was.
And TNR fell for it, of course. They wanted the prestige of having an actual reporter on the ground in Baghdad, and of course they wanted the stories coming from that correspondent to be as horrific and morale-killing as possible. They wanted to believe, and so they did.
In a similar vein, here's Dean Barnett:
TNR employed as its Baghdad correspondent a guy who was there specifically to mock the war effort while he hopefully advanced his own career as a writer by doing so. Beauchamp’s champions (not that I’m aware of any) have the potential defense that he was a young man who didn’t know any better. TNR’s editors do not. They gravitated to Scott Thomas Beauchamp because he would have the “moral authority” necessary to slander the troops with impunity, a moral authority that Franklin Foer and company of course lack.
One other note: Scott Thomas Beauchamp’s life will be a smoldering ruin when this affair has run its course. His partners in crime at The New Republic will still have jobs and careers. Will they see Scott Beauchamp in their nightmares? And will they see the 160,000 honorable and noble troops that together they conspired to malign?
Like I said, this is ludicrous stuff. I love the vision of TNR's editors sitting around congratulating themselves on having found someone with the "moral authority" to smear the troops, and plotting how they would use his "horrific" dispatches to destroy morale on the homefront. Eventually, no doubt, they settled on a 1,000-word Diarist published on the back page of the magazine (prime real estate for morale-killing reportage) as the ideal method of stabbing 160,000 American troops in the back. Then they all burned General Petraeus in effigy and went out for martinis.
Here, for what it's worth, is an excerpt from TNR's last editorial on the state of play in Iraq:
The situation in Iraq does look marginally less grim than it did before General Petraeus took charge. When flunkies of Moqtada Al Sadr left the Iraqi government to protest the U.S. occupation, Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki, who was installed with Sadr's support, stood his ground and survived. The surge has reduced death squad executions (if not spectacular car bombings). The government has made some progress toward a crucial agreement to distribute national oil revenue.
Moreover, the conduct of the war is now no longer in the hands of ideologues and incompetents. Following a string of bungling commanders in Iraq, Petraeus, the Army's leading counterinsurgency expert who brought security to Mosul, is in charge. The new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, is one of the country's most experienced Middle East diplomats (and one who predicted sectarian chaos before the war began). Gates has so far been more than just a Cheney apparatchik, as evidenced by his off-message comments about the useful pressure provided by Democrats. And Condoleezza Rice's planned return to the Middle East next month to meet with representatives from Iraq's neighbors suggests a promising degree of administration engagement. The flurry of military and diplomatic activity that accompanies the surge is cause for--well, perhaps not optimism per se, but at least something more than utter hopelessness.
The prospects of a passable political solution are remote but real, and the consequences of withdrawing without one are dire. One last try, therefore, seems worthwhile.
To be clear, since people on the right seem a little murky on this point: TNR was a fervently pro-war magazine during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, and for a long time after. Their current position about the wisdom of the original invasion is more ambiguous, but they remain a hawkish publication, as anyone to their left will be happy to tell you, and their qualified endorsement of the surge is of a piece with their coverage of Iran, Israel-Palestine, Darfur, and so forth. The widespread claim that they deliberately selected Beauchamp as their "man in Baghdad" in the hopes that his "horrific dispatches" would help bring the Iraq War to a speedy end is - I'll say it again - ludicrous. And I stand by my contention that this conspiracy theorizing reflects a desire, evident among far too many right-wingers, to focus more attention on the minor sins of liberal journalists than the major failures of this Administration.
Equally ludicrous is the amount of attention - thousands upon thousands of words of speculation and vituperation - paid by right-wing blogs to a story that, while interesting and worth investigating, tells us nothing all that significant about the media except the obvious truth that magazines often run ill-chosen, under-vetted pieces, particularly in the less-frequented pages of an issue, particularly when the author of the piece has a personal connection to someone on staff, and particularly when the subject matter is largely "on author" and therefore difficult to fact-check. (I tried to make this point in the diavlog with Chait, but I'll make it again: a lot of people in the blogosphere seem to think that magazines have infinite time and resources with which to fact-check their pieces, when in fact there wouldn't be any political magazines if they all lavished the kind of care on fact-checking that the Atlantic and New Yorker can lavish on a story.) TNR certainly deserved to be called out, by Mike Goldfarb and others, for running a piece that seemed fishy, and nothing that's followed has altered my sense that Beauchamp's tales seemed at least touched by exaggeration. On the other hand, nothing that I've seen has convinced me that he's a Stephen Glass-style fabulist, either, and I don't think that Beauchamp's recantation to his superiors settles anything one way or another; given the threat of court-martial involved in standing by his stories, he seems at least as likely to be lying to his superiors as to be lying to TNR.
More importantly, as Megan - who's written the most sensible stuff on this that I've seen, and who predicted the recantation - put it when this whole business started: "This wasn't some sort of elite conspiracy, and it's silly to imply that it was. At worst, it was an editorial mistake; which is not exactly something it's impossible to imagine many of the more vocal critics making."
This concludes the "kissing my liberal pals' asses" portion of today's blogging.
Update: Just to clarify, I didn't mean that it's ludicrous that Scott Thomas dreamed of $100,000 book advances (though to judge by what I've read of his prose, Anthony Swofford doesn't have anything worry about); I just included that line as context for the (again, ludicrous) allegations that TNR handpicked him as part of their ongoing conspiracy to kill morale by slandering the troops.
Update II: And Michelle Malkin is right.