Monday, May 16, 2005

NEWSWEEK AT MID-PLUNGE. Remember the old joke about the guy who jumps off the Empire State Building? Halfway down, he's asked how he's doing. "So far, so good," he replies.

That's where Newsweek is this morning. Although editor Mark Whitaker has apologized for sourcing problems in the magazine's item of May 9 alleging that American guards flushed a copy of the Koran down the toilet at Guantánamo Bay, he has neither retracted the item nor said that it is false. Whitaker and the reporters who produced the item, Michael Isikoff and John Barry, are hoping for a miracle. But the sidewalk is getting closer every nanosecond.

Here is Howard Kurtz on this fiasco. The New York Times' Katharine Seelye reports on the story as well. White House press secretary Scott McClellan, naturally, is claiming vindication for the Bush administration.

Is it possible to offer a bit of context on the fly? We don't know how this is going to turn out yet, although I suspect we're going to know a lot more by the end of the day. There is obviously no excuse for whatever sloppy reporting Newsweek may have committed, and the fact that 16 people have died in rioting because of the story obviously looms large.

But the right-leaning commentary that Glenn Reynolds is linking to strikes me as completely over the top. For instance, here's an excerpt from blog written by Dean Esmay:

Furthermore, if we ever had any doubts that the press is not on our side in the war, that it is anxious to publish stories of failure and doom and rarely cares to look at our successes (many of them utterly historic), well, Michael Isikoff John Barry and the Newsweek editorial team have finally laid them to rest. You guys are enemy propagandists. It's just who you are. It's nice that you've at least stopped pretending.

This is also still further proof that the notion that "professional" journalists have greater fact-checking or "checks and balances" than responsible bloggers is nonsense.

Screw you, Newsweek. Screw you.

Given how little we actually know at this point, that's quite a leap.

Moreover, given the level of abuse that has been credibly reported at Guantánamo - including that witnessed by government and military officials themselves, as revealed in documents obtained by the ACLU - the notion that the Koran was being desecrated wasn't exactly startling. Indeed, it seems at least plausible that Newsweek will be vindicated somehow - or that the Bush administration is taking advantage of slipshod journalism in order to discredit a story that may very well be true.

I'm not trying to make any excuses for anyone. I'm simply pointing out that we still don't know much.

But the sidewalk looms.

PUBLIC RADIO, TOO. Stephen Labaton has a disturbing story in today's New York Times on efforts by Kenneth Tomlinson, head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, to go after National Public Radio.

As Labaton points out, NPR could easily survive without government money - but its member stations are dependent on taxpayer largesse, some more than others.


Stealth said...

or that the Bush administration is taking advantage of slipshod journalism in order to discredit a story that may very well be true.

Now why does that sound familiar.

Anonymous said...

lol..Steve Brady beat me to the punch. This is, as Yogi Berra once proclaimed, deja vu all over again! It's just like the CBS/Dan Rather Bush (lack of service in the) National Guard story that had conservatives popping out of the woodwork to discredit the authenticity of the memo, while sidestepping the fact that what the memo clained still has not been disproven. This Koran mess is the same misdirection play that the Right has been pulling for years. The real shame is that a slim majority of the American public will allow them to get away with it...again!

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm missing what the hell the ACLU can accomplish at Gitmo other than parrot the same numbing rhetoric we have all heard ad nauseam. Are there not Americans (in America, not Cuba) that need protecting?

Anonymous said...

Saddest thing I've seen here is that the murderous demonstrators want either a.validation of their previous accusations or b. the truth, whichever works better for them. Say all you want about sinking to their level, but these guys aren't exactly a good advertisement for a transparent process. Sorta speaks to DK's previous comments about objectivity vs. the truth.

Anonymous said...

For the right wing to charge Michael Isikoff, of all journalists, as having left-wing bias is both a) typical and b) breathtaking. Was it really so long ago that Linda Tripp was affectionately calling him "Issy"?

Anonymous said...


From "ground zero" of the Newsweek hit, some thoughts - first of which is, as the J101 textbook at Northeastern emphasizes, when you're writing, you should consider who the story helps and if the story hurts.
Absolutely the US press should be dogged in pursuit of government malfeasance. But the US press also needs to be cognizant now of its global reach - a massive butterfly effect; an item in a Newsweek roundup becomes bodies on the street in Jallalabad and possible jihad in Mazar-i Sharif.
To steal a phrase: The whole world is watching.
Now, what the press does with that information is up to the editors, but I heard something disturbing in the Newsweek apologia - that the mag hadn't thought about the possible impact of the story. Jeez. If a paper publishes the name and phone number of every accused sex offender and a few get death threats, well, yeah, it's the fault of the yahoos for calling, but shouldn't the paper bear some responsibility?
Newsweek shouted fire in the crowded, hot and already on-edge theater of Afghanistan, and now it's saying, well, maybe it's fire, maybe it's not, we can't be sure any more, sorry, we didn't think about how big a theater it was.
Jim Chiavelli