The New Republic has finally concluded its investigation into its "Baghdad Diarist" scandal. (The magazine ran a series of articles by a TNR staffer's friend and then husband, Scott Beauchamp, who happened to be stationed in Iraq, and who may have invented or fudged some of his stories.) Franklin Foer, the magazine's editor, pens the magazine's apology, which doesn't really sound like much of an apology in the first place. Instead, the nostra culpa comes across as petulant and bitter, which pretty effectively defeats the point of the 7,000-word piece.
- "For months, our magazine has been subject to accusations that stories we published by an American soldier then serving in Iraq were fabricated," Foer's piece begins. Poor things! But we suppose that's what happens when you take four-and-a-half months to check out those accusations.
- Taking a dig at Michael Goldfarb, The Weekly Standard reporter who broke the story, Foer writes that when Goldfarb called him, "I didn't know him or his byline." Oh, snap.
- The editorial that The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol published soon after Goldfarb's inquiry was "without evidence" and contained allegations both "vague and meaningless." Ah ha! An editorial based on conjecture and opinion! Sacre bleu!
- Having been criticized by the left for supporting an end to the Iraq war without endorsing troop withdrawal, Foer found it "disorienting" to be also criticized by the right for publishing unflattering accounts of troop behavior. Hmm. It's hard to imagine running a magazine worth its salt that doesn't earn the ire of both ends of the political spectrum.
- "Fact-checking is a process used by most magazines (but not most newspapers) to independently verify what's in their articles." Now hang on a minute; while it's true that most newspapers don't have entire departments devoted to fact-checking (not like many magazines do anymore either) they do check facts—they just have fewer than four-and-a-half months to do so.
- The magazine assigned Beauchamp's new wife to fact-check him.
- "On the first full day of our investigation, it didn't look good for Beauchamp," Foer writes. Well no, actually, it didn't look good for The New Republic, which hadn't properly vetted the stories of a 24-year-old soldier with no training in the ethics of reporting.
At the end of the piece, the bulk of which details the growing skepticism TNR editors felt only after publishing Beauchamp's pieces, Foer admits as much: "In retrospect, we never should have put Beauchamp in this situation." Perhaps, but deflecting attention from the fact that the magazine should not have put itself or its other reporters in "this situation" makes TNR appear unwilling to accept full responsibility for getting overexcited about unfettered access to a soldier on the ground in Iraq. "We cannot stand by these stories," concludes Foer.
Foer ought to have taken a page from the Chuck Lane School of Apologia. In 1998, when addressing TNR readers in the wake of the Stephen Glass scandal, the magazine's 500-word piece concluded simply: "We offer no excuses for any of this. Only our deepest apologies to all concerned."