May 15, 2005

Checks? Balances? Beuller?

So, anyway, Newsweek publishes a story alleging that American soldiers at Guantanamo Bay had "desecrated" copies of the Koran. This sparked deadly riots in Afghanistan.

Turns out the story is less than credible and, as Michelle Malkin puts it, "Newsweek Lied, People Died".

Mark Whitaker of Newsweek has issued an "editor's note" about the tragic report. He actually defends Newsweek's reporting standards. Here it is, in full, with my own arrogant poignant commentary.

May 23 issue - Did a report in NEWSWEEK set off a wave of deadly anti-American riots in Afghanistan?

Obviously, yes. Sheesh.

That's what numerous news accounts suggested last week as angry Afghans took to the streets to protest reports, linked to us, that U.S. interrogators had desecrated the Qur'an while interrogating Muslim terror suspects.

Well, it's not like those "numerous news accounts" lacked thousands of first-hand sources, unlike the reportage that set them off in the first place.

We were as alarmed as anyone to hear of the violence, which left at least 15 Afghans dead and scores injured.

"Alarmed! Shocked! Saddened! We had no idea that such a story would cause anger in the Muslim world!"

But I think it's important for the public to know exactly what we reported, why, and how subsequent events unfolded.

O, give us the inside scoop, please! We do not understand this counter-intuitive chain of events!

Two weeks ago, in our issue dated May 9, Michael Isikoff and John Barry reported in a brief item in our periscope section that U.S. military investigators had found evidence that American guards at the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had committed infractions in trying to get terror suspects to talk, including in one case flushing a Qur'an down a toilet. Their information came from a knowledgeable U.S. government source, and before deciding whether to publish it we approached two separate Defense Department officials for comment.

Good, so far. Always have multiple sources before you print potentially riot-causing news. Excellent journalistic standards, Mark!

Oh, wait...

One declined to give us a response; the other challenged another aspect of the story but did not dispute the Qur'an charge.

Er... So you didn't get a second source? Then you published it, anyway? Why did you bother approaching the Defense Department officials? I mean, it's not like it mattered whether or not you had further confirmation or anything...

Although other major news organizations had aired charges of Qur'an desecration based only on the testimony of detainees,...

Well, I hadn't seen any prior to yours, but nevermind...

...we believed our story was newsworthy because a U.S. official said government investigators turned up this evidence. So we published the item.

Hmmm, "U.S. official". Hell, an airport baggage screener is a U.S. official. Who gave you this inflammatory uncorroberated "information"? Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice? Senator Barbara Boxerrocks? That guy who wrote the Schaivo memo? Obviously he wasn't someone in the know. Prolly some "sophomore".

(You know the old joke. A freshman is convinced that he knows nothing. A sophomore thinks he knows everything. A junior begins to doubt how much he knows and a senior is back to being convinced that he knows nothing.)

In the hands of some, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Deadly dangerous, as it turns out.

After several days, newspapers in Pakistan and Afghan-istan began running accounts of our story. At that point, as Evan Thomas, Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai report this week,...

I don't even have to research those names to know that they are all Newsweek reporters. "We're on the story! No cover-up, here!"
And I'll grant that. And I also want to believe that you are accepting the appropriate amount of responsibilty for what's followed the publication of your sloppy and reckless reporting.

Oh, wait...

...the riots started and spread across the country, fanned by extremists and unhappiness over the economy.

"It's not about the Koran! It's the economy, Stupid! They miss the lush life they lived under the Taliban!"

Truely ponderous.

And after the damage has been done; after the lives have been lost; after the credibility of the United States of America has been seriously tarnished in the minds of millions who hoped that we meant what we said -- that we believe in the ideals of the Mayflower pilgrims who came to America to not only escape religious persecution but to build a world where religious persecution is as unthinkable as "honor killings" -- we're told this:

Last Friday, a top Pentagon spokesman told us that a review of the probe cited in our story showed that it was never meant to look into charges of Qur'an desecration. The spokesman also said the Pentagon had investigated other desecration charges by detainees and found them "not credible." Our original source later said he couldn't be certain about reading of the alleged Qur'an incident in the report we cited, and said it might have been in other investigative documents or drafts.

[**staring at paragraph in dumbfounded silence**]
.[**still staring**]


Top administration officials have promised to continue looking into the charges, and so will we. But we regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst.

Keep looking into it all you like. But, please, if you don't know what you're doing, don't do it.

Here's wishing comfort to the families and friends of those lost. And here's hoping that the MSM will finally remember that it used to have standards and that there was a reason for them.

Posted by Tuning Spork at May 15, 2005 07:56 PM
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