Newsweek’s shame

I sat in stunned silence last night as I watched the guy from Newsweek say, “Oops.” I told Allie that this one would go down in history as worse than Rathergate for its global implications, and I feel more strongly about that this morning.

For those of you who haven’t heard, the magazine has apologized for what may have been an inaccurate report in its May 9th issue — specifically, a report that U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet. Newsweek now says it can’t substantiate that, and they’re sorry for the deaths and for putting U.S. soldiers in harm’s way. Fifteen people have been killed in rioting in Afghanistan and several hundred Muslim clerics in various countries have threatened a holy war if the U.S. doesn’t turn those responsible for the atrocity over to a Muslim country. The story won’t go away, especially with a group of people predisposed to believe anything’s possible from the great Satan (um, that would be us).

Oops.

Meanwhile, the University of Connecticut Department of Public Policy is releasing a poll today of a group of journalists and the general public. More than 7 in 10 journalists believe the media does a good or excellent job on accuracy — but only 4 in 10 among the public feel that way. Gallup shows similar findings, and it’s clear that media trust in the country is sliding badly.

Has it always been this way? Have we always gotten it so wrong, or is this something new — brought about by the lust for the exclusive or to be first?

This mistake by Newsweek ought to cause us all to step back and examine our motives. The magazine says it will continue to investigate, but the damage has already been done. Fifteen people are dead, folks. It’s one thing to play around with politics or invent characters in a feature story, but this was over-the-top. This was one sentence in a gotcha story about big bad America mistreating poor Iraqi innocents. It was throwing gasoline on a smoldering fire. Newsweek ought to be ashamed, and we all need to learn the lesson — once again — that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. And we wonder why the world hates us.

My heart goes out to the families of the dead.

Comments

  1. No rational person I know is defending Newsweek’s mistake. It was a shame that people had to die thanks to the errors of reporters and editors, who will have to live down this tragedy for the rest of their lives.

    But conservatives always make hay out of these sorts of tragedies only when they seem to them to occur on the left, mounting their high horses and preaching the ills of so-called liberal media.

    How many innocent Iraqi casualities occurred because Fox News reported trumped up info that was found out to be unsubstantiated later?

    I think Newsweek was dreadfully wrong for not substantiating their information. But Fox has done this sort of thing, yet conservatives hitch their high horses when it’s when the faux news comes from the right.

    Perhaps your heart should also go out to the innocent Iraqi children who have died since the 2003 invasion. My heart goes out to all who die unjust deaths.

  2. I thought about FOX News, too. They have way more blood on their hands than Newsweek ever will. I remember my mother calling me every day during the run-up to the war, quoting FOX News. Some of the stuff was so overblown that it made me laugh (not in a good way). She was just about convinced that Saddam was hiding in her bedroom closet, ready to rape and kill her.

    Some of the photos I’ve seen online of what we’ve done to Iraqi children are gut-wrenching. So are the deaths because of the Newsweek “error.”

    I hear you, Mike.

  3. Kevin Newman says

    I’m going to agree with John Lynch’s comment on Instapundit on this and place the responsibility of the deaths on those who would place greater value on a book than on human life. (http://instapundit.com/archives/023000.php)

    If I am reading the reports correctly, Newsweek accurately reported what a government official told them after giving two other sources within the Defense Dept a chance to deny the charges, and then later the government official backtracked and said that he now wasn’t sure in which report he’d read the allegations.

    So is the lesson that the media shouldn’t report on anything that the reporter didn’t witness firsthand? That government officials are not trustworthy sources? I see a great deal of celebration in many right-wing blogs about the Biggest Mistake Evaaaar, but I don’t see any real commentary on what journalistic sins Newsweek commited.

  4. I had another thought. I don’t know if the story is true or not, and Newsweek doesn’t either (which is why they had no business printing it.)

    I do, however, have no problem believing it happened. There was a time when I would never have thought Americans capable of such a thing. That was before the days of naked Muslims being forced to fellate each other, pose for what amounts to S & M porn, and all the other abuses done with our tax money and in our name.

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