Sunday, May 15, 2005

Not Good Enough

The error, according to the Washington Post, happened in this way:

"We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst," Newsweek Editor Mark Whitaker wrote in a note to readers.  In an issue dated May 9, the magazine reported that U.S. military investigators had found evidence that interrogators placed copies of Islam's holy book in washrooms and had flushed one down the toilet to get inmates to talk.

Whitaker wrote that the magazine's information came from "a knowledgeable U.S. government source," and before publishing the item, writers Michael Isikoff and John Barry sought comment from two Defense Department officials. One declined to respond, and the other challenged another part of the story but did not dispute the Quran charge, Whitaker said.

But on Friday, a top Pentagon spokesman told the magazine that a review of the military's investigation concluded "it was never meant to look into charges of Quran desecration. The spokesman also said the Pentagon had investigated other desecration charges by detainees and found them 'not credible.'" Also, Whitaker added, the magazine's original source later said he could not be sure he read about the alleged Quran incident in the report Newsweek cited, and that it might have been in another document.

Many ordinary bloggers, especially those with connections to the military, or those who have stumbled across significant open source information, self-censor themselves out of a sense of decency and caution whenever they come across information which may cause the loss of life. And they don't even make money from blogs, apart from a few bucks a month which go into expenses, the purchase of a few books or subscription to online information services. But not Newsweek, which is a professional and prestigious publication. Newsweek is admitting to starting an international political firestorm, which got actual people killed, caused civil disturbances, endangered the lives of American troops and significantly set back US efforts in the war on terror because they ran a story from an anonymous source who cannot even remember if he told them what they said he told them. Their efforts at  "confirmation" yielded a denial and a non-denial from Defense officials, but no confirmation. In predicate calculus, Newsweek asserted P. Their attempts at confirmation yielded ~P and Null. Hence they concluded P, which is wrong, wrong and wrong. It is wrong from the pont of view of elementary logic. It would be wrong anywhere, even in the Andromeda Galaxy. But apparently it is right at Newsweek.

Newsweek magazine should forthwith compensate the Afghans who died as a result of their baseless, and I mean baseless, story. Even if it turns out, as result of further investigation, that a Quran has somewhere, somehow been flushed down a toilet by somebody, it will not alter the fact that as matters stand, their Guantanamo story hasn't got a leg to stand on.


I agree with some of the commenters who say this Newsweek incident should not pass unpunished, though I am at a loss to see how retribution will be forthcoming. Lawyers would be in a better position to see what avenues of redress are open to those who have been substantially hurt by this pathetic and irresponsible reporting. The most obvious victims are those died in riots which were sparked by the Newsweek story. But there are probably still others who have not yet paid the price for this bungling, most notably US and allied troops in the field. Greater damage still is the ill-will that has wrongfully spread by this "news" magazine, which may indirectly cause or prevent the frustration of a future terrorist incident. The so-called apology offered by Newsweek, with its unreprentant undertones, falls far short of controlling the damage they themselves are responsible for; not merely to their reputation, of which there is little left to save, but to the lives that have been shattered and will yet be.