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Newsweek and the Qur'an controversy

By Carol Devine-Molin
web posted May 23, 2005

As anyone who follows the big news stories already knows, Newsweek laid a giant egg recently. The publication sparked violent demonstrations within the Muslim world - resulting in approximately seventeen deaths - when it claimed that American "interrogators had flushed a Qur'an down a toilet in an attempt to rattle detainees" ("How a Fire Broke Out" by Evan Thomas, 5/23/05 edition of Newsweek). To make matters so much worse, Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita advised Newsweek that "its original story was wrong." In other words, Newsweek's faulty reportage triggered riots that caused deaths. Uhh oh. Newsweek was subsequently required to retract the Qur'an desecration story.

Let's begin with the obvious. The writers/editors over at Newsweek magazine are typical of the left-leaning mainstream media. However, as a conscientious opinion writer, I'm willing to do my part and give them a helping hand. Will they listen? Probably not. In any event, here's my two cents on the subject. I suppose the easy answer is that the Newsweek crowd needs to drop their liberal bias, which clouds their collective judgment. That would certainly go a long way, but it's not going to happen. They're terribly arrogant. So I'm going to make it even more basic. Here's what's needed: Solid reporting and good old-fashioned common sense. Yep, that's it. That would save the day.

At least from a public relations viewpoint, Newsweek management handled the debacle as well as can be expected, and immediately offered up an apology. In a piece entitled "A Letter to our Readers", Richard M. Smith, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Newsweek states: "As most of you know, we have unequivocally retracted our story. In the light of the Pentagon's denials and our source's changing position on the allegation, the only responsible course was to say that we no longer stand by our story. We have also offered a sincere apology to our readers and especially to anyone affected by violence that may have been related to what we published. To the extent that our story played a role in contributing to such violence, we are deeply sorry… It now seems clear that we didn't know enough or do enough before publication, and if our traditional procedures did not prevent the mistake, then it is time to clarify and strengthen a number of our policies..." Despite Richard M. Smith's finely tuned words, I'm not so sure that it's an adequate mea culpa when you factor in all the deaths caused by Newsweek's bogus Qur'an story. I mean, there are real victims here.

When all is said and done, Newsweek has vowed to crackdown on its use of anonymous sources and "raise the standards". Clearly, Newsweek needs to enforce higher journalistic standards to avoid similar calamities. Moreover, Newsweek should have anticipated a fierce reaction in the Islamic world to this specific story. Desecration of the Qur'an constitutes a heinous action from the perspective of Muslims, with some Islamic nations even considering it a capital offense. How the rioting and demonstrations caught them by surprise is beyond me. If Newsweek, or any other publication for that matter, is going to engage in "investigative journalism" that can generate tremendous consequences – life and death consequences – they had better get the story right.

To continue, Newsweek's current woes can be largely attributed to poor reporting on Michael Isikoff's part. He and his editor were willing to accept unsubstantiated charges that essentially emanated from terrorists held at Gitmo. Apparently, the terrorists made their claims to the International Red Cross, which, in turn, passed those claims on to the Pentagon for review. Isikoff never properly substantiated the allegations, and he tried to hang his hat on a very shaky anonymous source. The logical, common sense approach would have been for Isikoff to question the motives of the detainees who are radical Islamists. The first thing that should have occurred to Isikoff is that the detainees would have liked nothing better than to: a) make further trouble for the American military, particularly their prison guards, and, b) heap harm upon America's image overseas, especially among Muslims. Isikoff was wearing blinders to the overall picture. But why was Isikoff so short-sighted?

The broader truth to zero-in on is this: Isikoff and his editor are dyed-in-the wool liberals who were willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the terrorists rather than military personnel. Moreover, there's no denying that Isikoff and his media buddies enjoy "sticking it to" President Bush, the Republicans and the American military whenever possible. Deep down, Isikoff et al. wanted to believe that the prison guards at Gitmo were defiling the Qur'an and mistreating the detainees. Isikoff and his editor were overly influenced by their political prism, and ultimately disseminated a so-called news story that lacked any real underpinnings. What a disgrace! In hindsight, I truly hope they are gleaning some insights from their mistakes. And yes, whether they admit it or not, their left-leaning bias is a contributing factor to their current difficulties.

It's amazing that the media still doesn't grasp why the heartland of America can't stand them. While Newsweek journalists/editors are experiencing angst and contemplating their belly-buttons, they should be considering how their liberal bias is ruining the establishment news media.

Carol Devine-Molin is a regular contributor to several online magazines.


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