Wednesday, July 25, 2007

TNR's fact-checking

ABC has some more information from Franklin Foer of the New Republic on the fact-checking that they're doing to verify the Baghdad Diarist's story.
Franklin Foer, the editor of the New Republic, said that he has met Thomas here in the States and that he is "absolutely certain" that he is a soldier in Iraq. "Not an ounce of doubt," he told ABCNEWs.com. Asked about how he attempted to verify Thomas' military credentials, Foer said, "I've got many, many data points to back that up" although one of those proofs didn't include a military e-mail account.

As for the specific accounts in the stories, Foer said that the articles were rigorously fact-checked before they were published. "We showed the stories to people who'd been embedded in Iraq to make sure that it all smelled good. We talked to one of the members of his unit to confirm the woman, a female contractor. We talked to a medic who'd served in Iraq to make sure that a woman could be in an FOB. We spent a lot of time with him on the phone asking hard questions."
This seems incredibly lame.

1. If they fact-checked that this disfigured woman was a contractor before they published the story, as Dan Riehl notes, why did they include the diarist's doubt about whether or not she was a member of the military instead of using the information that they'd verified?

2. They say they talked to a medic to see if a woman could be in an FOB. This seems like the least likely part of the story to have been wrong. There are women serving in the military and women who are contractors. I don't think anyone has cast doubt on whether or not a woman could be there; they just cast doubt on whether men in the U.S. armed forces would have loudly made fun of a woman who was the victim of an IED attack in a small dining facility where they could have been easily overheard by a superior officer. And that, according to the author, he wasn't even sure if she was a soldier or a contractor. She could have been a superior officer who fried those soldiers for their comments.

3. They said that they showed the story to people embedded in Iraq. I presume that that means journalists. What about asking actual, you know, military people. Seeing as milbloggers and their correspondents immediately pinpointed the problematic nature of the story about the guy driving the Bradley to kill dogs or that some guy would fit a child's skull on his head while digging up a mass grave (or a regular cemetery which is what seems more likely that they found at this FOB), it seems that TNR would have benefited from checking with some people with real military experience rather than with embeds. And it seems that they just asked whether the story "smelled good." Clearly these embeds don't know what smells and what doesn't or they would have highlighted some of the problematic details that actual military people have highlighted. And why didn't they ask any actual U.S. authorities about the story. Then they would, at least, have found out that there were no mass graves dug up at this particular FOB. They could have pinned down that detail better. Isn't it standard journalistic practice to go to the other side and ask for comments even if you have no intention of believing them anyway?

4. If they've done all this wonderful fact-checking, why not put that information out there now. After all, this is a magazine that had its reputation tarnished for just what they're being accused of now - running a made-up story. You'd think that they'd want their validation of their story to be as transparent as possible now that it's gotten so much public attention. But instead, Foer just drops these oblique hints about what they did before they published the story or what they're checking now. He should put it all out there and let the chips fall where they may. Use the great ability of the internet to bring masses of people together to share their expertise as an aid in the magazine's efforts to prove that they haven't perpetrated another journalistic fraud that besmirched the character of our armed forces.