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May 15, 2005
Newsweek's Editorial Checks And Balances Cost Lives

Last week, Newsweek published allegations that Guantanamo Bay interrogators had flushed a Qu'ran down a toilet while questioning captured terrorists as a psychological ploy. While other news media based similar reports strictly on rumors floated by the terrorists themselves, Newsweek attributed its story by Michael Isikoff and John Barry to an unnamed source within the American intelligence service, lending the Newsweek report much more credence.

That credence and the Newsweek report touched off riots across Afghanistan and Southwest Asia, costing at least nine lives and setting back American efforts to build diplomacy towards more moderate Muslim communities. Now we find out that after nine people lay dead and anti-American sentiment now runs as hot as ever, Newsweek says that it got the story wrong from the beginning:

Two weeks ago, in our issue dated May 9, Michael Isikoff and John Barry reported in a brief item in our periscope section that U.S. military investigators had found evidence that American guards at the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had committed infractions in trying to get terror suspects to talk, including in one case flushing a Qur'an down a toilet. Their information came from a knowledgeable U.S. government source, and before deciding whether to publish it we approached two separate Defense Department officials for comment. One declined to give us a response; the other challenged another aspect of the story but did not dispute the Qur'an charge.

Although other major news organizations had aired charges of Qur'an desecration based only on the testimony of detainees, we believed our story was newsworthy because a U.S. official said government investigators turned up this evidence. So we published the item. After several days, newspapers in Pakistan and Afghan-istan began running accounts of our story. At that point, as Evan Thomas, Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai report this week, the riots started and spread across the country, fanned by extremists and unhappiness over the economy.

Last Friday, a top Pentagon spokesman told us that a review of the probe cited in our story showed that it was never meant to look into charges of Qur'an desecration. The spokesman also said the Pentagon had investigated other desecration charges by detainees and found them "not credible." Our original source later said he couldn't be certain about reading of the alleged Qur'an incident in the report we cited, and said it might have been in other investigative documents or drafts. Top administration officials have promised to continue looking into the charges, and so will we. But 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.

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.

Other bloggers covering the story:

Michelle Malkin
Marc at USS Neverdock
Power Line
Roger L. Simon

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 15, 2005 1:13 PM

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