The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

16 May 2005

Newsweek Apologizes For Phony Koran Story

Blood On Their Hands

Liberal Media Sinks To Deepest Level Yet

(See Fresh Radio Equalizer Scoop Here)

Last year the fledgling, so-called "blogosphere" joined together, after one of its own discovered Dan Rather peddling phony documents as real news.

And several days ago, Pulitzer Prize-winning Sacramento Bee columnist Diana Griego Erwin resigned, after editors couldn't confirm whether her interview subjects actually existed.

These are but two recent examples of a string of scandals that have brought American journalism to its knees. That is, at least in the eyes of the public, as the arrogant mainstream media still largely refuses to admit there's even a problem.

Now, courtesy of Newsweek, the liberal press establishment sinks into an abyss.

Not in recent history, at least on the American side of the Atlantic, have this many deaths been the result of sloppy, biased and unforgivable journalism.

A rookie reporter could have made a genuine error of this magnitude, to claim a Koran was flushed down the toilet at Guantanamo Bay, but that's what editors are for: to cleanse a story of unconfirmed and baseless junk before it sees the light of day.

Michael Isikoff and John Barry have no such excuse. With experience and expertise in the field, they simply must know better than to run with something this inflammatory, without certain confirmation.

Two solid, inside sources, would be a minimum before running a piece with the potential to jeopardize innocent civilians and American troops.

Did they stop to consider for a moment the inevitable rioting that would occur in the Muslim world after the publication of this kind of false story?

Even if the details were in fact true, should it have been published, knowing full well innocent people would die as a result?

Diana Griego Erwin just resigned over a level of potential dishonesty that, while very serious, didn't result in any known fatalities.

At a minimum, Newsweek's entire team of reporters and editors responsible for this fatal disaster must resign as well as face legal liability, for the destruction of human life their report triggered.

Free speech must be protected, in journalism as well as in society, but what they did is equal to yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre. That's not something America can overlook.

In the same way the blogosphere came together against Rather, it must do again in Newsweek's case. Let's rally the troops tonight.

(See Michelle Malkin for the latest list of busy bloggers tackling this tonight)

11.41pm Update: Why is the BBC sticking with a seven hour old version of the story which says Newsweek's report may be incorrect? Why hesitate to update it?

11.47pm Update: Welcome BlogsForBush readers! The Political Teen has video!

12.03am: Frank Salvato is amazed at the flushing power of Cuban loos.

12.05am: Howard Kurtz's front page, Monday Washington Post (parent of Newsweek, by the way) story now available:

Interviews with several people in the province yielded differing views of the controversy. Javed Ahmed, 23, a sandal salesman who participated in the demonstration, said he was unaware of the Newsweek story until the radio program of Iranian, Afghan and Indian songs that he normally listens to was interrupted with news of the violent protests in Jalalabad. He was initially "doubtful" about the allegation, he said, "but when I saw it on television later that day, I became more sure it was true."

Ghulam Dastagir, 28, a bird seller who refused to join the demonstration, said: "I don't think the report is true, but these crises work for those who want to make fights between people."

Del Agha, 47, a dry-goods salesman who joined the protest, said, "Even now, I'm not sure if this was true." He said he participated because "we just wanted to tell the world that the people who did this should be brought to justice" for "disrespecting the holy Koran. . . . We wanted to have a peaceful demonstration but the demonstration was like a car and some people who are the enemies of Afghanistan took the steering wheel and turned it in the wrong direction."

The fallout here is starting to build, and Dan Klaidman, Newsweek's Washington bureau chief, was doing cable news interviews yesterday, describing the story as "an honest mistake."

Said Whitaker: "I suppose you could say we should have foreseen the consequences of the report, but we didn't."

12.17: Monday New York Times story by Katherine Q. Seelye now available:

Newsweek apologized yesterday for printing a small item on May 9 about reported desecration of the Koran by American guards at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, an item linked to riots in Pakistan and Afghanistan that led to the deaths of at least 17 people. But the magazine, while acknowledging unspecified errors in the article,
stopped short of retracting it.

The report that a Koran had been flushed down a toilet set off the most virulent, widespread anti-American protests in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban government more than three years ago.

"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," Mark Whitaker, Newsweek's editor, wrote in the issue of the magazine that goes on sale at newsstands today. In an accompanying article, the magazine wrote that its reporters had relied on an American government official, whom it has not identified, who had incomplete knowledge of the situation.

But Mr. Whitaker said in an interview later: "We're not retracting anything. We don't know for certain what we got wrong."

The information at issue is a sentence in a short "Periscope" item on May 9 about a planned United States Southern Command investigation into the abuse of prisoners at the detention facility in Guantánamo. It said that American military investigators had found evidence in an internal report that during the interrogation of detainees, American guards had flushed a Koran down a toilet as a way of trying to provoke the detainees into talking.

1.07: BBC finally updates story:

In its new account, the magazine said that one of its reporters spoke to "his original source, the senior government official, who said that he clearly recalled reading investigative reports about mishandling the Koran, including a toilet incident".

"But the official, still speaking anonymously, could no longer be sure that these concerns had surfaced" in a forthcoming report by the US military, the magazine added.

Whitaker told Reuters news agency that he no longer knew whether the occurrence was genuine.

"As to whether anything like this happened, we just don't know," he said.

The Pentagon has said there is no substance to the specific allegation.

10am Monday:
White House attacks Newsweek in Reuters story:

Newsweek's editor, Mark Whitaker, apologized to the victims on Sunday and said the magazine inaccurately reported that U.S. military investigators had confirmed that personnel at the detention facility in Cuba had flushed the Muslim holy book down the toilet.

"It's puzzling that while Newsweek now acknowledges that they got the facts wrong, they refused to retract the story," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. "I think there's a certain journalistic standard that should be met and in this instance it was not."

The report sparked violent protests across the Muslim world -- from Afghanistan, where 16 were killed and more than 100 injured, to Pakistan, Indonesia and Gaza. In the past week the reported desecration was condemned in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Malaysia and by the Arab League.

McClellan complained that the story was "based on a single anonymous source who could not personally substantiate the allegation that was made."

"The report has had serious consequences," he said. "People have lost their lives. The image of the United States abroad has been damaged."

(Fox News- 15 May 2005)

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."'

Whitaker added that the magazine's original source later said he could not be sure he read about the alleged Quran incident in the report they cited, and that it might have been in another document.

"Top administration officials have promised to continue looking into the charges, and so will we," Whitaker wrote.

On Aug. 1, 2002, an FBI agent who went to Gitmo made a report detailing statements from a detainee who said a U.S. official had flushed the Quran, sources told FOX News. The FBI did not confirm that this allegation was true, but it did pass on a report about the detainee's statement to the Department of Defense, U.S. officials said.

Several U.S. officials told FOX News they have no evidence of the incident, which they said could have been triggered by a released detainee making unfounded allegations.

On Thursday, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers said a guard claimed a detainee was ripping pages out of a Quran and putting them in the toilet to stop it up as a protest.

Officials at Guantanamo keep detailed logs of detainee actions, as well as what at times have been considered questionable countermeasures taken by guards that human rights groups have charged amount to abuse, officials said.


  • What a putz.

    Perhaps you missed the part where they ran the pre-published story past a "reliable senior official" and aside from aonother aspect of the story, he vetted the account.

    But you also ignore the fact that recently released prisoners have also vouched for the story, some as early as seven months ago. So many different sources are saying the same thing over the past six or eight months? But you want to blame Newsweek.

    Given some of the other stories coming out of Gitmo and some of the other prisons we are running, this would be par for the course.

    This sounds more like trying to lock the barn door after the horse is gone. After the entire Islamic world is blowing up over the revelations, it is then decided that "hey! Maybe we shoulda kept a clamp on that story".

    Nice try though. You should have stuck with vanity radio. At least there only the seven listeners you had would know what kind of a failure you are.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 16 May, 2005 04:08  

  • Comment #1-the person that Newsweek ran the story by did not "vet" it. They simply didn't comment on it. This is similar to the Rather case where they interpreted the non-comment of the White House as verification of their story.

    No, dear, you'll have to go back to your leftist websites and get improved talking points.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 16 May, 2005 05:32  

  • Brian - You didn't really expect an end to business-as-usual for the leftist press did you? As one of their own in another industry recently incorporated into his soon-coming film, "Only a Sith thinks in absolutes." The lying will continue until they get HitleryCare elected in '08, and start up fast and furious if anyone other than a flaming socialist true believer is in the Oval Office.

    By Blogger TheWayfarer, at 16 May, 2005 06:41  

  • We'll see how many subscribers Newsweek loses over this. In Boston, WRKO has dropped its longtime Sunday night show "Newsweek on Air" as a response to this incident. Morning host John DePetro read a statement from PD Mike Elder saying this, and the 'RKO website says "TBA" in the slot that N.O.A. had occupied.
    --Bob Nelson

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 16 May, 2005 10:05  

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