One endless Rathergate

by John Quiggin on July 29, 2007

The rightwing blogosphere, with assistance from the usual MSM types like Howard Kurtz has spent the last week or two trying to discredit a soldier, Scott Beauchamp, who wrote a “Baghdad Diary” for The New Republic, which included various examples of casually callous behavior on the part of US soldiers (nothing on the scale of Abu Ghraib or other proven cases).

For the wingers, this is a continuous pattern. Before this, there was a flap about a report that failures by contractors were resulting in troops in the field not getting adequate food. Before that, it was the Jamil Hussein case, a months-long brawl with AP arising from a report by a stringer about attacks on mosques. Before that, it was reports from Lebanon of ambulances being hit by Israeli fire. And so on.[fn1] There’s too much of this to try and give comprehensive coverage, and I’m not interested in debating the details, but a search on Instapundit will usually get you started.

The Beauchamp case fits the general pattern pretty well. First, the wingers claimed that the Diary was a fabrication and that “Scott Thomas” was the creation of a writer who’d never been near Iraq. Then, when it became evident he was a real person, they rolled out the slime machine to discredit him. Then they engaged in amateur forensics to discredit particular items in his account (acres of screen space have been devoted to the question of whether the driver of a Bradley fighting vehicle can run over a dog). Then they got to the central point – true or false, material like this is bad for the cause and shouldn’t be printed.

All of this, of course, is an attempt to replicate the one undoubted triumph of the blogospheric right, Rathergate. For those who somehow missed it, Dan Rather and CBS fooled by a bogus memo purportedly from Bush’s National Guard commander, and Rather eventually lost his job as a result.

As I said, I’m not interested in, and won’t debate, the details of these stories. The main question is: How anyone could imagine that this kind of exercise can have any value?

Suppose that everyone of the stories being discussed above was a deliberate fraud. It would not change the fact that the Iraq war has been a catastrophic failure, and that US media coverage, far from being overly pessimistic, failed to alert the US public to these disasters as they unravelled[fn2].

At one time of course, it was claimed that the media was failing to cover the “Good News from Iraq”. In that context, the idea that the bad news was bogus at least made some sort of sense. But the last “Good News” purveyor of any consequence, Winds of Change, quietly gave up this exercise at the beginning of this year. The news is nearly all bad, and what’s not reported (since reporters can’t travel much any more) is almost certainly worse. But still WoC and others persist in picking on individual, usually trivial, stories and giving them the Rathergate treatment.

The sheer volume of bad news makes piling on particular articles look really silly. In the time that’s been devoted to the treatment of Iraqi dogs, for example, Google News reports thousands of stories in which the only good news I can see is a win for the national soccer team (followed, inevitably, by this).

The fundamental problem here is that the argument-by-talking-point mode that characterizes the entire rightwing blogosphere (and in which some of the left sometimes gets involved also) works fine in the context of US political debate, where perception is all that matters. If you can sell George Bush as a hero and John Kerry as a coward, then that is, for electoral purposes, what they are. But when you start dealing with intractably factual problems like war, and making policy on the basis of wishful thinking and talking points, reality tends to bite back.

1. There’s also the endless quibbles about estimates of excess deaths (the ‘Lancet’ controversy) where the issues are a bit larger, but where the rhetorical approach and level of argument from the wingers is much the same.
2. As was the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, but the Israeli press did a much better job, and the failure of the invasion was quickly recognised there).

{ 102 comments }

1

blatherskite 07.29.07 at 7:14 am

“But when you start dealing with intractably factual problems like war, and making policy on the basis of wishful thinking and talking points, reality tends to bite back.”

Sure, from the perspective of a war on terrorism, these things are deleterious. But the most important war to many of these people is the war on liberals. That seems to be the main subtext of much of the Republican Presidential field, too.

There’s always the upcoming election, or the one after that, when the tried-and-true methods make a difference. Or at least they have, as recently as the 2004 presidential election. It’ll work again.

The general tactic you lay out here offers several other benefits to the rightwingers:
1) People think twice about telling the truth: If you say things that rile Michelle Malkin and her ilk enough, you will get slimed in the real world (address published, etc). Best be quiet!

2) It feeds their universal feeling of outrage. Without that, the rightwing would lose a lot of its energy–indeed, it seems that often outrage is all that keeps it going. There’d be no movement without it.

3) I’d guess it gives them a feeling of power, since the NYTimes and Kurtz and the MSM they purportedly despise writes about it. “Just spell their names right” and they’re happy since the MSM stories are “Questions are raised by bloggers” and rarely “Rightwing bloggers are caught lying and falsely sliming people again.”

It’s pretty disugusting but I don’t expect it to stop — and Howard Kurtz will write about again, too.

2

Joel Turnipseed 07.29.07 at 7:34 am

“oh… is that a worm with a hook through it’s middle? No–it’s just a—GACK!”

Let me think about whether or not I want to think about this…

3

bad Jim 07.29.07 at 7:34 am

I’ll play the straight man and answer seriously: we’re dealing with Dsquared’s “Crazy 27% bedrock”, the folks Bob Altemeyer studied, the sort that endlessly strives to refute evolution or what have you.

Their minds work differently. They’re not members of the reality-based community, and they don’t find logical argument persuasive. They cling to their faith no matter what facts life flings in their faces.

It may help to demonstrate that their idols are made of clay, or that their action figures are anatomically correct, but they seem strangely comfortable with phonies like John Wayne, Gene Autry, Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

So, yeah, around a third of our fellow humans are compulsive conformists, reflexive reactionaries, drooling lickspittles, and we are not going to change their minds with anything we say.

4

voyou 07.29.07 at 8:00 am

“For those who somehow missed it, Dan Rather and CBS fooled by a bogus memo purportedly from Bush’s National Guard commander.”

I didn’t follow the story super closely, but was it ever really proven that the memo was bogus? My memory is that the right-wing bloggers said “that looks like an MS Word document,” then some people pointed out that there were some (if not many) typewriters in use at the relevant time that could have produced the document in question, then the right kept shouting and Rather lost his job and we never got a definitive answer either way as to the provenance of the memo.

5

OneEyedMan 07.29.07 at 8:21 am

“How anyone could imagine that this kind of exercise can have any value?”

To the extent that the article in the TNR was important, the criticism of the piece should also be important.

The issue here is not whether barbarity exists in the US military, but whether it is allowed to flourish in an atmosphere where leadership condones it. To the extent that the story is true, it suggests that barbarity is flourishing. If the stories are false then perhaps it is not. With attention and resources always limited, it is relevant to know if resources on the margin should be moved from other activities to discourage the sorts of activities claimed in the piece.

I’d also like to point out that the criticism of the piece extends beyond the right wing blogsphere. Self described member of the left John Barnes questioned the veracity of the piece as well, although his speculations appear to have off the mark.
The Scott Thomas affair at New Republic — maybe a different take

But with all this discussion of reality, what about the value of objective truth? If these stories are fiction marketed as news, the intrinsic value of truth is alone reason justify proving it so. It doesn’t have unlimited value, but people are doing this writing and research for free, so I’m glad for their efforts.

6

Joel Turnipseed 07.29.07 at 8:43 am

Hmmm… haven’t renewed my subscription to TNR yet, but I smell bullshit. Pretty much what the guy oneeyedman linked to says, actually (and I would know better than the “statistical semiotician”).

That’s not to say that these anecdotes are impossible–but they don’t feel emotionally right. Would someone, even a clique, make fun of the woman with IED burns? Probably. But they’d also certainly get their asses chewed, hard–and possibly their asses kicked, too–and they would also feel exceptionally shitty about it and be ostracized for, oh, I don’t know… ever?

In addition to what oneeyedman said about why these stories matter, I also feel like this points up one of the great losses we suffer from the death of the war novel: to paraphrase Tim O’Brien: sometimes you have to make shit up to tell the truth, including whether or not you’re telling the truth about what you say you are–if you really want to create a space where truth might enter into the minds of your readers (or: escape from some dark, dank buried place in their soul–a real necessity for soldiers who might read it).

7

John Quiggin 07.29.07 at 9:20 am

“But with all this discussion of reality, what about the value of objective truth?”

You’re unlikely to find much of that by following the efforts of people for whom the answer is determined in advance.

8

richard 07.29.07 at 9:25 am

I’ll also be the straight man, even though I hate doing it.

It takes up space. It adds noise to the information stream, reduces clarity and keeps news from getting through. It also discourages whistleblowing by adding to the fog and the inertia of public opinion: once everyone on every side has piled on to your claims, what’s anyone supposed to believe (who has a day job where they’re not tracking all this stuff meticulously)?

We have recurring myths in our society: that newsmen can change things, that truth will out, that justice will be served. All Peter Parker has to do is get it printed and suddenly the bad guys are in jail and order is restored. These myths have to be fought every day in order to keep the public tired, cynical and de-politicised, and to keep power in the back rooms and lobbyists’ offices where it belongs.

9

Joel Turnipseed 07.29.07 at 9:29 am

Except, John, the most interesting point of this discussion is: for whom, and why, are certain stories like this amenable (or not amenable) to various encouragements not to tell the truth (or accept it). In my experience, there are just as many people willing to believe the false as there are unwilling to believe the true worst stories of war.

10

Neil the Ethical Werewolf 07.29.07 at 10:40 am

You can add the furor over the Martinez memo to the list of attempted Rathergates. Democrats inadvertently got ahold of a memo from Mel Martinez describing how Republicans wanted to exploit Terri Schaivo, and right-wing bloggers spent a month trying to prove the memo was phony.

11

Brett Bellmore 07.29.07 at 11:26 am

“I didn’t follow the story super closely, but was it ever really proven that the memo was bogus?”

Yes. On the other hand, it does not seem to me that it was ever proven that Rather was actually fooled, as such, rather than being indifferent to whether a convenient document was genuine.

12

Sk 07.29.07 at 12:57 pm

Ah, the ‘fake but accurate’ philosophy of news.

And you guys are the reality-based community?

“The main question is: How anyone could imagine that this kind of exercise can have any value?”

It would established what claims are true and what claims are false.

Suppose that everyone of the stories being discussed above was a deliberate fraud.”

Then they would be untrue.

” It would not change the fact that the Iraq war has been a catastrophic failure, and that US media coverage, far from being overly pessimistic, failed to alert the US public to these disasters as they unravelled[fn2].”

No, but it would establish that the specific claims being questioned are untrue.

Your faith-based approach to news is rotten to its core. You must be academics.

Sk

13

Ben A 07.29.07 at 12:59 pm

Like others, I find it hard to believe this is a serious question. But like them I’ll take the bait. Let us grant that X is true. What then, could possibly be the reasons for debunking a hyperbolic/inaccurate study or report claiming X? There could of course be all sorts of basically malign/bad reasons, as people have noted above: you can’t bear to admit you are wrong, you want to score points off your enemies, you want to obscure the issue. There are also good reasons. They include:

1. You may believe that the report or study speaks to other issues than X, and you wish to debunk those implications
2. You may believe that process that produced the report or study is generally perceived as reliable and careful, and this study demonstrates that it isn’t

14

Rob 07.29.07 at 1:00 pm

See Joel can feel the truth with his gut. Sure he has no proof its false, but it “feels” false. And therefore the stories must be made up!

15

Matt McIrvin 07.29.07 at 1:17 pm

Part of the purpose is simply to shut down arguments from liberals and war opponents. If you know you’re going to get this type of attention, and you actually do care about truth and evidence, you’re often going to simply hold your tongue rather than say anything for which you haven’t prepared yourself with weeks of exhaustive research. The effective standard of evidence for antiwar arguments becomes so high that it’s easier not to make them.

I find myself shying away from arguments about the war entirely, partly because the subject makes me so heartsick that it’s emotionally difficult to carry out an involved back-and-forth with a war supporter, researching every objection to the level of detail required to eliminate even the appearance of inaccuracy. And often, given the fog of war, adequately sourced refutations for every assertion are not available. Nobody, for instance, can prove that Saddam’s WMD didn’t all go invisibly over the border into Syria where they are being hidden where nobody can see them–and this is a major argument of the pro-war camp. I can call this a ridiculous assertion but obviously not everyone considers it so.

I suppose it’s no excuse, since this is an important subject. But it grinds you down coming up with good-faith responses to arguments that may not have themselves been formulated by their originators in good faith (however well-intentioned the person repeating them may be).

16

thereisnorule6 07.29.07 at 1:40 pm

while the Rathergate memo (the actual piece of paper) was “shown” to be “fake”, nobody has refuted the truth of the contents.

17

P O'Neill 07.29.07 at 2:00 pm

Footnote 2 is a key observation. The Israeli public had bailed on the Lebanon war while Bush — and by extension, the 27 percenters — were still singing its praises. In Israel, the 27 percenters are the 3 percenters. Such sustained delusion is an American disease.

18

Rich Puchalsky 07.29.07 at 2:02 pm

This started with tobacco, basically. Industry discovered that it didn’t much matter that science proved that tobacco killed people as long as they denied it vigorously and pseudo-scientifically enough in order to create doubt. The same tactics got applied to toxicology in general, wildlife issues, and global warming.

Now the wingnuts apply the tactic to any sort of story they don’t like. The crucial bridge may have been through creationism, which was an application not of behalf of industry, but on behalf of the religious right. From there, it’s not too hard to realize that the same “Can a Bradley run over a dog? Let me get my sandbox models and do a test” tactics can be applied to anything.

I predict that coming hits will be:

* slave denialism: can we be expected to believe that wooden ships could regularly survive the trip to Africa? My bathtub ducky says not. Black people in America must have been indentured servants, and all document concerning slaves were later forgeries. The whole thing was a plot to make America look bad.

* Every wingnut who has managed to get married will deny fooling around on their spouse even if caught in bed with a prostitute because not cheating on one’s spouse is SOP, and because the documented cases of people looking much like each other mean that the confidence interval is not sufficient to prove that it was really them and not a lookalike.

* Taking off from global warming criticism, the War in Iraq will simultaneously have cost too much to avoid, have been unavoidable, have been a good thing, and the Iraq War never really existed — have you ever seen a declaration of war on Iraq?

* In a few years, Bush denialism. Can anyone prove that he existed?

19

John Emerson 07.29.07 at 2:10 pm

Thank you, SK (#12). It would be nice if wingers applied their powerful critical tools to Bush’s claims, but you can’t climb every mountain at once. Their devotion to Truth should not be questioned just because they’re highly selective in the truths and untruths they focus on. Truth is Truth. All Truth is good.

Richard (#8): The main winger goals are inoculation, neutralization, and distraction. They don’t need to win arguments; they only need to spread confusion and make it seem that the other side is probably just as bad. “They’re just as bad as we are” is the most they hope to get. Even less than that — even if the public only concludes “The Democrats might be just as bad, for all we know”, the Republicans win. Their appeal is at a gut level (nationalism, militarism, nativism, fundamentalism, racism, sexism, greed) and everything else is irrelevant.

20

John Emerson 07.29.07 at 2:17 pm

Returning to the “fake but accurate” Dan Rather question: the doubts about Bush’s National Guard service were amply documented without the fake memos. The fake memo story was pumped up for the purpose of discrediting the valid documentation. There was a good, accurate story there.

The fake memos came from a mysterious, untraceable source and were discredited almost immediately by a Republican operative, making it reasonable to suspect a plant.

21

JP Stormcrow 07.29.07 at 3:22 pm

John Emerson made most of my points better than I could have in #19 & #20.

I will just add:

1)I am not sure how common the term FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) has become outside of the computer industry, but it is an apt characterization of the overall winger strategy, as well as the specifics of these incidents. (And a-holes like Kurtz in the “big” media play the role of FUD-susceptible corporate IT decision-makers and buyers who act on the equivalent of the “Nobody ever got fired …” line. Gene Amdahl first used the term in reference to IBM.)

2) Funny how among the “truths” that none of the wingers seems to want to pursue is exactly how Buckhead came to his insights on historical fonts (much less whre Burkett got the docs). I mean, it’s not like he’s over in Iraq or some kind of flake like Bill Burkett (and I will definitely concede that Burkett is a flake – CBS most certainly did screw up on that part of the story). No, Buckhead/McDougall is a man of truth and integrity, a right-wing hero, – a member of the Brooks Brothers riot, helped get Clinton disbarred, one-time member of an Atlanta-area election board – certainly he would do everything possible to help people see the “truth” and dispel the ugly suspicions of folks like myself.

3) Here is another little “truth” about the story on CBS that night that got lost in the font brouhaha. During the segment, Rather also interviewed Ben Barnes, who had helped ask for preferential treatment for getting Bush into the Nat’l Guard. The RNC knew the interview was to be broadcast and sent an e-mail out ahead of time saying that Barnes would claim more than he did in earlier sworn court testimony on the point (they said he would claim Bush’s father approached him directly rather than an intermediary). In the event, Barnes’ actually answered almost exactly as he had during the court testimony. Nonetheless, that did not prevent Sean Hannity (and Pat Buchanan) from both claiming the next night that Barnes’ had contradicted his earlier court testimony. Is that what they or anyone who actually watched the interview thought? Or were they just mindlessly repeating RNC talking points? Who knows, we report, you decide.

22

roger 07.29.07 at 3:54 pm

There are advantages to these stories, at least on the blogosphere. The sphere is pretty ideologically segregated at the moment. Three years ago, I might even have gone to, say, Winds of Change, to see what was happening. But as the cult-like features of the right hardened, it became more and more a waste of time. There is a lot less disagreement at those sites now – to say nothing of, say, Michelle Malkin’s site. But the one thing that renews those sites, and saves their audience from hypoxia, are controversies in which they can charge out like a swarm of bees and come into the normal blogosphere. It is probably not good for the right to become so cultish, and I like to think that some of the pack, having to confront things they have never read or heard of, return in a more thoughtful mood.

23

Barry 07.29.07 at 4:13 pm

“Your faith-based approach to news is rotten to its core. You must be academics.”

Sk

And here we have a short, sweet example – the sort of guy who can ignore the hideous pack of lies which is the Iraq War, the massive pack of lies which is the Bush administration, all with a ‘you suck!’.

24

Seth Finkelstein 07.29.07 at 4:22 pm

By the way, the sociology of the Dan Rather /60 Minutes story and the Wurlitzer is more complex than the simplified myth would have it. I have a old blog post on the evolution of it:

http://sethf.com/infothought/blog/archives/000702.html

“There were apparently at least two tracks pushing the story. TWO. A blog track and a right-wing PR agency track.”

I tried to get a few media academics interested in a deeper examination, but I don’t really know the right people (and sadly, most of those I do know are drunk on blog-evangelism Kool-Aid). And I don’t have anywhere near the status myself to do it even if I did have the time (see Lancet authors for a worked example …).

25

Walt 07.29.07 at 4:30 pm

sk: Do you read right-wing blogs, the kind of blogs that claimed that Jamal Hussein didn’t really exist? Did you stop when you found out that they were full of shit? How about when they claimed that “Scott Thomas” didn’t exist? Did you stop when you found out they were wrong again? Wait, what’s that? You kept on reading? So much for your claims to be interested in the truth.

26

Jim Harrison 07.29.07 at 4:41 pm

In part, right wing media debunking tactics work because of the public adheres to a naive empiricism. According to this folk epistemology, what we can reliably know is based on knowledge of facts about individual cases; and generalizations, especially statistical generalizations, are less reliable than the instances they summarize. Unfortunately, as every court case demonstrates, figuring out what happened in a particular case is extraordinarily difficult and interminably contestable. Of course extremely reliable conclusions can be drawn by aggregating dubious data points; but realizing how that works takes some sophistication; and the conservatives are usually playing to the cheap seats.

27

John Emerson 07.29.07 at 4:54 pm

Seth, a somewhat comparable case was the “Wellstone funeral” (actually memorial) story. In the course of about 36 hours a snippet of video from that funeral was blown up into a national story. Probably a dozen major media figure wrote indignant pieces (Caldwell, Noonan, Malkin, Novak, and many others). I worked up a chronology at the time — there were lots of behind-the-scenes players.

28

J— 07.29.07 at 5:35 pm

John Emerson at #27: Do you have something on Wellstone we could read?

29

John Emerson 07.29.07 at 5:57 pm

It’s posted at this link:
http://www.idiocentrism.com/zizka.memorial.htm

I haven’t looked at it for a couple of years, and many of the links are probably dead. It’s from my “Zizka” era.

A disgraceful but not unusual episode in American political history.

30

John Emerson 07.29.07 at 6:02 pm

A ran through a sample and 2/3 of the links were dead. Memo to self: Screen caps.

31

Nell 07.29.07 at 6:05 pm

The news is nearly all bad

That it is, but today there is an almost-unalloyed bit of good news that’s giving the people of Iraq a chance to revel in national pride and joy: Iraq wins the Asian Cup! (against heavily-favored Saudi Arabia 1-0 on a header by the captain in OT).

I don’t read the 27%-ers, ever, but wondered if anyone who does can tell me if they’re covering the good news? As Tony Karon says, it’s not enough to cure the divisions, but on the human level, it’s such a wonderful thing for Iraqis to have even a brief respite like this.

32

novakant 07.29.07 at 6:37 pm

All this wouldn’t really matter, if there were more critical voters with a bit of media literacy who were actually interested in policy, rather than scandals and election races. I’m not sure the blogosphere as a whole is helping in this regard.

33

J— 07.29.07 at 6:58 pm

Thanks for the link, John.

34

Ben Alpers 07.29.07 at 7:33 pm

Neil at #31:

Wait a minute…I thought those of us opposed to the war were rooting for things to go badly in Iraq! Did I miss a memo?

(This is snark, incidentally, in case this post should be read by any wingnut comment-miners.)

35

Brett Bellmore 07.29.07 at 8:48 pm

“Of course extremely reliable conclusions can be drawn by aggregating dubious data points;”

Where the data points are dubious because they’re noisy, yes. Where the data points are dubious because somebody is faking them, no. You can average out noise, you can’t average out bias.

36

Barry 07.29.07 at 9:50 pm

Brett, so should we then throw out everything that the Bush administration says?

37

richard 07.29.07 at 10:29 pm

re 36: no, it’s a reliable guide to the administration’s anxieties. As long as you treat it as that, and not as ever reporting anything factual, you’ll be fine.

38

Tom T. 07.29.07 at 10:36 pm

John Q, haven’t you just written a defense of Swift-Boating? Your point seems to be that the veracity of side issues doesn’t matter, and that has endless applicability in other contexts. Attacks on John Kerry’s military record — that’s a side issue, so it’s wrong to spend time debunking them. The stories of Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch — side issues, don’t bother with them.

And how does one judge what is important enough to be be verified? Are Newsweek’s allegations of urinating on a Quran more important than Beauchamp’s allegations of desecration of a mass grave? I don’t know.

The commenters at #8 and #14 seem to suggest that we should believe what is printed in the media, because they wouldn’t print it if it’s not true. I’d like to be able to do that, and it seems to me that the sort of attack that we’re seeing on Beauchamp, to the extent that it promotes rigorous fact-checking prior to publication, serves that goal.

39

Karen L 07.30.07 at 12:46 am

Walt –

Police Captain Jamil Hussein still doesn’t exist, any more than U.S. President George Smith or Speaker of the House Nancy White.

A lot of trouble could have been avoided if the AP had admitted “Jamil Hussein” was a pseudonym to begin with. After all, the conservative bloggers who investigated discovered the existence of Police Captain Jamil Gulaim Innad al-Jashami quite early, and suggested that “Jamil Hussein” could have been a pseudonym for him. Instead, the AP continued to claim that “Jamil Hussein” existed, a claim on the same level as insisting that “Secretary of State Condoleeza Wheat” exists.

40

Walt 07.30.07 at 1:44 am

Karen: Come on.

41

Sebastian Holsclaw 07.30.07 at 2:29 am

It is kind of ironic to see people who prize themselves on being oh so informed spewing so much misinformation about the Dan Rather incident.

42

John Emerson 07.30.07 at 3:08 am

Good old Sebastian.

43

Joel Turnipseed 07.30.07 at 3:35 am

Well, at least I’ve got my TNR subscription renewed…

Now (deep breath): No. Fucking. Way. I can’t believe Foer, et.al., fell for this. It’s just wrong, wrong, wrong in so many ways that I actually feel bad for Beauchamp. Then again, this was probably a good experience for him and if he gets his head straight & leaves this thing walking, the fury of the thing might focus him enough that he actually does go on to become the writer he dreams to be.

Bradley’s don’t swerve. Their drivers don’t–not in Iraq (!) go looking for things to crash into–and the sure as hell don’t cut dogs in half! Bwa-ha-ha-ha! Oh wait: and… leave them smiling whistfully. JFC, man!

Uh, randomly uniformed women in chow hall? What was her nationality? He had tons of specificity in details like the baby graveyard, but couldn’t even guess whether she was U.S. forces? TCN? What? You just don’t get to hang out with the fobbits and not have anyone know who you are (well… actually, you might, scary as that seems).

Have any of you ever worn a Kevlar combat helmet? They weigh something like four or five pounds (depending on what you’ve got attached to it). Doesn’t sound like much, but wearing a skull chunk between your bare skin and that hard Kevlar wouldn’t last more than about two minutes before you’d be in serious pain–and if you did it all day, you’d have blood dripping into your eyes (with or without the padding of decaying baby flesh).

Now, each of these episodes may have a little (or even a lot of) basis in truth–but they’re just wrong. There’s no way they happened with the intensity and in the manner Beauchamp describes–and without any disapproving/shocked reaction from other troops. Just. not. happening.

OK, so why does this matter? Does expressing doubt about this crap do anything meaningful outside of giving succor to the wingnuttery? Absolutely.

You know who you’re writing for when you write this stuff. You know the pressures you’re under. I know: I’ve written about war for (and been fact-checked by) GQ, Granta, NY Times Magazine, and a dozen other publications. But you just can’t ever, never, ever let the allure of the big publication outweigh the moral obligation you have to be right and fair to those with whom you serve.

You can piss them off (I have), you can paraphrase if you can’t remember perfectly, you can (if its memoir and not journalism–or if it is and your editor/fact-checker will let you when you tell them what’s up and why) even combine one or two of them if you need to.

But they’ll know who they are, even if you’ve combined them or changed their names. And they’ll know what they did. And how they felt. And what kind of look you had on your face when you were standing next to them. I know this because the motherfuckers called me when my book came out. And you should know how others will use what you write. And how soldiers and Marines will feel when they read it. And care whether or not you’ve created a story that opens up possibilities for their lives or whether you’ve just taken a steaming shit in the middle of their hearts.

And.. just one more: when you wield this tremendous power of the mass media (feels good, the first time it’s in your hands), you have the abso-fucking-lute responsibility that you’ve taken the best-possible care not to use this power to fuck anyone else’s life up worse than it is already (unless, I guess, you’re Janet Malcolm or Joan Didion and just up an confess that that’s what business you’re in). And frankly? Beauchamp’s writing doesn’t pass this test. No. way. It’s childish. It’s melodramatic. Even if, by some epistemic miracle, every detail were corroborated on videotape, tape recorder, mutliple testimony, etcetera–it would still be wrong because there’s no way what he left out (and it’s a big assumption to grant this epistemic miracle) wouldn’t have humanized the soldiers with whom he served–and doing that would have wrecked his big chance. Or: not–and given him an even bigger one. Too bad he fucked it up.

44

Lee A. Arnold 07.30.07 at 5:03 am

John Quiggan, it’s a misunderstanding of the new medium. I think that part of what we see happening is that the rightwing has taken a method of propaganda that worked very well before the internet — basically, massive baldfaced lying through one-way media — and continued it into the era of the internet, where it has to swim against other tides, not least against reportage of the war’s obvious facts. I don’t think they’ve quite realized that in this new medium of broader fact-checking, their old method is failing. They mislead themselves — because it still plays to the 27% who think Jesus is coming back next year. But they have stopped reaching further beyond that group. This has to be frustrating, and that emotion is conflated with the war emotion.

You absolutely must always have the facts on your side, and they don’t know how to do that yet. They were never very good at facts to begin with, and through the years of one-way media, they got sloppy.

It was however interesting to see the attempted implosion of the Lancet study, which showed a new sophisticated way of propaganda technique: Ask for constructive criticism from thinking human beings, while at the same time leaking your piss to the partisan skullnaughts — then secure the fraud, by accusing your serious interlocutors of dishonesty and gibberish! This technique uses the openness and mechanics of the blog format smartly, to throw in lots of highly technical caveats, and I suspect we may see more of it. So at some point you may need to register your commenters and delete the ones who keep getting the obvious things wrong, or who remain unrepentently unschooled. Give them one warning, then off with their heads.

As to the actual content of this war story, it is insignificant even if it is true. I am not surprised if it happened, and I don’t take it to mean much. People can perform especially badly under duress, you see it all the time, and war is the worst. Old-timers just roll their eyes. So I conclude: the fact that the rightwingers are using so much energy to deny this story, is itself very revealing of how lost, how misapplied, they are.

45

roy belmont 07.30.07 at 6:51 am

Turnipseed-
You want to cite specifically what you’re using to malign Joan Didion with?
Do it and I promise I’ll kick your ass right here in public.

46

BruceR 07.30.07 at 7:10 am

The argument here as I read it is that since Mr. Beauchamp’s point of view will be “vindicated by history,” the accuracy of his current reporting is a moot point. I personally hope very few working reporters take Mr. Quiggin’s guidance on that question.

I would be bothered if it turned out that anything Mr. Beauchamp wrote was inaccurate. I am equally if not even more bothered by the concurrent stories in the U.S. press about the citations for two Silver Star winners being called into question, which I think is a better analogy than “the lies that led us into war,” which is an order of magnitude more grave and harder for any one person to check or opine on.

The fact is that there are lots of people out there who are willing to lie to alter public perceptions and affect public policy. But I would prefer as few of them as possible on my side of any issue, including this one, please: regardless of their intentions, their methods are what’s inexcusable. That said, I don’t know whether Mr. Beauchamp falls into that category, and don’t plan to spend a whole lot of time worrying whether he does.

But Mr. Beauchamp aside, can there be a defence for TNR’s behaviour here? They were paying a serving member of a military to write stories from the battlefield, without his superiors’ consent or knowledge. If the last few things have made anything obvious at all about blogging, it’s that bloggers that piss off their employers get fired. In a military, consequences for bad behaviour are worse than regular jobs by definition: because Mr. Foer et al weren’t up front about this from the start, their writer now faces a military investigation which could well lead to charges.
The whole thing was sophomoric and cavalier, like something a student campus paper would do: if TNR had said from the start, our staffer’s husband is doing a tour in Iraq and we’re going to print his letters home once in a while, and thereby been in an honest contract with the military, the readers, and their own employees from the start, none of this likely would have turned out the way it did.

47

Joel Turnipseed 07.30.07 at 7:11 am

OK, Roy… have at it. Or: are you serious?

“My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does. That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.”

- Joan Didion, “Introduction,” Slouching Toward Bethlehem

“Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse.”

- Janet Malcolm, opening page, The Journalist and the Murderer

48

bi 07.30.07 at 10:22 am

Tom T.:

Oh, how about totally ignoring the fact that Newsweek apologized?

Or the fact that the right-wing talking heads never apologize for writing nonsense. “I’m wrong but I’m still right!” they go, again and again and again and again and again. And as I pointed out before, the scientifically bogotified “Gore buys carbon offsets from his own company” meme is just another case in point.

49

Barry 07.30.07 at 11:33 am

The striking point *is* the straining at gnats while swallowing camels. For example, Joel wrote:
“And.. just one more: when you wield this tremendous power of the mass media (feels good, the first time it’s in your hands), you have the abso-fucking-lute responsibility that you’ve taken the best-possible care not to use this power to fuck anyone else’s life up worse than it is already (unless, I guess, you’re Janet Malcolm or Joan Didion and just up an confess that that’s what business you’re in).”

Now, however much that applies to a journalist, it’s got to apply literally millions of times more to (picking an example at random) the President of the United States of America. However, many of these cargo cultists have Bush either a total or partial pass on little things like wars.

50

Joel Turnipseed 07.30.07 at 11:47 am

Uh, Barry… since you seem to imply otherwise, I should note that I have been against this war–quite publicly–since before it even started.

I should also say: I was the among the very first people to go to print calling “bullshit” on the Swift Boaters, going so far as to get together three other war memoirists from the PGW, Somalia, and Afghanistan to join me in doing so on Salon.com.

This isn’t a question of “straining at gnats while swallowing camels.”

Well, it partly is: there’s no doubt the wingnuttery wants to use this (as they used several small details gone awry in the Winter Soldier hearings to try to denounce anyone who pointed out atrocities in Vietnam: some quite well documented and researched–most devastatingly in the case of the recent “Tiger Force” Pulitzer winning series from the Toledo Blade) to paint a rosy picture of our forces abroad…

OK. Great. The “27%ers” at work. Whatever. But that’s not the only issue here. But then: no one here seems to give a fuck except when it suits their purposes and rhetoric… so why bother?

51

John Emerson 07.30.07 at 12:35 pm

Joel has been around for awhile and should be listened to.

52

ajay 07.30.07 at 1:41 pm

Mr Emerson, no disrespect, but Joel says things like “Bradleys don’t swerve. Their drivers don’t—not in Iraq (!) go looking for things to crash into—and they sure as hell don’t cut dogs in half!”

Why on earth should he be listened to? He’s completely divorced from reality.

53

John Emerson 07.30.07 at 3:21 pm

By and large I’ve been defending the TNR article based primarily on the assumption that the opponents are the normal winger hacks. Turnipseed is absolutely not a winger hack and his previous comments have been generally good. He also has, IIRC, military experience.

A secondary question, but I make no apology for my arguments from authority / lack of authority. We’re often in a position of having to make up our minds under time pressure with imperfect information that we only partly understand, and authority is one of our most valuable tools. In addition, a common winger tactic is confusing the issue with technicalities with the goal of sowing doubt, and I suspected that that was happening here. Turnipseed’s post changes the equation for me. I personally know nothing about swerving fighting vehicles.

54

BEW 07.30.07 at 4:16 pm

John,

For a different view as to whether Bradly vehicles can swerve, see this link

http://ezraklein.typepad.com/blog/2007/07/must-love-dogs.html

Via LGM

55

Joel Turnipseed 07.30.07 at 5:37 pm

bew, ajay: look, I have ridden in, on, and around Bradleys. Could one “swerve” in one direction (albeit with limited radius) and clip a dog? Sure, but those must be awfully big dogs that they can be severed (rather than, say, pancaked completely) by Bradley tracks, which are what–about two feet wide (21″ actually–just looked it up)?

At any rate: read what I wrote. I don’t doubt that Beauchamp’s story is based in fact. I’m not chagrined by the behavior he’s describing (I’ve seen much, much worse–well, nothing worse than the kid with his tongue cut out…but lots worse than the rest of what he describes). What I question is the tone of voice/angle he’s taking. It’s childish and selfish and morally sketchy. Even if all (a generous posit) of the facts in his piece are true, the piece is false for what I know is left out, especially given the title of his piece and its outlet and what else I know about this guy. And this has nothing to do with my politics: In the Persian Gulf War, I had one captain continually ferreting out my TNR from the CONEX mail box and witholding it from me because it was “communist trash.” Heh.

56

Cryptic Ned 07.30.07 at 6:40 pm

When I read the piece I figured that just like the author’s name, certain details could have been changed in a morally neutral way in order to make it hard to identify the people involved. Like saying the woman’s face was melted instead of some other disfiguring injury, or saying that the driver running over the dog was driving a Bradley instead of some other vehicle. But this has already been discussed, I’m sure.

57

Joel Turnipseed 07.30.07 at 6:41 pm

NB: “Not chagrined”–for clarity’s sake: Not chagrined that he’s describing it.

58

Barry 07.30.07 at 6:44 pm

Joel, ‘tone of voice’ is not the same thing as truth/falsity, in most cases. BTW, I don’t know your background; if I’ve said anything false, please forgive me.

As to running over things with tracks, please see John Cole’s post (M-1 driver, which has really poor visibility):
http://www.balloon-juice.com/?p=8452#comment-348868

John Emerson: ” In addition, a common winger tactic is confusing the issue with technicalities with the goal of sowing doubt, and I suspected that that was happening here. “

True; we’re actually playing into their hands by discussing the details of small stories, while the Big Lies go unchallenged.

59

Xanthippas 07.30.07 at 6:57 pm

At any rate: read what I wrote. I don’t doubt that Beauchamp’s story is based in fact. I’m not chagrined by the behavior he’s describing (I’ve seen much, much worse—well, nothing worse than the kid with his tongue cut out…but lots worse than the rest of what he describes). What I question is the tone of voice/angle he’s taking. It’s childish and selfish and morally sketchy. Even if all (a generous posit) of the facts in his piece are true, the piece is false for what I know is left out, especially given the title of his piece and its outlet and what else I know about this guy.

Joel, it would be a lot more honest of you just to say “I don’t like this guy cause he said bad things about fellow soldiers” and leave it at that.

60

Joel Turnipseed 07.30.07 at 7:21 pm

Well, it’s a lot subtler than that, frankly… but honestly? To do any good to this question (or: range of questions), I just need to put my head down and write something considered about it…

61

Pablo 07.30.07 at 7:45 pm

First, the wingers claimed that the Diary was a fabrication and that “Scott Thomas” was the creation of a writer who’d never been near Iraq.

Who said that, John? Quote, please. Unless it’s just too truthy to question…

62

J Thomas 07.30.07 at 8:17 pm

First, the wingers claimed that the Diary was a fabrication and that “Scott Thomas” was the creation of a writer who’d never been near Iraq.

Who said that, John? Quote, please. Unless it’s just too truthy to question…

http://www.amazon.com/gp/discussionboard/discussion.html/ref=cm_blog_db/105-1295765-7484432?ie=UTF8&pt=personalBlog&aid=PlogMyCustomersAgent&ot=customer&pd=1185312067.033&pid=PMCA3GL35KHVDHAKGat1185311387&store=yourstore&cdThread=Tx2TY7NF146AZKZ&iid=A3GL35KHVDHAKG&displayType=AmazonConnect

Here’s one link. The poster made the claim and provided evidence, and then some of the commenters did also. This wasn’t at all the first or even typical, but it’s the most interesting and the only one I saved.

63

dicentra 07.30.07 at 8:49 pm

1) John Barnes is a gentleman of the left: check the paragraph that begins “I suppose I wish Foer well.”

2) The other speculations that Scott Thomas did not exist were not based on the fact that he Said Bad Things about the soldiers but on the fact that many of the details did not add up, i.e., someone in the military would have used different terminology, etc.

3) Now that we know that Beauchamp is in fact a soldier, we’re pretty well gobsmacked by the fact that he couldn’t get his details about Bradley maneuverability right (as if people swerve around with all those IEDs around!) and that he would be party or witness to such atrocities without reporting them to higher command, as was his duty as a soldier. Instead, this little “Emohawk” has landed himself in a heap o’ trouble for either (a) not reporting illegal behavior or (b) lying about seeing it in a national publication.

It’s not that the “wingers” don’t want to hear about bad news or bad behavior from Iraq: we just want to hear it from someone who’s on “our side” so that we know there aren’t any ulterior motives involved.

I mean, if someone who hates your guts tells you that you have BO, you don’t listen; if your best friend tells you, however, you hit the showers.

64

Pablo 07.30.07 at 9:29 pm

Here’s one link. The poster made the claim and provided evidence, and then some of the commenters did also.

The poster says:

“…my guess is this: I think “Scott Thomas” is actually an MFA writing student, or a recent graduate of such a program, probably with some military experience – he may be serving in some non-combat specialty in Iraq – probably from one of the elite MFA programs, the twenty or so from which college creative writing faculty and small-press staff come disproportionately.”

Where in that do you see “He doesn’t exist”? Also, I don’t see any of comments that claim he doesn’t exists, though I did see one expressing skepticism. Would you quote the comments you’re referring to, j thomas?

65

Pablo 07.30.07 at 9:31 pm

Oh, and you realize that John Barnes is nobody’s “winger” unless you mean left winger, don’t you, j thomas?

66

Richard Aubrey 07.31.07 at 12:47 am

Interesting discussion.
Those who think STB is a fibber are wingers or wingnuts. No other information is necessary to disprove the contention that STB is full of it and that Foer jumped on the story which was too good to check.
Just that anybody who disagreed is a winger and that suffices.
There are many who say such tripe. Including those who say it, how many do you think believe that makes an argument?
Yeah. About five.

67

John Quiggin 07.31.07 at 1:13 am

dicentra at 63(2) answers pablo – as he says, lots of people suggested Thomas’ piece was not written by a real soldier. Here’s a fairly typical example. And while I know nothing about John Barnes’ politics, there were links to his analysis on lots of the sites I mentioned.

68

John Emerson 07.31.07 at 1:14 pm

Yes, Aubrey, the default position is that nothing a winger says is credible. This is a completely reasonable response: after a certain point, you don’t listen to the boy who cries wolf. People are called wingers because of their track record: a constant fog of lies, disinformation, and confusion. They smear anyone whose testimony they don’t like.

It is also completely reasonable to reconsider the whole question when someone who has not discredited himself weighs in, in this case Joel Turnipseed.

Wingers deliberately spread chaff. They throw up one thing after another hoping that something will stick. The wisest course is to ignore everything they say.

69

Richard Aubrey 07.31.07 at 2:15 pm

John Emerson. Good plan. Saves work.
Problem is, while you’re doing it, the facts come out and you don’t have a clue.

Herewith a–probably–novel view of the STB thing:
STB is apparently a mechanic on heavy equipment. He’s a soldier trained on our latest gear.
So he says things like a Brad can cut a dog in half. There’s room in the helmet for a body part. You might have to change a tire in a river of sewage.
He knows better. The Brad can smash a dog, but not cut it in half. The Brad will accumulate damage for nothing if the driver is smacking stuff for fun–and the crew and the motorpool will be pissed at having to fix it. They won’t allow it. There is no room in a helmet for a body part. The tires are run-flat, so there are miles to go before you have to change a flat.
He knows this. He could have made up stuff not easily refuted. Like the body part worn on the harness. Using a baited fishing line with a hook from the Brad to catch dogs. An Iraqi woman with the mutilated face. Hell, he could have had the imaginary Iraq woman with half her face mutilated and the other half beautiful.
But he didn’t.
He wrote things which he could presume TNR would not notice were wrong, nor their readers. But, in the fashion of time bombs, could not fail to explode when out in the wider world.
And they did not fail.

The thing that intrigues me is that the guy didn’t have to do what he did. He deliberately chose to write about things which he knew were false, that anybody with a clue would know were false, but that would slide through TNR. Giving TNR a bad name.

70

Bruce Baugh 07.31.07 at 3:40 pm

It’s probably worth noting at some point here that Private Thomas would not have been in position to do whatever terrible things he did (whether conduct or fabulation) if the quotas for soldiers had been met by war supporters of better character. Basically, the armchair brigade created the opportunity by their own dereliction of what they described (and continue to describe) as a duty to the whole of our civilization. If they don’t want bad people in the armed forces, then they – presumably, good people – should be there instead.

71

Daikazu Neko 07.31.07 at 3:52 pm

Absolutely, Bruce. No one (and I mean no one) should support or oppose any war, anywhere, anytime, unless they’re willing to serve as a combatant.

That much would be self-evident, I’d think.

72

Bruce Baugh 07.31.07 at 4:20 pm

Sarcasm is all well and good, but how often is the fate of civilization actually hanging in the balance of any particular war? In some generations, not at all, and not all that often in others. But that’s what this struggle is, we’re told by proponents – the very viability of the West is pitted agaisnt Islamofascism and its sundry minions and lackeys. Yes, joining the armed forces would carry some cost, but then so does leaving the war to be fought by reprehensible cretins like Private Thomas, yes? What practical steps have war supporters ever proposed or pushed for to put the war fighting in hands they’d find more desirable?

73

Daikazu Neko 07.31.07 at 4:28 pm

I’m not entirely certain you possess the military experience necessary to critique a war, Bruce. Unless you’ve served, or at least are willing to serve, you have no right to condemn any war, anywhere, anytime, or the people fighting in said war. Just as you have no right to advocate any war, anywhere, anytime, or praise those fighting in said war.

74

dicentra 07.31.07 at 5:04 pm

It’s probably worth noting at some point here that Private Thomas would not have been in position to do whatever terrible things he did (whether conduct or fabulation) if the quotas for soldiers had been met by war supporters of better character.

You’re assuming that “Private Thomas” was admitted to the military under reduced standards. It is entirely possible that Beauchamp qualifies in spades by any standard. He’s not some poor minority kid who has no prospects outside of the military; he might be as physically fit as the next guy, etc., and I’ve no reason to believe otherwise.

You’re also assuming that there are a quantity of posts open for genuine hawks, then as soon as those slots are filled, recruiters are forced to make do with doves. I doubt that recruiters ask for your politics before you sign up.

Oh. And by bringing up the chickenhawk argument in the middle of a thread about journalistic integrity, you have — congratulations! — moved the goalposts.

Good lefty!

75

Bruce Baugh 07.31.07 at 5:39 pm

Like most people in the world, I think the Iraq war was tragically unnecessary. I’m trying to work out the consequences if I’m wrong, taking the arguments made in its favor as good-faith statements of both perceived fact and underlying principle. If Thomas is a disgrace to the war and the armed forces, then it’s of interest (I’d think) to figure out how this kind of situation came about in the first place.

I haven’t yet gotten to the other point that’s been holding my attention or at least curiosity, so will do so now. There’ve been a lot of calls over the years among war supporters to “take off the gloves” and the like, to be tougher in the prosecution of the war, less coddling, and so on. Well, here we have an account of relatively un-coddling behavior and what happens? It gets denounced by the people who insist that we should be harsher victors. It doesn’t seem to add up to me. What would getting tougher, pushing for the kind of defeat that requires humiliating admission of failure on the part of insurgents, look like, if not basically like this, with more cruelty and less charity on all fronts? How are we supposed to humiliate our foes except by building up the kind of callousness that would make such things routine? I don’t get it.

76

Bruce Baugh 07.31.07 at 5:42 pm

By the way, Dicentra: I’m assuming nothing about slots. The armed forces have recruitment goals. They haven’t been able to meet them very often since the war and occupation began. They’ve repeatedly had to lower standards to close some of the gap. None of that is guesswork on my part, that’s what the armed forces say of themselves. If people who support the war and regard it as of vital importance but won’t consider serving in it think the armed forces are lying about their needs or misrepresenting the results of recruitment, that’s between them and the armed forces, not me.

77

Daikazu Neko 07.31.07 at 5:49 pm

Good on ya, Bruce – you’re on your way to a “chickenhawk” trifecta here!

Do prepare yourself now, of course, to be on the receiving end of what you’re dishing out now whenever, in future, a crisis arises that in your view requires some military response.

Say, like the situation in Darfur.

78

Daikazu Neko 07.31.07 at 5:56 pm

Or, perish the thought, you and others like you could engage with those supporting or opposing any topic, the War in Iraq included, on the basis of the strength or lack thereof of the arguments they advance.

You know, like people, not “wingers” or some other caricature.

Wouldn’t that be interesting to try? Rather than trotting out some slur that is intended to marginalize and exclude those with whom one disagrees?

79

Bruce Baugh 07.31.07 at 6:01 pm

Look, I’m identifying the things that puzzle me, and that I haven’t seen addressed. If you want to address them, go ahead. If you want to just snipe at my imagined motives, go for that.

But still: I don’t see how the criticism I’m seeing from war supporters of Private Thomas matches up with what they say in other contexts they want. I’ve provided some details above. What you do with it, if anything, is now your department.

80

Daikazu Neko 07.31.07 at 6:13 pm

In other words, we doesn’t like the nasty wingers, we doesn’t! Oh no, my precious!

Excellent, Bruce. Given the chance to step away from the “chickenhawk” slur and debate something on the merits, you opt for more of the same.

Ah, well. Enjoy it, I suppose. But do prepare for the backlash – just as the Right discovered to their horror after eight years of moving Heaven and Earth to undermine Clinton that such tactics could rebound upon their pet projects, so the Left is destined to encounter the “chickenhawk” slur for whatever overseas adventures they might favor. It’ll be facile, of course, and childish, but you and those like you have labored long and hard to establish the groundwork for it. And that’s something, right?

81

Barry 07.31.07 at 6:53 pm

“…so the Left is destined to encounter the “chickenhawk” slur for whatever overseas adventures they might favor.”

Just in case you were out of the USA for the last *thirty years*, the right has had no problem slandering Democrats as draft-dodging cowardly, commie-loving peacenik hippy pacifists, who had no idea of how the Real World Worked, unlike manly, warrior-type Republicans.

This was repeatedly used on Democrats, even those who were combat veterans, by Republicans, even if they were draft-dodgers who cheered various wars, but made d*mm sure not to get personally involved.

Anybody who is ignorant of the above counts as extremely ignorant about US politics.

82

Walt 07.31.07 at 6:57 pm

Daikazu Neko: Remember the part where we tried things your way, and you fucked everything up? Remember that? You fucked up. No amount of handwringing of how you are a reasonable person who’s just misunderstood is going to fix that. First, you need to come to grips with how and why you fucked up, and then maybe someone outside your little bubble will listen to you again.

83

John Emerson 07.31.07 at 7:00 pm

Richard, I don’t believe you! And I don’t care! There are no facts here that would change my mind about anything, one way or another. I was speaking philosophically just now, about why I’m justified in ignoring you (you have a track record) but not Turnipseed (who also has a track record). I’m moderately familiar with you and do not remember ever getting usable information from you.

Daikazu Neko: shut the fuck up. You, like Richard, are among the reasons why we don’t bother to engage war supporters. You offer nothing but hot air and chaff.

So-called “honest conservatives” are in a world of hurt these days, because almost all of them got suckered into pimping for every dishonest, fraudulent, incompetent disaster Bush had to offer us. Their lack of credibility is a problem all right, but the problem is above all their problem.

84

Roy Belmont 07.31.07 at 7:01 pm

Joel T-
“…that you’ve taken the best-possible care not to use this power to fuck anyone else’s life up worse than it is already (unless, I guess…”
This isn’t bolstered by your quotes, but I’ll back up and spot you an insider’s cynicism overall that I don’t personally claim by rights. That would seem to be Didion’s impart there, rather than a summation of journalistic impotence, perfidy, and betrayal. Partial truth born of weariness.
The moral exigencies of “somebody’s gonna get hurt if you tell it, and someone else is gonna get hurt if you don’t” seem to have slipped by you when you wrote that One True Commandment of Responsible Journalism. I’m guessing a lot of the best in-country reportage comes out of some kind of resolve of that very thing. Interviews with the perpetrators, without them catching how repulsed you are. Then betrayal. Witness.
On the other hand the number of people Didion hasn’t sold out, has in fact championed directly and by default at times when to do so was as at least as dangerous, or more so, than covering actual military combat, is measurably larger than than that of those she has. I can get a lot of voices to second that.
Fault her for being patrician and somewhat materially compromised, but she’s no treacherous groveler.
Janet Malcolm is outside the discussion, for me.

85

Daikazu Neko 07.31.07 at 7:02 pm

Which obviously defends the use of the tactic by the Left, right, Barry?

And don’t be nearly so quick to pigeon-hole me, Walt. I don’t recall stating my political preferences anywhere in this thread.

I do, however, recall pointing out that it’s intellectually dishonest and childish to employ the “chickenhawk” slur, no matter who’s using it.

But please, do carry on if the tactic pleases you. It’s your choice, after all.

86

Daikazu Neko 07.31.07 at 7:05 pm

Oh, and John, way to display that open mind of yours. If you’re so wed to the use of the chickenhawk slur against people, not to mention those you categorize as “wingers,” then it’s likely that little will change you.

In the meantime, you might divert yourself by substituting another collective term for a group of individuals – say,
“Nips,” for example, in all your statements regarding “wingers” (including that above) and amuse yourself at how lovely the sentiment expressed appears.

But you probably won’t, being all open-minded and reasonable and all.

87

John Emerson 07.31.07 at 7:23 pm

Daizuko, when did I ever claim to be open-minded? When did I say anything about chickenhawks? You’re just cutting premade cliche arguments off the same sheet you always use. You’re not talking to me.

Wingers are people who have a bad track record of dishonesty, ignorance, chauvinism, and so on. They’re not an oppressed ethcic or religous group, they’re defined by unacceptable behavior, the way criminals and incompetents are. Are you open-minded about criminals and incompetents?

88

Daikazu Neko 07.31.07 at 7:40 pm

You’re right, John – I would never mistake you for being open-minded.

Are there any other groups out there you’d like to include in your category as deserving of exclusion? As being comparable to criminals and incompetents? As being bad because they’re “those people” and therefore essentially wicked and beyond redemption?

Or would you prefer to revert to the “Shut up, he explained” school of argumentation?

Ah, let me save you the trouble. Don’t bother. As one of “those people,” I’m not worth it.

Sayonara, John.

89

Uncle Kvetch 07.31.07 at 7:40 pm

Well, here we have an account of relatively un-coddling behavior and what happens? It gets denounced by the people who insist that we should be harsher victors.

It’s an excellent question, Bruce, and one that’s occurred to me as well in the past week. One minute the soldiers are fighting with one hand tied behind their back because the namby-pamby liberals won’t let them take the gloves off and win; the next they’re St. Francis of Asisi.

I guess it’s not terribly surprising that you’re not getting anything more substantive from the war supporters here than incoherent, spittle-flecked babbling.

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Walt 07.31.07 at 7:42 pm

Daikazu Neko: It’s possible that you are a disinterested observer of the human condition, moved to comment on the use of the term “chickenhawk”. That’s sure not the way to bet, though.

The US has been driven into the ditch by an out-of-control political party, while the enablers have cheered on the sidelines. How did it go so wrong? Those of us forced to observe it up close have noticed certain pervasive psychological features, features so uncharacteristic of the ordinary population, that it’s not hard to think that they contributed to the disaster that has befallen us. One of them is chickenhawism. Maybe it’s not the most important. Really, we’re trying to make sense of the world-view of crazy people by the indirect clues of their public utterances.

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Daikazu Neko 07.31.07 at 8:07 pm

It’s not clear to me why that’s not the way to bet, Walt. There’s certainly a lot of presumption engaged in here, assigning motives and ideologies at will, questioning of the mentalities and general soundness of those whose prevailing sin seems to be holding political viewpoints that are different from the “normal” population.

But permit me to be true to my word – I said “sayonara” earlier, and I feel compelled to honor that sentiment. Giri and all that – perhaps it’s an essential component of who I am, being yet another one of “those people.”

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Uncle Kvetch 07.31.07 at 8:12 pm

perhaps it’s an essential component of who I am, being yet another one of “those people.”

Wow…I didn’t realize it until now, but suddenly it’s clear to me: all you guys who have been arguing with DN are racists. You all make me sick.

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John Emerson 07.31.07 at 8:20 pm

Exactly, Daikazu. You aren’t worth it. You’ve written god knows how many posts full of nothing but rhetoric, chaff, and debater’s gambits. I don’t really need to apologize for not taking you seriously. I need to apologize for wasting my time with you as much as I did.

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Daikazu Neko 07.31.07 at 8:30 pm

Nice way to trivialize the dangers inherent in viewing any group of people in essentialist terms, Uncle. I certainly didn’t call anyone a racist, and most definitely would not do so to someone merely for disagreeing with me.

Funny, though, that it does seem that others up thread did kinda do something like that – circumscribing entire groups as beneath contempt in what amounted to essentialist terms. I know, I know, that’s different! It doesn’t count if it’s wingers, and your hearts in the right place, and …..

You’ll forgive me if I say I’ve heard that before, I trust?

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Daikazu Neko 07.31.07 at 8:33 pm

No need to apologize, John – I’m sure you regret any moment spent on those beneath contempt. I’m impressed, however, with your near-omnipotent grasp of the thoughts, motivations, even the very souls of others. Such gifts demand the focus of something more important, and you’re quite right not to waste it on the likes of me.

There are, after all, entire groups of people who require … no, who demand, your condemnation! Go get ‘em, John!

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John Emerson 07.31.07 at 8:56 pm

Daikazu, you whiner, your playing of the Japanese card is horseshit, whether or not you are really Japanese (or Japanese-American). No one is born a winger.

BTW, I thought you said “sayonara”.

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Uncle Kvetch 07.31.07 at 8:59 pm

$50 says DN “leaves” this thread for the last time at least 3 more times before he’s done.

Any takers?

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J Thomas 07.31.07 at 9:16 pm

Beauchamp is a soldier trained on our latest gear. So he says things like a Brad can cut a dog in half. There’s room in the helmet for a body part. You might have to change a tire in a river of sewage.

I haven’t read the original article, since I have no interest in subscribing to NR and I haven’t looked for a copyright-infringing version online. So I was surprised when someone copied the passage about the graveyard, and it made no mention of the soldier with the skullplate on his head wearing a helmet. He talked like the bone was visible.

Did it really say he was wearing a helmet? I could easily imagine that he wasn’t, and that all the critics assumed that no soldier in iraq would be stupid enough not to.

If these guys were a mediocre unit put in a mostly-safe place — where they were out of the way but they might possibly do some good if things spill over to them — and they’d had no combat and no casualties, I can easily imagine one of them leaving his helmet off while digging in the heat. And if there wasn’t somebody on the spot who’d call him down for wearing human bones on his head, there wouldn’t be somebody who’d call him down for taking his helmet off either.

Are there low-morale units in iraq? I’d expect so. There are a few everywhere else, right? And if there’s a unit with a bunch of guys nobody else wants, wouldn’t it make sense Beauchamp might be there? It sounds like he has a bad attitude.

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cw 07.31.07 at 9:21 pm

(73) Unless you’ve served, or at least are willing to serve, you have no right to condemn any war, anywhere, anytime, or the people fighting in said war.

Au contraire, mon frere. The U.S. has always been a stickler for civilian control of the military. That’s why the Constitution make the President (& not the Chairperson of the Joint Chiefs) the Commander in Chief. It seems to me that if a war is being fought in my name, & my sons may one day end up drafted, & my tax dollars are unavailable for paving my streets or providing my fellow citizens with affordable medical care, etc., etc., I consider as much an obligation as a right to have an opinion, regardless of my military experience.
Never mind the 1st Amendment.
On a side note, Starship Troopers provides an amusingly gory object lesson in reserving citizenship for the soldiering class.

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J Thomas 07.31.07 at 9:46 pm

Unless you’ve served, or at least are willing to serve, you have no right to condemn any war, anywhere, anytime, or the people fighting in said war. Just as you have no right to advocate any war, anywhere, anytime, or praise those fighting in said war.

There’s something to that. On the other hand, what if our veterans are coarsened by the experience, and perhaps brainwashed? Then they wouldn’t be good choices either.

“The opposite of an ordinary truth is a falsehood. The opposite of a great truth is another great truth.” This is one of those things where the opposite fits just as well.

So let’s combine both ideas! When we’re thinking about having a war, call an election. Veterans vote in one election, nonveterans in another. And both sides get a veto, if either one of them votes for peace, we don’t get to start the war.

If somebody attacks us then we need to vote quick. We could do that.

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Barry 08.01.07 at 1:06 am

“Which obviously defends the use of the tactic by the Left, right, Barry?”

Posted by Daikazu Neko

Read your own posts:

“Do prepare yourself now, of course, to be on the receiving end of what you’re dishing out now whenever, in future,…”

“…just as the Right discovered to their horror after eight years of moving Heaven and Earth to undermine Clinton that such tactics could rebound upon their pet projects, so the Left is destined to encounter the “chickenhawk” slur…”

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JP Stormcrow 08.04.07 at 3:31 am

I know this is now off the front page and the radar screen, but it may be worth an update/new post with the new info that TNR released.

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