Alex Massie

Death by Moron

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While I'm at it, here's more deranged idiocy from The Corner. A fellow named Peter Wehner, who until March 2007 apparently served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Strategic Initiatives, has this to say about The New Republic and the gruesome Scott Beauchamp affair:

What The New Republic didn’t understand, and still seems unable to grasp, is that they and others saw this for what it was: an effort to use Beauchamp’s story to paint an ugly portrait of those serving in Iraq. The magazine had turned against the war, and this piece would help turn people against those serving in the war. What has happened instead is that the situation in Iraq is turning around — and the TNR piece has utterly collapsed. 

This is almost, but not quite, beneath contempt. As always, I should say that I've written for TNR and count several TNR writers and editors as friends. This gives an unfair advantage over Mr Wehner in as much as it is possible that I might be able to write something about this brouhaha without making a complete ass of myself.

The idea that TNR whistled up this story as part of a wider conspiracy to discredit the war effort or to undermine the valour of American servicemen and women in the field is so laughable that it scarcely requires rebutting. I know that there seem to be many people who refuse to believe this and there's probably nothing that testimony from people who actually know TNR editors can say or write that will persuade them otherwise, but nevertheless it is just not true that TNR hates the troops. To the contrary, Beauchamp's articles were published so that TNR readers could have a better idea of the awful situation American soldiers found themselves in and the stressful and dehumanising consequences of living in a bloody war zone. In that respect then, Beauchamp's articles might properly be considered pleas for understanding and sympathising with the troops, not condemning them.

As for turning against the war, well, I'd suggest that a) TNR was behind the curve on that front and b) if you wanted to discredit the troops you could find plenty of more profitable spots for doing so than a first person narrative at the back of The New Republic.

And what is one to make of this bizarre coupling: "the situation in Iraq is turning around - and the TNR piece has utterly collapsed"? Does this mean that if the situation was not being turned around Beauchamp's article would not have collapsed? Or did its collapse* magically cause matters to improve on the ground in Iraq?

Anyway, Frank Foer's comprehensive account of the sorry affair is, I believe, an excellent piece of work. I think the average reader possessing an average quantity of fairness will see it as an honest account of how mistakes were made and how the magazine found that it's own standards had not been met in full, despite TNRs best efforts to establish the truth about Beauchamp's pieces.

*Asterisk required because the question of whether or not Beauchamp made up his stories remains, in my view, "Not Proven". The old Scots verdict applies, I think, whether one believes in Beauchamp or not. Neither TNR nor the magazine's dectractors have been able to establish the truth beyond a reasonable doubt. One may think Beauchamp a liar or not, but in either case "Not Proven" seems a sounder verdict than "Guilty" or "Not Guilty".

PS: Is it mean-spirited to point out that though Mr Wehner may indeed be a "dedicated Christian" he seems to seems to be the sort of Christian who's severely lacking in charity?

UPDATE: Andrew has his take here. He says Wehner is normally a "mild-mannered" guy. Fair enough, but that's even less reason to write quasi-libellous tripe of this sort. (Quasi-libellous? Well, in as much as he comes pretty close to accusing TNR of sedition, then yeah, quasi-libellous.)

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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