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May 16, 2005
Newsweek Retracts Story

Give Newsweek a small modicum of credit -- they learned a lesson from the CBS debacle over the Killian memos that the Tiffany Network itself still hasn't bothered to figure out. A couple of hours ago, Newsweek retracted its false story about flushing Qu'rans down Gitmo toilets that started deadly riots in the Middle East, costing 16 lives:

Newsweek magazine, under fire for publishing a story that led to deadly protests in Afghanistan, said Monday it was retracting its report that a military probe had found evidence of desecration of the Quran by U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay.

Earlier Monday, Bush administration officials had brushed off an apology that Newsweek's editor Mark Whitaker had made in an editor's note and criticized the magazine's handling of the story. ...

Whitaker released a statement through a spokesman later Monday saying the magazine was retracting the article.

"Based on what we know now, we are retracting our original story that an internal military investigation had uncovered Quran abuse at Guantanamo Bay," Whitaker said.

Perhaps Whitaker finally realized the absurdity of his position over the past twenty-four hours, pointed out in by a blogger whose name I can't now remember. In refusing to retract the story, Whitaker actually tried to argue that Newsweek could not take that step without proof that the story was positively false -- even though they could run the story with only one source that it was true, and that source had retracted the claim. In other words, Newsweek had a higher standard for retractions than for regular reporting, a nauseating but hardly surprising revelation, considering the entire fiasco.

That dichotomy has now been resolved. Still awaiting resolution is some kind of indication that a lesson has been learned by Newsweek and its upper management about the lack of professional standards this episode revealed. Newsweek famously sat on a single-sourced news story -- by Isikoff -- when it involved a Democratic president and a paramour inside the White House. Only after Matt Drudge scooped Newsweek did the magazine release the story first revealing Clinton's dalliance with Monica Lewinsky.

This story was just as pointless; what possible news value did a flushed Qu'ran have for the American reader? First, no one bothered to even ask themselves if the story sounded plausible. How would a flushed Qu'ran promote cooperation from a Muslim terrorist? Perhaps threatening to do so would get some positive reaction, but as we've seen in reaction to the story, actually flushing one in front of an Islamist is much more likely to steel themselves against any kind of cooperation. Second, even it did happen, all toilet physics to the contrary, what of it? Does that constitute some sort of Geneva Convention violation? In view of the hand-chopping and rape rooms of Saddam Hussein, maintaining that argument borders on the macabre.

Not only was this a gossipy, ludicrous, and irrelevant piece of trivia, its power to inflame Islamists could easily have been guessed by people who have followed the war on terror, or at least its propaganda value. That's the ultimate issue with Newsweek. Its editors have proven themselves absolutely clueless, with journalistic judgment related to that of the Weekly World News. The executive management should consider that when they review the catastrophic failure of Mark Whitaker, Michael Isikoff, and John Barry that led to the deaths of sixteen people and the enormous damage to American interests in a vitally strategic area in the war on terror.

NOTE: The Anchoress relates an e-mail conversation she had with A Network Guy.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 16, 2005 7:22 PM

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