don't blame newsweek

The right is falling all over themselves blaming the you-know-what media, and the government has Newsweek backed into a corner. I'm sure I don't need to link about this, commentary and innuendo is all over the internet.

But Molly Ivins reminds us that the retracted story is essentially true.
Uh, people, I hate to tell you this, but the story about Americans abusing the Koran in order to enrage prisoners has been out there for quite some time. The first mention I found of it is March 17, 2004, when the Independent of London interviewed the first British citizen released from Guantanamo Bay. The prisoner said he had been physically beaten but did not consider that as bad as the psychological torture, which he described extensively. Jamal al-Harith, a computer programmer from Manchester, said 70 percent of the inmates had gone on a hunger strike after a guard kicked a copy of the Koran. The strike was ended by force-feeding.

Then came the report, widely covered in American media last December, by the International Red Cross concerning torture at Gitmo. I wrote at the time: "In the name of Jesus Christ Almighty, why are people representing our government, paid by us, writing filth on the Korans of helpless prisoners? Is this American? Is this Christian? What are our moral values? Where are the clergymen on this? Speak up, speak out."
Read more here.

On the same theme, here is the transcript of James Galloway's statement to the US Senate. (The original is here but it takes forever to load.) Some snips:
As a matter of fact, I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference is Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns and to give him maps the better to target those guns. I met him to try and bring about an end to sanctions, suffering and war, and on the second of the two occasions, I met him to try and persuade him to let Dr Hans Blix and the United Nations weapons inspectors back into the country - a rather better use of two meetings with Saddam Hussein than your own Secretary of State for Defence made of his.
“I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims did not have weapons of mass destruction. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to al-Qaeda. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11 2001. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.

"Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong and 100,000 people paid with their lives; 1600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies.

If the world had listened to Kofi Annan, whose dismissal you demanded, if the world had listened to President Chirac who you want to paint as some kind of corrupt traitor, if the world had listened to me and the anti-war movement in Britain, we would not be in the disaster that we are in today. Senator, this is the mother of all smokescreens. You are trying to divert attention from the crimes that you supported, from the theft of billions of dollars of Iraq's wealth.
Read. Seethe. Organize. Write, call, take to the streets.


B. W. Ventril said...

Re: Galloway. It's a shame about the Jew-baiting. Ah well.

L-girl said...

Fill me in? I don't know about this.

B. W. Ventril said...

Well, this is a good place to start:


Basically, the MP he just unseated is Oona King, who is both black and Jewish. The constituency has a very high Muslim population. King was the subject of overt anti-semitic attacks. Now Galloway wasn't directly involved, but some of his supporters were, and his tactic seemed to have been to simply deny that there was anything anti-Jewish going on. He also claimed that he was defended women "blacker than her" by defending Iraqi civilians.

Oona King, btw, is the grandaughter of one of the founders of the NAACP. There's a great interview with her here:


Basically, the dodginess with Galloway involved a reticence to distance himself from some very nasty anti-Jewish stuff. His testimony was great, but I don't really trust him.

L-girl said...

Thanks, BWV. I had heard Galloway was controversial, but didn't know why. I'll check out both links you sent, post-deadline.

Meanwhile, who was Oona King's grandfather/mother? I'm a student of the civil rights movement.

B. W. Ventril said...

I'm not sure of his name, but this is from the Guardian article about her:

Oona King was born into politics. Her father Preston King, a black American, was expelled from the US for draft dodging (Bill Clinton formally pardoned him 40 years later). He is now a respected professor of politics. Her mother Hazel is a white, Jewish Geordie, a special needs teacher whose family was devastated by the Holocaust.

Is it true that she announced she wanted to be prime minister at four years old? She smiles. "Yeah I was four or five." Does she look back and think she was a bit of a precocious monster? "I think I was a socially maladjusted fucking maniac." Why did she want to be PM? "Because my mum used to get really upset about politics. The Labour government in the 60s wouldn't send troops into Rhodesia against Ian Smith because he was white, and she was so disgusted. So as a child I did have one overriding urge, a typical little girl, I wanted to please my mum."

Did she experience more racism or anti-semitism when she was growing up? "Well, you couldn't look at me and know I was Jewish." She tells me the beautiful thing about racism: "A lot of Jewish people are racist. A lot of black people are racist. A lot of white people are racist. You see we're all the same underneath hahahahah!" She rocks with laughter at this image of a world united.

Does she want some Aero? "Not yet, thank you honey. Look, we really have to go for a walk."

It's Question Time, and she takes me down the secret passage that leads into the Commons. "I'll have to grovel to these men in tights for tickets." She talks about her dad's family as we walk. Her grandfather founded the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. Her uncle, CB King, was regularly beaten up by the police who were furious that he represented white people, and he eventually ran against Jimmy Carter in the primaries. Another uncle fought to desegregate Mississippi University and was sectioned as insane for his ambition.

G said...

Interesting discussion. I am learning much - thanks!

On Newsweek, it really doesn't matter how long the story has been out there. No, it's not necessarily Newsweek's entire fault, and mistakes do happen, especially operating on deadlines - any reporter will tell you that.

The problem is the anti-Americanism that is sweeping through those areas. Whether understandable or not (I don't intend to get into that one here, those who know me know my stance on that one well), the story did end up throwing fuel into an already potentially explosive fire. And explode it did.

Where Newsweek is at fault is their lack of sensitivity to the potential reactions in that area to such a story. Should they have seen what happened coming? No. Should they have had an idea that the story could incite something potentially dangerous? Yes. That part of it was their responsibility, to be aware of the climate surrounding the subjects of their story, and realize that as an internationally-read magazine they have a responsibility outside the US as well in their reporting.

Fact is, a story about the Koran being flushed during prisoner interrogations should raise an immediate flag that it may not go over well in a time of anti-American protests over prisoner abuse at that very prison. Newsweek must have had its "Duh-Factor" meters turned off.

G said...

PS Yes they could have still written a great story without that particular fact that, had they been aware of the significance of the Koran to the protesters, and the fact that many of those protesters already vehemently detest Americans and the US in their country, they could have simply dropped that fact from the article and still written a very good piece which may have avoided causing catastrophe.

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

Given what the U.S. has done recently, it's no surprise that even if Newsweek was wrong that everybody believed it.

I think this article sums it up nicely

"We Will Rape Your Women, Heck We Will Rape Our Women, But We Would Never Flush the Koran"


Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

Quick excerpt from the above article:

Colonel David H. Hackworth wrote, "By April 2004, rapes and assaults of American female soldiers were epidemic in the Middle East. But even after more than 83 incidents were reported during a six-month period in Iraq and Kuwait, the 24-hour rape hotline in Kuwait was still being answered by a machine advising callers to leave a phone number where they could be reached." This is how we treat American women.

This is a reflection on our "culture and values."

It is widely reported that many American military women serving in Iraq, need guards in order to take a shower because of fear of sexual assaults by their fellow soldiers. Washington wants the world to believe that some of these same troops would never flush a Koran.

RobfromAlberta said...

Given what the U.S. has done recently, it's no surprise that even if Newsweek was wrong that everybody believed it.

Even worse, most people don't believe the Newsweek retraction is genuine. The credibility of this administration in most of the world is non-existent.

L-girl said...

Thank you, Kyle. I think you hit it exactly.

they could have simply dropped that fact from the article and still written a very good piece which may have avoided causing catastrophe.

This is like blaming the cameras in Abu Ghraib. I know you don't do that, G, I'm not accusing you of that at all.

But to me, to say it's Newsweek's responsibility to anticipate the story's effect, rather than Washington's responsibility to end the torture and abuse, is strictly bizarro world.

As Molly Ivins points out, this information has been out there. And it is the problem, not the reporting of it.

L-girl said...

The credibility of this administration in most of the world is non-existent.

Right. It reaps what it sowed. The blind trust of the rabid American right-wing is more of a wonder - and more pathetic - than ever.

People like Rob and David Cho - conservatives who think - seem in such short supply. Maybe they are not - maybe they are just too silent, or I don't know where to find them.

G said...

What I meant in the above comment was to say that from the POV of a journalist (yes I got the degree before heading to library school), those in the newsroom itself should have perhaps thought about its impact and the damage they could cause themselves.

Now, that's the business POV. My other side, the activist within, agrees wholeheartedly with you. Thing is this: are the US soldiers capable of flushing a Koran, or is it conceivable they would? Sure, that's the reason the story had the effect that it did. BUT. Do we know that they actually did flush the Koran? No, we do not. And that is the point.

In a position of responsibility such as the news, it is imperative that on such hot-button issues as that, where those reporting on the area should be aware of what sparks will light the flame (yes, they should have been able to predict the outcome after all their reporting in and on the area). If the story is muddled, and the truth unsure, don't go with it unless you are sure it won't be your undoing. Some idiot went with it anyway, is going to be out of a job, and a bunch of people are dead. All over what appears to be a falsity.

Though I must say it does create an interesting allegory to Iraq, WMD, and many people dead - all over what is now known to have been a falsity.

Hmmm ... the New American Way, perhaps?

G said...

Not sure where some of the above defense of Newsweek comes from ...

Remember, this is the same magazine that had the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal story before everyone else, had it ready to hit print, and backed off due to fear of political reprisal. Pretty small set of balls there, and a nice way to show that news integrity means nothing compared to fear of politicians no longer granting interviews.

So what happens? Drudge has the story tipped to him, calls the editor of Newsweek, who refuses to talk to him, posts it on his site, gets famous, and Newsweek finally goes with the story a week later after realizing that Drudge did not and was not going to suffer from simply reporting the news. In other words, "oh, we'll be popular if we print that after all - so now it's OK to do it!"

Yeah, real bright, news-oriented staff at that mag.

redsock said...

Actually the Koran-in-Toilet story goes back to January 2003. There are news clips here.

Also, from my friend Will Bunch:

It's amazing how many journalists are OK with being deceived, as long as they don't have to offend anyone.

Take the editor of the Scranton Times, who when presented a police report showing how a local married congressman who professes family values was himself leading a double life, not only refuses to publish it but writes a scathing assault on the ethics of a nearby newspaper that happens to think that political hypocrisy is newsworthy.

Take the painful hand-wringing from top editors that occured when a Spokane, Wash,. paper -- in an era when government and other investigators frequently won't investigate those in power -- went undercover to help prove that the city's mayor had sexually abused minors and misused his position in seeking sex.

Take the editors of the Washington Post. When confronted with a British government memo that showed that President Bush "fixed" the intelligence on Iraq to make the already-decided case for war, the newspaper did nothing for two weeks, then buried the story -- a story that in a different era, one with more courageous leadership, might be seen as an impeachable offense -- on Page A-18. Odd behavior for a business obsessed with "scoops." ...

Newsweek did make some mistakes. But its biggest one was retracting the story, instead of going back and building on the existing reporting from a half-dozen papers -- that there really was Koran desecration at Guantanamo, that the real damage to America's image came not from an aggressive and free press but from official misconduct.

And that's the real "scoop." Tim Porter, Jeff Jarvis, and the editors of the Scranton Times and the Washington Post can rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic of American newspapers and news magazines, if that's what they want.

We prefer to go down fighting.

(end Bunch)

redsock said...

Also here -- more proof and news links, including one from 2002.

Looks like Newsweek got set up by the Junta just like CBS/Rather, a case where the actual news of the story is pushed aside and the faked source/method becomes the issue..

And like CBS, Newsweek begs the Junta for forgiveness, rather than burning the source and piling on the proof.

L-girl said...

What I meant in the above comment was to say that from the POV of a journalist (yes I got the degree before heading to library school), those in the newsroom itself should have perhaps thought about its impact and the damage they could cause themselves.

Well, I am a journalist, and I disagree completely. A journalist should never think about the impact a story will have: we should only care about reporting the facts.

Facts are sometimes slippery and the truth is not always obvious, but if the newsroom had good reason to believe the story, they had an obligation to run it.

Some idiot went with it anyway, is going to be out of a job, and a bunch of people are dead. All over what appears to be a falsity.

Michael Isikoff is no idiot. And to me it seems clear that the retraction was the result of government pressure.

I don't mean to go around in circles, but the deaths in those riots weren't caused by the story.

L-girl said...

Not sure where some of the above defense of Newsweek comes from ...

It's not a blanket defense of Newsweek. It's not a defense of Newsweek at all. I don't think the Lewinsky story (also Isikoff) has anything to do with this.

I simply maintain that the deaths in Afghanistan should not be laid at the feet of that report.

I believe the Newsweek story because it's backed up by half a dozen other reports, and squares with everything I've read about Guantanamo so far.

And I don't believe the retraction, because to me it seems clear that it was made under govt pressure.

G said...

Well, here we just disagree. Personally, I see shades of Jayson Blair on this one. I really have a hard time believing Newsweek had no doubts about the story when they published it. And that really bothers me.

I think a journalist does need to think about impact if the truth of the story is at all in doubt. Goes to his/her own credibility. And I honestly have a hard time believing that after all the time Newsweek has been reporting in the area, and given all Isikoff's experience, that they had no doubts it was entirely true.

Again, the Newsweek story did not cause, per sey, the deaths to happen ... but that faulty journalism was the catalyst that sparked to the riot in which those people died.

I reiterate - yes I know it's been out there since 2002. Unfortunately those stories weren't the ones quoted by these protestors. This one was. Directly. They railed because they were convinced of the desecration of the Koran from the Newsweek article, which happens to be the one they read/heard about. And that makes all the difference in the world.

G said...

From someone who is actually there:

Now Newsweek have retracted the story- obviously under pressure from the White House. Is it true? Probably… We've seen enough blatant disregard and disrespect for Islam in Iraq the last two years to make this story sound very plausible. On a daily basis, mosques are raided, clerics are dragged away with bags over their heads… Several months ago the world witnessed the execution of an unarmed Iraqi prisoner inside a mosque. Is this latest so very surprising?

Detainees coming back after weeks or months in prison talk of being forced to eat pork, not being allowed to pray, being exposed to dogs, having Islam insulted and generally being treated like animals trapped in a small cage. At the end of the day, it's not about words or holy books or pork or dogs or any of that. It's about what these things symbolize on a personal level. It is infuriating to see objects that we hold sacred degraded and debased by foreigners who felt the need to travel thousands of kilometers to do this. That's not to say that all troops disrespect Islam- some of them seem to genuinely want to understand our beliefs. It does seem like the people in charge have decided to make degradation and humiliation a policy.

Baghdad Burning

A truly amazing blog that deserves a little attention. A point of view we Westerners will not too often see in our safe haven over here.

L-girl said...

Baghdad Burning is a great blog. It seems to get a lot of attention in the blogosphere, well deserved.

G said...

Hmmm ... the slippery slope. Yeah, under a deadline, that is problematic.

Then again, knowing the conditions there, Newsweek still should have had a good indication of the mess that would cause.

And then we have the quandary: is this fact worth reporting in the wake of the level of anger already there?

And I recognize that in itself is a slippery slope of it's own, one that does get abused by many publications and especially TV news every day. I agree it's one of the toughest businesses because decisions like that one must be made every day and the only thing to do is hope the decision to publish doesn't spark such events as that of the other day. Unfortunately it backfired on them.

So where do they go from here? Good question. Our own little debate here is symbiotic of that which tears at the field each day.

I do think you'll appreciate this. Unless you're one of those who refuses to read Drudge (and there are a few). Either way, it's a partial transcript of the press jumping all over McLellen. FunFunFun!

L-girl said...

Frankly, I'm surprised there's not a lot more visible anger against the US, both home and abroad.

Drudge, eh? It's not that I refuse to read him, but I never do. I don't think I've looked at his site since Monicagate. I'll check out the link.