Scott Johnson of Powerline has a post on Newsweek’s internal investigation into how Michael Isikoff and John Barry’s story on the copy of a Qur’an being flushed down a toilet - a story that now appears to have no basis in fact - made it into the magazine’s “Periscope” section.
Late last week Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita told NEWSWEEK that its original story was wrong. The brief periscope item (”SouthCom Showdown”) had reported on the expected results of an upcoming U.S. Southern Command investigation into the abuse of prisoners at Gitmo. According to NEWSWEEK, SouthCom investigators found that Gitmo interrogators had flushed a Qur’an down a toilet in an attempt to rattle detainees. While various released detainees have made allegations about Qur’an desecration, the Pentagon has, according to DiRita, found no credible evidence to support them.
How did NEWSWEEK get its facts wrong? And how did the story feed into serious international unrest? While continuing to report events on the ground, NEWSWEEK interviewed government officials, diplomats and its own staffers, and reconstructed this narrative of events:
Scott sums it up nicely:
So Isikoff relied on a telephone call with an anonymous government official paraphrasing a forthcoming report, confirmed by placing a draft of the Periscope item before another anonymous government official. Isikoff never saw the underlying report or even had it read to him.
And this is what passes for “journalism” at Newsweek.
The magazine’s critique, written by Evan Thomas, finds something even more startling:
On Friday night, Pentagon spokesman DiRita called NEWSWEEK to complain about the original periscope item. He said, “We pursue all credible allegations” of prisoner abuse, but insisted that the investigators had found none involving Qur’an desecration. DiRita sent NEWSWEEK a copy of rules issued to the guards (after the incidents mentioned by General Myers) to guarantee respect for Islamic worship. On Saturday, Isikoff spoke to his original source, the senior government official, who said that he clearly recalled reading investigative reports about mishandling the Qur’an, including a toilet incident. But the official, still speaking anonymously, could no longer be sure that these concerns had surfaced in the SouthCom report. Told of what the NEWSWEEK source said, DiRita exploded, “People are dead because of what this son of a bitch said. How could he be credible now?”
This is an everyday occurence in Washington. An “anonymous source” curries favor with the media by exaggerating or even making up out of whole cloth incidents or quotes that reflect badly on someone else. Who knows what this guy’s axe is. The fact that he’s bactracking from his story immediately after the riots indeed raises the question “How could he be credible now?”
Isikoff is an experienced investigative reporter. He made his bones breaking the Lewinsky scandal back in the 1990’s. The life blood of most investigative journalists has now become “anonymous” or “unnamed” sources. Until Watergate, such sources were used sparingly and judiciously by the press for the obvious reason that if someone wasn’t willing to “go on the record” the chances are there were other motives involved for the source talking to the press in the first place. The motives could be personal, sexual, political, or the simple need for attention.
And Evan Thomas does a poor job of trying to explain how this questionable information got into his magazine in the first place. Scott has an observation about that:
Like Lawrence DiRita, I have a question of my own for NEWSWEEK. Is this how an elite newsmagazine confesses error and corrects the record when it makes a big mess?
On a related note, Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs takes issue with our government’s response:
Perhaps even more disgusting than this display of violent irrationality from the RoP (Religion of Peace) is our own governmentâ€™s rush to appease, even before any facts are discovered. The Newsweek article isnâ€™t the only reason this madness is continuing to spiral out of control; when the USâ€™s first reaction is to apologize and abase ourselves in the face of thuggish Dark Ages behavior, what else should we expect? Weakness invites attack.
I agree wholeheartedly. We should have waited until the Pentagon at least had completed a preliminary investigation (finished Saturday) and then denied the Qur’an incident in the strongest possible language. By leaving the door open to the idea that the incident is true, we’ve allowed our enemies to stir up the Arab street against us. Now we have the prospect of having to deal with things like this:
The clerics in the northeastern province of Badakhshan said they wanted President Bush to handle the matter honestly â€œand hand the culprits over to an Islamic country for punishment.â€
â€œIf that does not happen within three days, we will launch a jihad against America,â€ said a statement issued by about 300 clerics, referring to Muslim holy war, after meeting in the main mosque in the provincial capital, Faizabad.
I doubt whether this issue is going to go away anytime soon. And just like with Abu Ghraib with everyone who ever set foot in that prison being tortured, every poor little terrorist who found himself incarcerated by the US will weep about the desecration of the Qur’an that the infidel’s forced him to watch.
The hell of it is, the moonbat left will pick up on this and once again make common cause with the enemies of the United States.
As you can imagine, the blogosphere’s big guns have trained their sights on this story and are letting Newsweek and by extension their MSM critics have it right in the chops.
Michelle Malkin does her usual great job of rounding up reaction from blogs both big and small.
The Captain fire’s a well aimed broadside:
Remember this when the Exempt Media gets on its righteous high horse and instructs us on their superior system of checks and balances. Newsweek ran an explosive story based on a single, unnamed source that it knew would cause a huge effect on the Muslim world, at precisely the moment when we need to ensure that people understand that we’re not at war with Islam. It’s just a little late to say, “Oops, we’re sorry.” It’s a little late to unring the bell that Newsweek rang with its false story — it’s too late for the nine people who died because Newsweek couldn’t wait to run its story without checking it properly first.
The Anchoress asks an excellent question:
Great job, NEWSWEEK. The new standard in journalism is the â€œprove the negativeâ€ standard? If someone â€œdoes not argueâ€ against a story that confirms it is true, and so itâ€™s okay to run with an anonymous story that will undoubtedly ignite something violent and bad? Clearly, Mark Whitaker is trying to claim that reporting these so-called desecrations of the Muslim Holy Book is a matter of ethical journalism. Rules of Ethical journalism has never inspired him to report on the Holy Bible being used for toilet paper, but I digressâ€¦
The Jawas have a nice summary.
Sisyphean Musings gets flamed by a Kossak on the subject and gives back generously.
Cross Posted at Blogger News Network