Sunday, May 15, 2005

Newsweek Deserves Harsh Criticism

Now that Newsweek has all but retracted its story alleging Guantanamo Bay interrogators flushed a Quran down the toilet, the 72-year old weekly news magazine will undoubtedly and deservedly face a storm of criticism.

Fifteen people died when rioting broke out in the Muslim world as a result of the story. While the culpability for those deaths rests squarely on the shoulders of the rioters (see our report here), Newsweek deserves serious criticism for releasing such an inflammatory story without first having solid proof and real corroboration that the incident actually did occur. While Newsweek could not have known that their poor journalism would lead to death, they had to know the story would send shockwaves through both the U.S. and the Muslim world.

In cases where a news story will obviously have serious repercussions we should expect our media to apply the same standard to the story that our society applies to convicting criminals: the allegations should be provable beyond a reasonable doubt.

Newsweek failed this test. Even if the allegations turn out to be true, Newsweek had no business releasing the story until the truth of the incident could be proved. All the reporters and editors involved in this incredibly poor decision should be severely reprimanded if not out-right fired. It’s probably the best chance Newsweek has to regain its credibility.

For an excellent round-up of reactions to this story, see The Moderate Voice.


At 8:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why don't we ask the editor and the reporter go over to the Middle East and explain their zeal to slam the U.S. Military and that they were wrong. See how long they last

At 4:39 PM, Anonymous Dan Meyer said...

Maybe someone can explain to me which standards of journalism were violated here: Newsweek published the story based on a quote from a government source. Detainees have been saying for a long time that the Koran has been used in disrespectful ways during interogations and so when a government source told Newsweek that he had seen a report confirming this story, they felt it was newsworthy. But they didn't just run with it. They called the Pentagon and asked, "Is this accurate?" The Pentagon found fault with a portion of the story (which Newsweek decided not to print) but not the portion pertaining to the Koran. On that they had no comment. So now the source is having second thoughts about where exactly he saw the abuses noted, so Newsweek has to retract. The real question though is weather or not it's appropriate for the press to ever say anything critical of the US Armed Forces. I think if we say no then we end up with facism pretty quick. It's a dangerous world out there and US troops don't have it easy. But they're out there fighting so we can have, among other things, a press that is free to tell the truth. It's disrespectful to the concept of freedom to suggest that the press should be limited in it's targets for critisism.


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