Monday, May 16, 2005

HALLELUJAH, LORD. I just read the Los Angeles Times article about Newsweek's retraction, and it is much more balanced and fair than the article in the Washington Post.

Here is the first sentence of the Post report:

Newsweek issued a formal retraction today of the flawed story that sparked deadly riots in Afghanistan and other countries after coming under increasingly sharp criticism from the White House, State Department and Pentagon.

And the first two sentences of the Times piece:

Newsweek magazine today retracted a story reporting that U.S. interrogators had desecrated the Koran while attempting to extract intelligence from Muslim prisons at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

The report led to a series of violent anti-American protests and at least 14 deaths.

In addition to a much more measured and less judgmental tone in the lede, the LA Times article, written by Richard B. Schmitt, does a far better job of putting the Bush administration's accusations in a larger context. For example, in describing Newsweek's initial statement backing away from the published piece, the Times also states that Newsweek "defended its reporting and said it was continuing to investigate allegations that U.S. personnel had desecrated the Muslim holy book." A very simple point, but one that most, if not all, of the coverage in the MSM did not see fit to make.

Three paragraphs down from that, Schmitt indicates that he actually interviewed Whitaker personally before writing this article. What's so amazing about that? you ask. Well, nothing -- except that the Washington Post doesn't seem to have done it; nor does most of the other MSM coverage of this story bear any imprint of an attempt to get Newsweek's side of the story.

In an interview, Whitaker said the magazine had gone to unusual lengths to ensure the accuracy of the original article, including showing a prepublication draft to a U.S. official, who chose to neither confirm nor deny the essence of the story. He added that Newsweek didn't plan to discipline anyone as a consequence of the episode.

Of course the Times got all the same, or similar, quotes from the roster of government officials who have been hammering Newsweek about this report since it came out, but they also include information that Lawrence DiRita and Condoleezza Rice and Scott McClellan have ignored and would vastly prefer that Americans not know. Like, for instance, that religious humiliation has been confirmed as an interrogation tactic repeatedly, and not just in Guantanamo; and that includes disrespectful treatment of the Koran.

Reports of guards disrespecting the Koran to unnerve suspects have long circulated among lawyers for detainees at the Guantanamo facility. Confirmation of the tactic appeared to come in the May 9 item in the magazine's Periscope column, which reported that investigators at the facility had "confirmed some infractions alleged in internal FBI e-mails" that surfaced late last year.

Among the "previously unreported cases" the magazine cited was that "interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur'an down a toilet." The story went on to say that the findings were expected to be included in an upcoming report by the U.S. Southern Command in Miami.

And: Schmitt reports, clearly and straightforwardly, the entire truth about the anonymous source's retraction -- that he couldn't swear to the allegations about the Koran having been in the SouthCom report as opposed to some other report; NOT that he couldn't recall reading about those allegations at all.

On Friday, DiRita notified Newsweek that Pentagon investigators had found no credible allegations involving Koran desecration.

On Saturday, veteran investigative reporter Michael Isikoff, one of the two authors of the original item, contacted his original source, which the magazine identified as a "longtime reliable source, a senior U.S. government official." The source told Isikoff that, while he clearly recalled reading investigative reports about mishandling the Koran, "including a toilet incident," he "could no longer be sure that these concerns had surfaced in the SouthCom report," the magazine reports.

The final part of the Times article is worth quoting in full:

Some representatives of the Muslim community said Newsweek's new account did not alleviate their concerns.

"Unfortunately relations are so bad at this point that the perception will linger, no matter what the truth of the matter is," said Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "Many people won't believe it. They'll believe the magazine was pressured into doing a retraction." Whitaker said there was no way the magazine could have anticipated the response to the story.

"I am sure the people who were rioting had not read our story, and didn't understand the context," Whitaker said, adding that the magazine never reported that it had independently confirmed the toilet episode - only that U.S. investigators had reached conclusions that were about to be published.

He defended the magazine's handling of the story.

"Everybody did what they were supposed to do," he said. "We were dealing with a credible source.... We approached officials for comment.... We fully disclosed the whole chain of events so the public could reach its own conclusions," he said.

"I don't see what we did professionally wrong in this case."
I don't either. And they should have had the guts to stand up to the government. That's what a free press is supposed to do.

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