Tuesday, July 24, 2007

That Dubious Soldier in Iraq

Mediacrity contributor Bruce Kesler reports in The Democracy Project:

Thomas Lipscomb, veteran investigative journalist and publisher, who has debunked many a canard, looks askance at both The New Republic’s gullible inking of absurd invented charges against American forces in Iraq and at the lack of depth in the Weekly Standard’s skepticism.

Lipscomb wrote to the Washington Post’s media columnist, Howard Kurtz, who couldn’t make heads nor tails out of the matter. Lipscomb wonders where are any military veterans among these titans of journalism, who could directly and immediately see through the absurdity of the TNR piece and provide immediate truth.

For that matter, why not let their fingers do the walking, right to the Pentagon, and ask the operator to connect them with someone with military experience. Instead, days pass, until a blogger -- a Marine Reservist and a student at Columbia University in New York City, presently in Iraq interviewing the troops -- gets a Public Affairs officer in Iraq to reply courteously that the TNR piece is BS.

As Lipscomb says, this isn’t about politics; it’s Journalism 101.

Below, Lipscomb’s email to Howard Kurtz:

Looks like The New Republic has been had again. And this time it is so obvious it is embarrassing.

Of course with journalists today being the gentle allergic-to-combat darlings they are on both left and right... they can't be expected to know something as simple as there ARE no "square back" 9mm cartridges... or that anyone who tries cute tricks like the "diarist" describes with a Bradley has a very good chance of flipping his vehicle like a turtle exposing his lightly armored belly or leaving himself an immobile target in enemy country.

And BTW there is a crew aboard this Bradley with him that is not really interested in taking those kinds of risks with the putative "private"

Not really a situation to "enjoy" now... is it?

Perhaps instead of trying get this kind of crap "fact-checked, to the extent possible" (whatever that means) some of these publications could actually take advantage of some expertise available right in their hometown in DC... It is just a local call away.

Many journalists use it all the time. It is called the Department of Defense.

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Here is some background on my own military experience:

As a 1203-1204 MOS Armor officer I know a little bit about armored vehicles and I climbed in my first Bradley back in the Fulda Gap in Germany before the Berlin Wall came down.

As a former captain of an Army pistol team as well… I also know more than a little about 9 mm rounds. And there are a lot of reasons why 1) round cartridges which allow equal pressure of the expanding gases in all directions cause fewer jammed weapons and 2) The military is trying as hard as it can to get rid of cartridges all together.

NO ONE wants to screw around with SQUARE cartridges that are far more likely to jam in combat than the ones that already cause enough grief. We learned the hard way with the early models of the M-16 in Viet Nam. We found too many dead soldiers and marines with their rifles partially disassembled to clear an ammunition blockage.

Of course who would EVER expect a New Republic editor or a Weekly Standard editor to check with the Infantry School at Benning or the Armor School at Knox… or the Ordnance testing ground right there in Maryland which are responsible for the capabilities and adoption of weapons systems, when they could “fact check” with Google… or Wikipedia for that matter?

KEEP ON THIS HOWIE… it will be fun… Happy to get you some experts if you wish… .

Where do they GET these kids? Doesn’t anyone know how to report and fact check a source with stories too good to be true anymore?

Lipscomb adds:

Franklin Foer, the editor of The New Republic is so gaga about his pseudonymous “Scott Thomas” that he calls him “an amazing resource—a guy who’s on the front lines, who has a gift for observation and can write,” which may well be true. What is clear from the current controversy is that “Thomas” is a lousy reporter, and Foer’s notion that he had Thomas’s work “"fact-checked, to the extent possible" is either a lie or a confession of terminal incompetence by Foer. However “amazing” Thomas is as a “resource” he is also clearly “incredible” as well. And if Foer had done the most elementary fact-checking on the details of Thomas’s reporting with military experts, rather than Thomas’s buddies, he would never have run the piece currently under fire. Clearly the current Editor of The New Republic doesn’t know beans about how to authenticate the work of his writers… Marty Peretz should give his revolving door over there one more spin and fast.

Meanwhile, The Weekly Standard is full of indignant blather from Editor Bill Kristol, but fails to do a thing to advance the story or blow it by having it gone over by its own experts. Here is an obvious target…as recounted in the Howard Kurtz column today: “The diarist described how soldiers in a mess hall had openly mocked a woman -- he wasn't sure whether she was a soldier or contractor -- whose face was severely scarred from an injury presumably suffered in Iraq: "The disfigured woman slammed her cup down and ran out of the chow hall, her half-finished tray of food nearly falling to the ground."

The fact is that the military today is almost as infested with “politically correct” monitoring as an Ivy League college. That incident would not have gone unnoticed or unreported by commissioned or noncommissioned officers and it would have occasioned a pile of paperwork. This incident could in no way be regarded as a normal event in a mess hall with hundreds of people present, any number of whom spend their nights worrying that they too might be horribly disfigured in Iraq.

Making jokes about the disfigurement of a man, or particularly a woman, in a mess hall is about as unlikely an event as might be imagined, as Scott Johnson correctly noted in Powerline. There would have been a paper trail with a lot of asses to cover and if Foer had the mess hall identified correctly, this would have been an easy thing to authenticate.

The Weekly Standard contents itself with a blog posting from a PAO officer at Falcon Base in Iraq, where the offense supposedly took place. It simply passes on this official communication and does no work on its own.

Great!... The New Republic can’t fact-check, The Weekly Standard can flounce indignantly, but it doesn’t do any fact-checking either, and now The American Spectator employs a staffer who likes to get his name in the papers who thinks fact-checking in looking something up on Google.

With the policy question of American involvement in Iraq squarely on the table, this is the kind of reporting we are supposed to rely upon? Is it any wonder that periodical circulation is collapsing and advertising is drying up?

Bruce Kesler
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