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5/15/2005
HOW NEWSWEEK STARTED A RIOT
CATEGORY: Media

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 government’s rush to appease, even before any facts are discovered. The Newsweek article isn’t the only reason this madness is continuing to spiral out of control; when the US’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 “and hand the culprits over to an Islamic country for punishment.”

“If that does not happen within three days, we will launch a jihad against America,” said a statement issued by about 300 clerics, referring to Muslim holy war, after meeting in the main mosque in the provincial capital, Faizabad.

(HT: LGF)

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.

UPDATE

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.

Ouch!

The Anchoress asks an excellent question:

Great job, NEWSWEEK. The new standard in journalism is the “prove the negative” standard? If someone “does not argue” against a story that confirms it is true, and so it’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 digress…

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

By: Rick Moran at 1:11 pm
12 Responses to “HOW NEWSWEEK STARTED A RIOT”
  1. 1
    Linda F Said:
    4:01 pm 

    Apparently the story is one that was previously reported by Sayed Salahuddin of Reuters. Does anyone know about the reporter’s background? Does he have an ax to grind?

  2. 2
    Scott B Said:
    4:26 pm 

    So Myers was right. The MSM is out of control and now their bias is killing people. Unbeleivable.

  3. 3
    Van Helsing Said:
    8:34 pm 

    This offers a horrifying glimpse into the black festering heart of the MSM. That they would report this even if it were true is disturbing, considering the inevitable violence that it provoked and the fictional incident’s high propaganda value to people whose objective is to destroy our civilization. To report something like this basically because they would like it to be true accomplishes what I would have thought to be impossible. It lowers my opinion of Newsweek.

  4. 4
    Susan Said:
    2:05 pm 

    C’mon, we all know this is true. We all know that our guys have been doing this - it is even in their training. Don’t blame Newsweek for reporting the truth - it will all come out in the wash.

  5. 5
    Ghostdancers_way Said:
    2:34 pm 

    So we should have all MSM not report what actually is happening, we should rely only on what the government wants us to know. That way we will be fully (sic) informed and only the good news will come our way. A little utiopian for my taste. Even if Newsweek did get poor information, is there anyone here who has not made a mistake, other than President Bush that is. In light of all the recent unearthing of generous amounts of violations of the Geneva Convention, the total lack of Judiciary access for anyone not a US citizen ( still US citizens held without due process), is it any wonder that people believe that US troops are in fact doing many of the things that they are alleging. I can only hope that reason will soon return to my country and government soon.

  6. 6
    Ghostdancers_way Said:
    4:40 pm 

    flame that seems to be what neocons do best, did I attack you or My country, did I call you stupid or idiotic. I posted comments to try to get some meaningful information to expand my own knowledge, what I get is a flame and abuse, seems like Bolton is alive and well in this arena too. Thanks for not informing me of your conclusions.

  7. 7
    superhawk Said:
    4:46 pm 

    Why didn’t you read the post? If you’re going to be an idiot and make a comment without reading what you’re commenting on of course I’m going to flame you.

    And since you’re such an expert on neocons, perhaps you can tell me how you came to the conclusion that I can be classified as one? Please give me the benefit of your vast knowledge on the subject.

    You don’t know a neocon from a Burkean conservative …which makes you qualified to do what…wait tables at McDonalds.

  8. 8
    Ghostdancers_way Said:
    4:59 pm 

    I see you could use some how to win friends and influence people lessons from Dale Carnegie. Keep on flaming, keep on ridiculing, and promoting your desire to dominate and permeate your rhetoric onto everyone regardless if they want you to or not. Never listen to others as they might disagree with your assessment of what you deem is right. Never ever give them a break as it would show weakness on your part. I can only hope that you don’t have children to inflict your hateful and demeaning ways upon. Grow up and maybe you can have a meaningful discussion of the facts. I did not come here to instigate, I came here to learn what others who believe differently from myself have to say and what I got from you super chickenhawk, was nothing but spiteful rhetoric and disgusting disrespect. Good day to you sir, I hope you find what you seek.

  9. 9
    Sven Said:
    6:48 pm 

    So these protests and riots were all caused by a magazine article?!? These right wing dildos have such a clear grasp of cause and effect, they probably think rain is caused by wet sidewalks.

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