He Said She Said

Chinese WhispersRebecca Watson, Skepchick and amazingly cool writer, has made to round three in NPR’s contest looking for a new radio talent. (hat tip: Phil Plait, congratulations and good luck Rebecca on the contest and a quick nudge to geeky web comic XKCD , the focus of Rebecca’s most recent interview.)

But a quote stuck in my mind after listening to her most recent entry. She is being interviewed by one of the local radio personalities. The first question is very appropriate.

David Bowery(?): Give me an example of something or someone you believe in.

Rebecca Watson: Wow. That’s an interesting question because I’m often accussed of not believing in anything. That’s just my thing. I’m always questioning.

I believe…I believe in science. I believe in logic and I believe in reality. I believe in – I believe in a certain point of view were you can look at the world for what it actually is as opposed to what you want it to be. And you can explore the world and see the beauty in it with that kind of perspective.

While I would love to agree with this, I am starting to doubt that people work that way. More and more books are being written about cognitive dissonance, two people seeing the same thing but interpreting the event or “reality” completely differently. As a matter of fact, that very idea is a central theme in Daniel Gilbert’s wonderful book Stumbling on Happiness.

I got yet another example of this while reading the right wing blog Capitan’s Quarters this morning.

Conservative blogs have been attacking a series of extremely negative reports in the New Republic, reportedly written by a soldier in Iraq. The issue got so far out of control that the previously anonymous blogger outted himself and his unit. The Army started investigating; conservative bloggers smelled blood.

This is how conservative blogger Ed Morrissey begins the entry describing the New York Times article.

Despite the oddly-worded non-denial denial from the New Republic yesterday, the Army did determine that allegations made in its magazine by Scott Beauchamp were false. The New York Times reports this morning that their investigation showed no substantiation for Beauchamp’s stories of petty mischief and ghoulish behavior on the part of his fellow soldiers.

An Army investigation into the Baghdad Diarist, a soldier in Iraq who wrote anonymous columns for The New Republic, has concluded that the sometimes shockingly cruel reports were false.

We are not going into the details of the investigation,” Maj. Steven F. Lamb, deputy public affairs officer in Baghdad, wrote in an e-mail message. “The allegations are false, his platoon and company were interviewed, and no one could substantiate the claims he made.” … [ellipsis in original post]

Yesterday, The New Republic posted another note on its Web site saying its editors had spoken to Major Lamb and asked whether Private Beauchamp had indeed signed a statement admitting to fabrications. “He told us, ‘I have no knowledge of that.’ He added, ‘If someone is speaking anonymously [to The Weekly Standard], they are on their own.’ When we pressed Lamb for details on the Army investigation, he told us, ‘We don’t go into the details of how we conduct our investigations.’

That the Army would deny the accusations doesn’t really surprise me much. The Army also gave a medal to Pat Tillman for bravery under enemy fire. They then denied any problem with the story, but piece by piece the truth emerged over the last months, morphing from enemy combatants, friendly fire to what might now be murder. (The last, a claim I doubt. But who can tell any more?)

Anyway. For Morrissey it is enough that the Army is denying everything and the NYT has backed him up. Right?

I don’t see that tone in the article. I give you the three paragraphs just after the ellipsis Morrissey so cleverly inserted for his readers.

The brief statement, however, left many questions unanswered. Just last week The New Republic published on its Web site the results of its own investigation, stating that five members of the same company as Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp, who had written the anonymous pieces, “all corroborated Beauchamp’s anecdotes, which they witnessed or, in the case of one soldier, heard about contemporaneously. (All of the soldiers we interviewed who had first-hand knowledge of the episodes requested anonymity.)”

Private Beauchamp had revealed his identity after The Weekly Standard online and conservative bloggers expressed doubts about their veracity. As the Baghdad Diarist, he wrote that one soldier had jokingly worn the remnant of a child’s skull on his head. In another issue, he said he and a soldier had mocked a terribly disfigured woman sitting near them in the mess tent. Franklin Foer, editor of The New Republic said that after Private Beauchamp revealed his identity, the Army severely curtailed his telephone and e-mail privileges.

Private Beauchamp is married to a reporter-researcher at the magazine, Elspeth Reeve. [my emphasis]

Thus it seems to be my understanding of the English language posed against Ed Morrissey’s description of what was said in the Grey Lady. It’s a case of he said she said.

My problem is I think he did read the story as confirmation of his (and Michelle Malkin’s) ideas.

The Washington Post also has a much longer article describing the whole teacup tempest. They end their coverage with the following quote,

Mark Feldstein, a journalism professor at George Washington University, called the Army’s refusal to release its report “suspect,” adding: “There is a cloud over the New Republic, but there’s one hanging over the Army, as well. Each investigated this and cleared themselves, but they both have vested interests.”

As far as I can tell, the Army solved the problem by ordering the soldier to sit down and shut up. Whether he was describing reality wasn’t important. The conservative bloggers and the Weekly Standard chose to continue the attacks and say – see he’s not saying anything any more – thus Private Beauchamp was lying. It’s not like the Army might have busted him for violating OPSec regulations when he named his unit and then put him under extreme presure. The Army wouldn’t do that; would they?

That’s all in the eye’s of the beholder. Or if you don’t follow the links, he said, she said, they said, he said, they did…

Want to know what I say? Rebecca – there is no reality. *sigh*

2 comments so far

  1. hart00 on

    Good piece. You’re one of a handful of bloggers that have noticed this ‘drama’ that’s been played out for over three weeks now in the Rightie blogosmear. (sic)

    More on the weird misinterpretation of the NYT piece HERE.

  2. Ben on

    Thank you.

    I’d have to say that I’m not one of a handful. Many have picked up the problem, I just haven’t made up my mind yet.

    Since both sides have a very major stake in this issue, I will wait until the dust settles.

    I doubt the Army is telling the whole truth, I’d distrust people like Michelle Malkin but have no way to verify whether any of the stories are true. Some are obviously not true.

    The TNR would have done better to carefully fact check every column written because it was obvious that they would be torn apart. Since they didn’t they deserve what they are getting.

    By the same token, it think both Morrissey and Malkin are saying Army said it didn’t happen – game over. I disagree with that as well.

    *The world will never know*


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