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February 8, 2006
Anne Applebaum Rewrites History

The latest offering from Anne Applebaum attempts to play to an imaginary center in the cartoon fracas by castigating liberal-leaning newspapers that refused to reprint the supposedly offensive Danish cartoons and balancing that with an attack on the right-wing blogosphere. Applebaum rewrites history, apparently an industrial hazard at the Washington Post, in comparing the cartoon controversy to the Newsweek Qu'ran-flushing story:

Remember the controversy over Newsweek and the Koran? Last year Newsweek printed an allegation about mistreatment of the Koran at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base that -- although strikingly similar to interrogation techniques actually used to intimidate Muslims at Guantanamo -- was not substantiated by an official government investigation. It hardly mattered: Abroad, Muslim politicians and clerics promoted and exaggerated the Koran story, just as they are now promoting and exaggerating the Danish cartoon story. The result was rioting and violence on a scale similar to the rioting and violence of the past week.

But although that controversy was every bit as manipulated as this one, self-styled U.S. "conservatives" blamed not cynical politicians and clerics but Newsweek for (accidentally) inciting violence in the Muslim world: "Newsweek lied, people died." Worse, much of the commentary implied that Newsweek was not only wrong to make a mistake (which it was) but also that the magazine was wrong to investigate the alleged misconduct of U.S. soldiers. Logically, the bloggers should now be attacking the Danish newspaper for (less accidentally) inciting violence in the Muslim world. Oddly enough, though, I've heard no cries of "Jyllands-Posten insulted, people died." The moral is: We defend press freedom if it means Danish cartoonists' right to caricature Muhammad; we don't defend press freedom if it means the mainstream media's right to investigate the U.S. government.

Perhaps Applebaum has hung around American newsrooms too long to notice the difference, but editorial cartoons express opinion, while news reporting is supposed to deliver facts. Newsweek didn't publish a cartoon of a GI flushing a Qu'ran down a toilet. They reported as fact that American soldiers had done so, with the thinnest of sourcing and without attempting to corroborate the information. Newsweek didn't investigate at all -- they just took the word of a single source and put it in their magazine.

The right-wing blogosphere defends the freedom of the press to express opinons, when labeled as such, and to report facts when delivering news. It doesn't mean that people can't criticize either action when necessary. No one in the "right-wing blogosphere" argues that the American media shouldn't investigate the government, but we certainly argue that such investigations should be done properly, without endangering national security, and reported fairly with properly corroborated allegations, if and when they are to be made.

This is yet another of the tiresome examples of writers at the Post attempting to appear reasonable by finding some basis on which to attack all sides of a controversy. Applebaum's reach exceeds her grasp on this point, and she made up for it by trying to rewrite the Newsweek debacle by turning it into a debate on the First Amendment -- a conflict that never arose when Newsweek botched its reporting. It's just another form of pandering, no less than the capitulations she decries earlier in her essay by the media outlets who issue statements of "respect for Islam" that would never appear about any controversy involving Christianity or Judaism.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 8, 2006 6:29 AM

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