Michael Yon is an independent journalist and former Green Beret who was embedded in Iraq for nine months in 2005. He has returned to Iraq for 2007 to continue reporting on the war. Here is a portion of his latest dispatch exclusively for FOXNews.com.
I’d known that Gen. David Petraeus was once accidentally shot in the chest, but I first heard the full story this summer in Baqubah from an eyewitness whose account I wrote about in "Second Chances."
The story of Petraeus getting accidentally shot in the chest is a case in point. One of his own soldiers had pulled the trigger. Normally, something very bad would have happened to that soldier and his commander; instead Petraeus sent that soldier to Ranger School, and his captain (Fred Johnson), was promoted early.
In June I witnessed Lt. Col. Fred Johnson helping restore security and rebuild Baqubah. Johnson is a believer in second chances.
Some months ago, a soldier in Baghdad wrote a piece on the way war can degrade the morals and affect the judgment of combat soldiers. His story was published at face-value in The New Republic magazine. In it the soldier wrote terrible things about his unit, making the article sensational.
I was in Iraq when it hit the stands and someone asked me about the plausibility of the events described. I skimmed the story but it did not even pass a simple sniff test. With a shooting war going on, there is no time for trivial pursuits, so my only comment was something like, "It sounds like a bunch of garbage." Turned out it was.
The soldier’s name was Beauchamp. He’d tried to hide his identity, but poor Beauchamp had no idea that the blog world would get on his trail and tree him like a coon. Beauchamp crawled up to the top of that tree, looked down into the snarling spotlight, and suddenly knew he was caught.
His simple mask was no more effective than a coon’s, and that in itself might provide a little insight into how deeply Beauchamp had thought this all through. In any case, he was up in that tree, surrounded by hounds who’d done this plenty of times yet always found this part exciting. The hunters would have written the last sentence if the choice were up to them.
Some wanted Beauchamp to go to prison; some were baying for blood. The fellas in his unit were unhappy, as were his commanders, since he’d made some of them look like immature dimwits while others he’d cast as deliberately cruel in the worst of ways.
Nobody likes to risk life and limb in the hope they are doing the right thing only to be spat upon and accused of criminal acts.
It took a while for the truth to eek out; there was almost none of it in what was published. As the real story unfolded, The New Republic looked increasingly culpable and ridiculous trying to hide behind a fact-checking process that was clearly stuck on the difference between fact and fabrication. In the lingering spotlight, no one seemed to appreciate the soft shoe.
It was not a story I followed closely because then — as now — I was focused on the war. But what struck me as most important was not that Beauchamp wrote some bad combat stress fiction, but that a media organization printed it as truth.
Independent journalist Michael Yon’s dispatches from Iraq appear exclusively on FOXNews.com. Click to read Yon's online magazine MichaelYon-online.com.