E.J. Dionne On Private Beauchamp and Franklin Foer
HH: Now in terms of nastiness, there is a nasty war going on between the New Republic and just about everyone. What do you think they ought to do about Private Beauchamp and his Washington Diarist, E.J. Dionne?
EJD: Well, you know, I thought you’d raise that. First of all, it’s not the New Republic and just about everyone, it’s the New Republic and the Weekly Standard and you and a couple of other folks. My understanding of where that stands is that…first of all, I’ve known Frank Foer for a long time, and he has an awful lot of integrity, and I think they’ve shown in what they’ve put out so far, and in re-reporting those stories, a lot more transparency than, say, the administration has on some issues. As things stand now, Beauchamp has said there’s one story that you know, he put in Iraq that’s actually in Kuwait, and that my understanding is he stands by the rest. I know the Weekly Standard posted this anonymously sourced thing saying he’d recanted. I don’t believe that’s true. And if it is true, then we’ll deal with it then.
HH: Today, the New York Times quotes Major Stephen F. Lamb, the deputy public affairs officer in Baghdad as saying we’re not going into the details of the investigation, the allegations are false, his platoon and company were interviewed, and no one could substantiate the claims he made. What’s that cause you to think?
EJD: Well, but then, the New Republic has gone back and interviewed a lot of people involved in that story. They re-reported the whole story, and their sense is what he said is true. Unfortunately, he can’t come out and talk. I hope that the Army, just so we can settle this controversy, lets this gentleman come forward, answer questions, and then we can settle this. But I’ve got to say, you know, as I say, I’ve known Frank for a long time, and I think this is a person of a lot of integrity. So watch out what you say about him, because…
HH: But E.J., it’s not about Frank. It’s about what the Army said today, the allegations are false. Now for him to say…
EJD: You know what? I think that’s a very sweeping statement, and I don’t know what that means until he can speak for himself. I think that Mr. Beauchamp should be given a chance to speak for himself, and then we can judge the whole thing.
HH: I don’t know, when they say no one could, no one could substantiate the claims he made, that suggests that whatever truthing the New Republic’s been doing, they couldn’t possibly have come up with the kind of evidence a reporter like you would have relied upon in your reportorial days for the Post.
EJD: No one could substantiate the claims does not mean they went to everybody who might have substantiated the claim. In other words, I don’t know what…we’ll find out eventually what the truth here is. But as I say, my understanding is he has not backed away from anything except that one correction that he did make about where he placed this one incident. So we’ll figure out…
HH: Okay, I think that underscores what the Army needs to understand out here. I like that, E.J., because I think that means that they need to do more work.
This exchange shows (1)that E.J.’s not going to cut-and-run on his friend F.F. until there is evidence that the sun sets in the West, which makes E.J. a loyal friend but a doubting Thomas that would make the saint blush, and (2)that the Army needs to do more if it wants to kill this slander. Specifically, it would be useful for the Army to detail the number and rank of personnel interviewed, and whether there was anyone not interviewed who could have corroborated the story. The Army should consider announcing whether Private Beauchamp denied in detail the allegations.
And the Army ought to announce whether Private Beauchamp is free to give on-the-record interviews about his previous writings. The Army cannot make the private who once wanted to tell his tales also tell his truths to the public, but if the private is free to do so and doesn’t, E.J.’s objection will be met.
What I suspect will happen without any more effort on the Army’s part is that The New Republic and its friends will hunker down, Clinton-style, and hope the controversy passes over. Private Beauchamp will return to civilian life and say a “confession was coerced,” and another generation of Winter Soldier slander will be established for the anti-war fringe to feast upon.
Killing the lie that got its boots on isn’t easy, and even the mountain of evidence including Beauchamp’s own reversal on the key element of his story won’t satisfy those who want to believe the worst of the troops. The Army should realize that the effort to discredit America’s military is a part of the war, evev when that effort is led from within the Beltway.