Ship of Fools

Yesterday “the editors” of the New Republic published another statement on Baghdad fabulist Scott Thomas Beauchamp. “The editors” stand by Beauchamp’s TNR articles as of this moment in the name of the editors’ journalistic integrity. They imply that Beauchamp is being held incommunicado by the Army. They invite the Army to open its investigative file on Beauchamp’s allegations. Until that time, they are sticking to Beauchamp’s stories — the ones they have published, anyway, with the exception of “one key detail.”
That’s what “the editors” have to say. They also exercise their right to remain silent on a few issues about which we would like to hear from them. They do not acknowledge, for example, how the “one key detail” that Beauchamp admittedly got wrong destroys the story with which he led his “Shock troops” column. They do not address the exposure of their purported “re-reporting” of Beauchamp’s column as a sham. They do not identify any of the sources through whom they have “re-reported” Beauchamp’s column.
Last year in an online column for TNR, contributing editor Gregg Easterbrook condemned the publishing industry for looking like “a ship of fools.” Easterbrook found crass commercial motivations at work in the production and publication of James Frey’s “nonfiction” bestseller A Million Little Pieces. Oprah Winfrey had named the book to Oprah’s Book Club before its fabulations were exposed. In Easterbrook’s telling, Oprah emerged as the hero of the story:

Assuming this fiasco leads the publishing industry to become more rigorous about accuracy, we will have Oprah to thank. Right now the chattering classes are smirking at Oprah but ought to be praising her, for she has done what the pundits could not: made the nation realize there is a dangerous decline of standards in American publishing. Winfrey has long helped the cause of literature by drawing readers to serious books, and now she’s helped the cause of literature by compelling publishing to confront shoddy work. Winfrey may have been suckered by Frey, but unlike everyone else in this saga she faced her mistake and apologized sincerely. That [publisher] Nan Talese kept denying anything was the matter even after the hoax was exposed is the low point of this affair. By contrast Oprah appears to have said, I’ve got to go on national television and make sure everyone knows how wrong I was. If only more people in positions of responsibility thought this way!

TNR’s motivations in the continuing disgrace it has wrought in the Beauchamp affair are political rather than commercial. Indeed, the affair illustrates the power of ideology as a source of intellectual corruption rivaling that of money. Easterbrook’s point regarding Oprah’s example is one on which “the editors” have given themselves time to meditate, whether they choose to do so or not. (Thanks to reader Brett Saltzman.)
UPDATE: The Army responds further.
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