Thursday, August 09, 2007

All the news that fits

Continuing what John Pilger started, I'd heard this story before, in the usual bits and pieces (not being a reader of The New Republic), and Josh Marshall piqued my interest again with his summary of the situation of the Army blogger who may, nor may not, have lied. Given the Pat Tillman story and the Jessica Lynch story, one's sympathies, of course, are not with the Pentagon. But I'd also heard this story yesterday on NPR, and while Josh points out the very fishy nature of the Army's rebuttal, NPR led me to believe it was the blogger who was the fabricator of stories.

But then I went to the NPR website and noticed they did no original reporting on this. Yesterday Michelle Norris talked to David Folkenflik, "who has been following the story" (I love how journalists are now professional stalkers of gossip!). And nowhere in the conversation between these two journalists do they mention what Josh Marshall mentions: that this story of the Army's report comes exclusively from The Weekly Standard. Mr. Folkenflik did talk to a conservative blogger who said the story "didn't pass the smell test." But that's the sum total of his evidence and his sourcing. Folkenflik does mention the Pat Tillman case, but seems to imply Mr. Beauchamp is the fabricator as the "original reporter" of this story; he certainly doesn't cast aspersions on the reliability of the Pentagon, the real reason both the Tillman story and the Jessica Lynch story were such blatant lies.

On Day to Day, according to their website, this kind of incestuous journalism continued, as Alex Chadwick talked to Philip Carter of Slate Magazine. In neither report is any of the information Josh reports included. Mr. Carter writes a "war column" for Slate, and calls himself a "born skeptic." But neither the secret nature of the report, nor the fact that TNR got a "I have no knowledge of that" response from the Army, is included. Philip Carter is sure TNR was bamboozled, but again, on what basis? A report of an Army report which, apparently, no one has read? Both of these reports by NPR are purest, rankest speculation, including Mr. Carter's absolute flight of fancy as to how Pvt. Beauchamp will be punished. Were he to note, as Josh does, that Pvt. Beauchamp had lost access to his cellphone and his computer, Mr. Carter would obviously approve of such measures. But is that the position of an objective journalist, or even of a person involved in the story? It is neither. Mr. Carter has no more knowledge of this story than Mr. Folkenflik does.

And neither makes so much as a passing mention of TNR's rather complete defense of their journalistic practice. Mr. Carter, like the conservative blogger Mr. Folkenflik talked to, seems to think the Beauchamp reports don't smell right. That's hardly a rebuttal of the kind of investigation TNR says it did before publishing those stories, yet it's good enough for two stories on NPR.

It may well turn out TNR screwed the pooch on this story. But I'm with Josh: "This hardly inspires much confidence." Either in the military's response to the story, or in the journalistic practices of NPR.

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