Monday, December 31, 2007

The New Republic Editors are Dishonest

On page 10 of The New Republic article, Fog of War, in an attempt at standing by its “Baghdad Diarist” articles four pages before declaring they couldn’t, editor Franklin Foer lays out a defense of his editorial staff’s incompetence.

The following paragraph in his 14-page obfuscation of the fact that The New Republic was in a fact-checking fog illustrates the dishonesty that permeates his entire review.

Without new evidence to be gleaned, we began to lay out the evidence we had assembled. It wasn't just the testimonials from the soldiers in his unit. Among others, we had called a forensic anthropologist and a spokesman for the manufacturer of Bradley Fighting Vehicles. Nothing in our conversations with them had dissuaded us of the plausibility of Beauchamp's pieces.

What did they ask the spokesman for the manufacturer of Bradley Fighting Vehicles? Was it something along the lines of: “Can you kill a dog by running over it with a Bradley?”

I could speculate endlessly about what The New Republic asked “a spokesman for the manufacturer of Bradley Fighting Vehicles,” but I don’t have to, I know what they asked courtesy of the sort of fact checking that The New Republic editor said they did, but didn’t.

A blogger, Bob “Confederate Yankee” Owens, did the fact checking with the spokesman for the manufacturer of Bradley Fighting Vehicles that The New Republic purportedly did. From the Bradley spokesman, Mr. Owens found a great deal of information about Bradleys, their crews, and capabilities, and most significantly he did something The New Republic “fact checker” did not. He presented the spokesman with the text about the Bradleys’ alleged use in Iraq according to the “Baghdad Diarist” article.

The following is the spokesman, Mr. Coffey, responding to Mr. Owens’ questions:

I can't pretend to know what may or may not have happened in Iraq but the impression the writer leaves is that a "driver" can go on joy rides with a 35 ton vehicle at will. The vehicle has a crew and a commander of the vehicle who is in charge. In order for the scenario described to have taken place, there would have to have been collaboration by the entire crew.

The driver's vision, even if sitting in an open hatch is severely restricted along the sides. He sits forward on the left side of the vehicle. His vision is significantly impaired along the right side of the vehicle which makes the account to "suddenly swerve to the right" and actually catch an animal suspect. If you were to attempt the same feat in your car, it would be very difficult and you have the benefit of side mirrors.

Anyone familiar with tracked vehicles knows that turning sharply requires the road wheels on the side of the turn to either stop or reverse as the road wheels on the opposite side accelerates. What may not be obvious is that the track once on the ground, doesn't move. The road wheels roll across it but the track itself is stationary
until it is pushed forward by the road wheels.

The width of the track makes it highly unlikely that running over a dog would leave two intact parts. One half of the dog would have to be completely crushed.

It also seems suspicious that a driver could go on repeated joy rides or purposefully run into things. Less a risk to the track though that is certainly possible but there is sensitive equipment on the top of the vehicle, antennas, sights, TOW missile launcher, commander and if it was a newer vehicle, the commander's independent viewer, not to mention the main gun. Strange things are known to happen in a combat environment but I can't imagine that the vehicle commander or the unit commander would tolerate repeated misuse of the vehicle, especially any action that could damage its ability to engage.

Speaking from my over 21 years Air Force service as an airman, non-commissioned officer, and officer, I cannot believe that officers and non-commissioned officers would allow such joyriding, particularly of the type described by the “Baghdad Diarist,” which was certain to damage vehicles they were in charge of and for which they would be held responsible. And which, of course, would also reduce their fighting effectiveness and take them out of service until repaired.

Anyone who has sat through a military meeting as I have, listening to a maintenance chief going over readiness status, including why equipment was down for maintenance, when it would be back in service, and what was being done to increase ready time, would know that only someone with no knowledge of the military would think joyriding and damaging equipment is a laughing matter.

Strangely, Mr. Foer includes in his defense that he had talked with an officer who said that Bradleys sometimes accidently run over dogs, and clings to this bit of information like it was highly significant. Mr. Foer, for over six decades I have known that vehicles of all types accidently kill dogs, cats, skunks, deer, raccoons, fox, and occassionally to greater sorrow, people.

Later Mr. Foer admits, without ever addressing the issue that killing dogs as Beauchamp described is physically doubtful, and in my opinion, impossible:

But, after our re-reporting, some of our questions are still unanswered. Did the driver intentionally run over dogs? Did he record his kills in a little green notebook? We've never been able to reach the driver. And Beauchamp told us that he'd procure a page from the notebook, but that has not materialized. This is a plausible anecdote, and several soldiers in Beauchamp's unit had heard stories about dog-hunting, but only one had actually seen the driver Beauchamp wrote about intentionally hit dogs. He is one of Beauchamp's friends, and, over the course of a number of e-mail exchanges with him, our faith in him has diminished.

Apparently Mr. Foer believes that one liar vouching for another is more substantial evidence than physical proof that the killings as described by Beauchamp were implausible. What would a page from a notebook prove? I could put the wildest fantasies in a notebook, tear the page out, and claim I got it from a nameless someone else. Or keep promising that I would get the page and not do it, particularly if I didn't want to create physical evidence that could be subjected to forensic examination.

Mr. Foer, you say Beauchamp's fellow soldiers vouch for him, and yet you don't have any sworn testimony. Apparently none of them have substantiated the dog killing descriptions, each of which would have been witnessed by six or more soldiers, or you would mention more about them than noting that Bradleys sometimes run over stray dogs.

On the Army side, they have sworn testimony that the dog killing incidents and Bradley joy riding described by Beauchamp did not occur. As I mentioned above, such things only happen in barracks bull sessions, where all the restrictions on operating high-value military equipment are suspended for the duration of the bull slinging.

Obviously I’m not accusing anyone at The New Republic of having any knowledge of the military, even after their “fact checking.”

“When you don’t know anything, anything is possible.”

(I thank my Rotary buddy, Dick Soule, for providing me with this succinct summation which is a perfect description of The New Republic’s fact-checking exercise.)

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