The soldier's stories were shocking in their brutality: fellow GIs viciously mocking a woman whose face had been horribly disfigured in an IED explosion; a private snatching a child's skull unearthed at a mass grave and gleefully wearing it under his helmet; grunts running over dogs with Bradley Fighting Vehicles.
The "Baghdad Diarist," writing under the pseudonym Scott Thomas, captivated readers of the New Republic magazine with his accounts of misbehavior by his fellow soldiers in Iraq.
But the stories didn't ring true to some military bloggers and conservative columnists, who joined forces in recent weeks to investigate the veracity of the disturbing tales. Unable to confirm any details of the accounts, they pressured the magazine to launch their own probe into the accuracy of the articles.
Was the New Republic snookered by another Stephen Glass, the associate editor infamously fired in 1998 for fabricating details in most of the 41 articles he wrote for the magazine?
Or is the prestigious liberal biweekly a victim of a conservative blogosphere intent on punishing any publication which doesn't run positive coverage of the war and the troops?
As the controversial articles started ricocheting around the Web, editors at the Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine, started to ask questions. "They just seemed so convenient, so contrived," said Michael Goldfarb, the editor of the magazine's Web site. "That incident of soldiers mocking a female IED victim at a chow hall is so crass and so ugly, you have a hard time imagining American soldiers behaving this way in public. It raised some red flags."
Goldfarb and his staff attempted to verify the accounts, learning from the New Republic that the chow hall incident took place at Forward Operating Base Falcon in southern Baghdad. "We spoke to many soldiers and no one can recall this woman, who had half her face melted."
As for the description of a mass grave, one contractor told Goldfarb about a children's cemetery near FOB Falcon but claimed that all the remains were handled responsibly. "Everyone says that this account is absurd, implausible. It's entirely possible that it happened and no one's come forward to say."
Goldfarb said that the incident speaks to the willingness of the left to see the worst in the war and the soldiers, pointing out "the ease with which they've been seduced by this narrative of soldiers as victims and perpetrators." As to whether his probe of Baghdad Diarist was prompted by his conservative views, he said, "You're asking me if it was informed by my opinion of the U.S. military. I can't answer that."
Franklin Foer, the editor of the New Republic, said that he has met Thomas here in the States and that he is "absolutely certain" that he is a soldier in Iraq. "Not an ounce of doubt," he told ABCNEWs.com. Asked about how he attempted to verify Thomas' military credentials, Foer said, "I've got many, many data points to back that up" although one of those proofs didn't include a military e-mail account.