News Weak and the restless natives

[Posted 7:45 AM by Roger Kimball]

So, Newsweek’s Michael Isikoffwrites an item in that Avis (�we-try-harder�) of news magazines alleging that

Investigators probing interrogation abuses at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay have confirmed some infractions alleged in internal FBI e-mails that surfaced late last year. Among the previously unreported cases, sources tell NEWSWEEK: interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur’an down a toilet.
The article, as a London Times headline put it, sparked �global riots with one paragraph on the Koran.� According to Austin Bay, that little mistake has so far cost the lives of fifteen people. ( has more here and here.)

Newsweek’s (or, as Austin Bay puts it, �News Weak’s") response? A mealy-mouthed self-exculpating apology from the magazine’s Mark Whitaker: Their information �came from a knowledgeable U.S. government source[unnamed]. �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.� Thanks, pal! Fifteen people dead, many more injured, the natives restless in all the usual places, and you offer us the usual bureaucratic haut-en-bas mumbo-jumbo.

Instapundit has followed up on the story, and linked to this email, also quoted by Austin Bay:

Newsweek isn�t the problem. The problem is that people will kill over a book being desecrated. Actually, over an 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 islamic world, and the general lack of tolerance about religion therein.
True, all too true. But to say that the �blunt monster with uncounted heads, the still-discordant wavering multitude� in the Middle East would riot and kill people on account of a rumor circulated by a desperate American newsweekly is not to exonerate the newsweekly. As Austin Bay points out, the email makes a �Great point, but, the answer is �yes and no� to that comment."
If we�re going to take rioting Afghanis to task then let�s take the same stick to Los Angeles and rioting Angelenos. We�ve had riots in the USA over racial epithets and allegations of police brutality� epithets and allegations magnified by a what-me-worry? press. Rodney King was treated cruelly and brutalized, but he was also a punk. The LA riots were a human chain reaction, with emotions going nuclear.

There�s a war going on, a global war, and Newsweek acts like it�s trying to �Get Nixon.� (Heck, the Washington Post owns Newsweek, and the Post�s halcyon was Watergate.) The problem is not simply a reporter�s mistake but editorial ignorance of the global information grid.

Here’s a question: Why is it that all the stories you read in Time-Newsweek-The New York Times-The Washington Post-Etc. or see on CNN-The BBC-CBS-NBC-Etc., why is it that all their stories about Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, etc., why is it that the presumption, the prejudice, the predisposition never goes the other way? Why is it that their reporters always assume the worst: that we’re doing dirty at Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., and are primed to pick up and believe any rumor damaging to the United States? Shakespeare knew that rumor was a �pipe/blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures,� not to be trusted. So why do these journalists, trained to sift evidence, to probe sources, to listen beyond the static of rumor: why do they only do so in one direction, so to speak? Yes, I know that’s a self-answering question, at least in part, but it is worth pondering nonetheless. Austin Bay calls the incident at Newsweek �The Press� Abu Ghraib.� I hope that he is right.

[Update]: Powerline has this further reflections on Newsweek’s �journalistic standards�: "Newsweek strikes again" is more like it.