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May 16, 2005
Newsweek's Excuse Du Jour: It's The Pentagon's Fault

Newsweek has not quite recovered its balance after being forced to admit that their report of US interrogators flushing a Qu'ran down a Gitmo toilet cannot be substantiated. In a series of media appearances characterized elsewhere, Newsweek editors maintain that they ran the item in good faith but that their source later backed off the claim. However, in today's Washington Post, it is becoming clear that Newsweek has adopted a new strategy for dealing with the deadly mistake which now has claimed 16 lives -- they're blaming the Pentagon for not denying the story:

[Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker] said that a senior Pentagon official, for reasons that "are still a little mysterious to us," had declined to comment after Newsweek correspondent John Barry showed him a draft before the item was published and asked, "Is this accurate or not?" Whitaker added that the magazine would have held off had military spokesmen made such a request. That official "lacked detailed knowledge" of the investigative report, Newsweek now says. Whitaker said Pentagon officials raised no objection to the story for 11 days after it was published, until it was translated by some Arab media outlets and led to the rioting.

The item was principally reported by Michael Isikoff, Newsweek's veteran investigative reporter. "Obviously we all feel horrible about what flowed from this, but it's important to remember there was absolutely no lapse in journalistic standards here," he said. "We relied on sources we had every reason to trust and gave the Pentagon ample opportunity to comment. . . . We're going to continue to investigate what remains a very murky situation."

Quite frankly, this is bullshit. They went to the Pentagon with a wild story about flushed Qu'rans and now they're surprised when no one knew anything about it? Can you imagine what Newsweek would have written and published had the Pentagon told them to keep quiet about it? They would have turned it into another Abu Ghraib, complete with cover-ups and military censorship. It would have resulted in more silly Senate hearings, and even worse publicity than what Newsweek already generated, with more loss of life -- and all for a story that sounded patently false from the very beginning.

The Pentagon does not issue knee-jerk denials for stories on which they have no information, nor should that be their fallback procedure. If Newsweek chooses to run stories about military procedures based on a single anonymous source after hearing from the Pentagon that they have no record of any such activity, that hardly puts the onus on the Pentagon. Whitaker and Newsweek have started a sleight-of-hand attempt that amounts to a claim that the Pentagon should have stopped them before Isikoff and Baker libeled Gitmo personnel, when the use of single anonymous sourcing should have been enough for Newsweek to spike the story until it was properly confirmed.

Not only have Isikoff and Baker, and Whitaker, put American soldiers and Marines in further danger, now they blame the military for not censoring them. It's pathetic, it's ridiculous, and Newsweek should be ashamed of themselves for this offensive defense of its incompetence and abjectly biased reporting.

UPDATE: LaShawn Barber has the updated blogger list posting on Newsweek's deadly mistake. And the Anchoress notes that she said much the same thing yesterday, anticipating the Newsweek meme.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 16, 2005 7:31 AM

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