John Leo

If anyone ever starts a museum of horrible explanations, the one-liner by Newsweek's Evan Thomas about his magazine's dubious reporting on the Duke non-rape case — "The narrative was right but the facts were wrong" — is destined to become a popular exhibit, right up there with "we had to destroy the village to save it."

What Mr. Thomas seems to mean is that the newsroom view of the lacrosse players as privileged, sexist, and arrogant white male jocks was the correct angle on the story. It wasn't.

According to Duke's female lacrosse team and other women on campus, the male players are solid citizens who treat women well. Many players volunteer to tutor poor children in Durham. Some players are privileged, but most come from ordinary middle-class homes. There is no evidence of a racist team culture.

One objectionable racial comment was reported that night, in response to a racial taunt from one of the strippers. It occurred after the party and the player involved was not one of those indicted. The mainstream press, most conspicuously the New York Times, botched the story by imposing a race-gender-class narrative line. The facts were wrong, as Mr. Thomas said, but the narrative line was wrong too.

Bias complaints against the mainstream press usually involve the stubborn use of a preferred story line when facts are shaky or nonexistent. The New Republic's current trouble may be in this category.

The magazine's three "Baghdad Diarist" columns by an anonymous American soldier, later identified as Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp, presented a sour view of American troops. It included an anecdote about Mr. Beauchamp and a comrade humiliating an Iraqi woman whose face had been "melted" by an IED. The editors set forth the narrative line — the "morally and emotionally distorting effects of war" are unbalancing some American troops.

Maybe so, but the Weekly Standard reports that Mr. Thomas signed a sworn statement admitting that his columns were exaggerations and falsehoods. Did the New Republic run these articles because it respected and trusted the writer, or because the writer reflected the magazine's disgust with the war?

The New Republic has been here before. The notorious and fake Stephen Glass articles, like the Beauchamp columns, featured story lines that the editors found congenial, including Mr. Glass's account of a group of brutally stupid young conservatives cavorting at a conference.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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