Carol Platt Liebau: Outrage at Newsweek

Monday, May 16, 2005

Outrage at Newsweek

Newsweek has now retracted its inaccurate and deeply damaging story alleging that American interrogators had desecrated the Koran.

The problem is that the damage is done. Fifteen people are dead, some 60 injured and the harm to US interests in the region is incalculable. And Newsweek has played into the hands of America's enemies. (Funny how the press would rather die than run a piece that could cause the perception that it's been "used" by the Bush Administration, but seems perfectly content to run content that has the practical effect, at least, of serving the interests of America's enemies.)

Newsweek could hardly have picked a more sensitive mistake to make. As this piece points out, the Koran is seen by Muslims as the direct words of Allah, and the book itself -- even aside from the ideas within it -- is believed to be so holy that desecration of it is deemed blasphemy, and punishable in many Muslim countries by death.

With a story this explosive, it's hard to believe that Newsweek wouldn't have made sure it was double sourced. (And its placement in the "Periscope" column -- the closest thing Newsweek has to a gossip page -- suggests that there might have been some doubts about its accuracy and/or newsworthiness.)

One reason the item may have made it into print is that it played into journalists' preconceptions about the US military and its behavior. And emblematically, Chris Matthews is terribly upset. Not for the damage done to US interests, or the lives lost, but for Michael Isikoff, the reporter. Kind of says it all, doesn't it?

Is Newsweek solely at fault? Of course not -- none of its reporters rioted or killed anyone. But the magazine's relevant reporters and editors do bear joint responsibility, as they knew (or should have known) what the predictable reaction to such an inflammatory report would be. Look at it this way -- if a lighted match is held near explosives, the match isn't what exploded. But the explosives wouldn't have ignited spontaneously without them. Long and short of the story -- there's plenty of blame to go around. And we don't expect Islamofascist thugs to behave responsibly. We do, however, expect the press -- the American press -- to do so, however apparently outlandish the expectation now seems to be.

The press doesn't seem to understand that America is at war. And it certainly doesn't represent the public it's supposed to be serving.


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