Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Newsweek Mess

There has been quite a bit of hand wringing going on over the false report in Newsweek that an interrogator at Guantanamo Bay flushed a copy of the Koran down the toilet. Unfortunately for Newsweek it was a blunder that could have been easily avoided. Newsweek made three huge errors that led to this false report. The first mistake they made is that they failed to critically evaluate the plausibility of these allegations. Here is a picture of a person holding the Koran.

As you can see even when the Koran is printed in small print, the Koran is a fairly lengthy and thick book. Thus, in order to flush such a book down the toilet you would need to either tear out a few pages at a time and flush those down the toilet (a very time consuming task) or own a one of the most powerful toilets in world (considering this incident took place in a prison that is highly unlikely in this case). The second mistake Newsweek made is that it failed to consider the sensitivity of these allegations. We currently live in a time where people behead others and blow themselves up over the Koran. There should have been a recognition by Newsweek that some Muslims would not react kindly to such an act. This is not say that if these allegations were true that Newsweek should not have published them. The story of an interrogator desecrating the Koran is on its face newsworthy, but like all sensitive news stories, it needed to be vetted extremely careful. Hence, there needed to be more than one anonymous source who could confirm the authenticity of these allegations. I seriously doubt Newsweek or any other MSM news organization would run a story, for example, that President Bush referred to a gay Congressman as a fag during a cabinet meeting if they could get only one anonymous source to confirm it. The third mistake Newsweek made, which is related to their second mistake is that they placed a bigger emphansis on getting the story out first as opposed to getting the story right. This has been a disease that has plagued the MSM for years and is one of reasons why their credibility continues to decline. Newsweek relied on anonymous source to predict a future event and that is really problematic according to Jack Shafer of Slate:

Many years ago at a newspaper job far, far away, my attorney David Andich cautioned me and my writers against publishing what anonymous government officials said would be in their reports. He also told us to be especially wary of the prosecutor who informed us-confidentially, of course-that he was going to indict the deputy mayor next Tuesday. If you commit those stories to print and the report or indictment doesn't contain the information your source predicted, you will find yourself in a world of legal hurt, he said.

In my mind's eye I can see Andich reviewing the Newsweek copy. The Quran findings were"expected" to be part of the military report. "Expected by whom?" Andich would have said. "Can't you wait until you have a draft or the final document in hand to report that they were included? What's your hurry?"

There is little doubt that Newsweek made a series of mistakes that led to this false report. Does this mean that Newsweek should be held responsible for 15 deaths at the anti-American protests last week in Afghanistan? The short answer is no. An Instapundit reader explains why:

Newsweek isn't the problem. The problem is that people will kill over a book being desecrated. Actually, over a anonymous report buried within a third rate weekly magazine. There is something wrong when people value a book, of which there are millions, over human lives. This is the real problem, and Newsweek isn't the source of it. The problem is an ignorant and violent subculture within the [I]slamic world, and the general lack of tolerance about religion therein.

This point I think is being missed in the dissection of the lastest MSM screw-up. The tragedy that took place last week in Afghanistan reinforced yet again on how desperate Islam needs for the lack of a better word its own Reformation movement.