Sunday, May 15, 2005

Irresponsible Journalism

Yesterday, I briefly discussed widespread anti-American protests spreading across the Muslim world in response to an alleged incident, reported by Newsweek in its in May 9 issue, in which U.S. military interrogators reportedly desecrated a copy of the Koran by flushing it in a toilet. Newsweek cited a source suggesting that this incident would be included in a forthcoming report by the Southern Command (SouthCom), which is responsible for overseeing Guantanamo Bay. Protests over this incident have been particularly violent in Afghanistan, where more than 15 people have been killed and government buildings burned.

But now, Newsweek says, its report may have been a mistake. Correspondent Evan Thomas writes in "How a Fire Broke Out," released today, that after Pentagon officials denied the Koran incident, reporter Michael Isikoff re-contacted his original source for the story. This "senior government official" "said that he clearly recalled reading investigative reports about mishandling the Qu'ran, including a toilet incident. But the official, still speaking anonymously, could no longer be sure that these concerns had surfaced in the SouthCom report."

Clearly there have been incidents of improper behavior by American interrogators, at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. None should be tolerated, and all should be investigated fully and those responsible held to account. The media has a duty to report on these incidents, to bring them to light so that they will not happen again. But at the same time, the media must do that reporting responsibly and carefully, taking the utmost precautions not to stretch the truth or to report unsubstantiated rumors. If that means that they should stop relying on "unnamed sources", they ought to do that. As we have learned this week, words have consequences, and lives can be on the line.

Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker apologizes in the current issue, saying "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." It's a start, at least, to righting a wrong that is unrightable as far as the families of those killed and injured in the violence go, and in terms of the further damage that has been done to America's reputation around the world. How many Muslim clerics do you suppose will take to the streets and read that apology to the angry crowds?

[Update: Alan at The Yellow Line adds an important element to this discussion, here. -- 6:59 p.m.]

[Update: More on this from Joe at The Moderate Voice here. He includes comments from many other bloggers. And to briefly respond to a comment below, I absolutely believe that the confidential government source bears a certain amount of responsibility for this. Just as journalists ought to verify their information (preferably with a source who isn't afraid to go on the record using their name) those who provide information from within the government to journalists have a responsibility to make sure that they are passing along accurate facts.

That said, it is important to remember that we may come to learn that this incident or something very similar did in fact occur. From what we've seen before, it's not beyond the realm of possibility. -- 8:57 p.m.]

[More: Both the New York Times and the Washington Post run front-page stories on the Newsweek apology Monday, while outrage in the blogosphere continues to mount. -- 16 May, 8:18 a.m.]

[More: Since this post was becoming an attractant for spam-comments, I'm forced to cut the comment option from now on for it. If you have a legit comment, post it somewhere up above. Sorry about this! -- 17 May, 7:29 a.m.]


At 7:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, the damage has already been done. I doubt that anything Newsweek does now will change that. But what of the anonyomous sources? Aren't they equally responsible?

At 10:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another rush to judgement (and to publish) by a major media outlet too eager to promote its anti-Administration agenda.

This time the consequences are tragic.

At 11:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what if it did happen? Can you imagine an American protest if a Bible was desecrated in Afghanistan?

At 8:05 AM, Blogger JBD said...

Anon: The Koran is considered much more holy and sacred to Muslims than the Bible is to Christians ... desecrating a Koran is punishable by death in some parts of the Islamic world.

As Newsweek writes in its apology: "But to Muslims, defacing the Holy Book is especially heinous. 'We can understand torturing prisoners, no matter how repulsive,' says computer teacher Muhammad Archad, interviewed last week by Newsweek in Peshawar, Pakistan, where one of last week's protests took place. 'But insulting the Qur'an is like deliberately torturing all Muslims. This we cannot tolerate.'"

At 9:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

just another incident of ultra liberal media lies tryng to damage Bush Adm. as well as America .
The American press is so left of center that whatever it prints speaks for that matter is of small value.
This Story has little to do with the flushing of the Muslim book as it has to do with the left wing Commie agena of the mostly overeducated and pompus asses that think they have the right to not only report news but to create it as well as change it.

At 9:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the problem with muslims is that they spend their lives being led around by the nose by their religion.
It is one of the most deadly and self destructive religions in the world dispite all it's so called profestations of love and respect for life.
If this happened to a bible would we have the Italians rioting in Rome???

At 12:58 PM, Blogger Heiuan said...

Extremism of any flavor can definitely be dangerous when aroused.

Islam itself is not any more inherently violent than Christianity or Judaism. Each of these religion's holy texts have places where it calls for extreme violence against non-believers. This is especially apparent when the texts deal with "heresy".

What makes this particular situation dangerous is the fanaticism of one particular branch of Islam, and the tendency of people in general to succumb to herd-like mentality.

People = sheep; they'll stand around all cute and fuzzy on an individual basis. They'll move in a dangerous mass when aroused.

At 4:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why aren't Republicans screaming about all the lies the "liberal" media published in support of this war in the first place. When Newsweek or Dan Rather make a mistake, and Im no defender of either, every conservative in the Country goes nuts. But what about all of the lies that got us into this war? Lies that were published and reported across the country with flags waving, and trumpets sounding. Where is the indignation for that? Im sure more people have died because of those lies, than anything Michael Isikoff has written.


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