The real scandal of the Newsweek incident isn't that the magazine issued a retraction. It's the incredible pressure brought to bear by the White House and the Pentagon to stifle dissent and cover up problems. Big problems. And it's the cowardice of American mainstream journalism in he face of that pressure.
Earlier this week, a query from a journalist crossed my desk:
"I'm looking for experts to comment on the issues surrounding this story, including, but not limited to: 1) The White House says the apology is not enough and Newsweek needs to do more to repair the damage. What is the magazine's obligation? 2) Is it any surprise, given recent reporting errors, that Americans don't trust journalists? 3) Newsweek is a highly respected news magazine. How could this happen? 4) What is happening in the journalism profession? Why are journalists and the field in general losing regard among the public?"
Here's what I wrote back:
" I think there's a deeper story, and a different set of questions. Newsweek's retraction was made under enormous pressure form the federal government. Is there actually truth to the allegations? Why does this government take such a consistent role as squelcher-of-the-press? (Two examples: the refusal to let TV cover returning coffins; the 1999 pressure brought to bear on St Martin's Press to recall and destroy a critical biography of Bush, later re-published by the courageous independent house Soft Skull) And why is the media so complicit in its own strangulation? Why was the Dan Rather scandal allowed to divert attention from the far greater scandal--well known long before the forged memos came to light--of Bush's AWOL problem?"... That the government was able to force the retraction of an apparently true story is cause for deep concern--and as someone who focuses on ethics, something I'm particularly alarmed about.
Since writing my response (which actually has resulted in two interviews so far), I did a little digging on the story. And I found some very interesting information.
1. Koran abuse is an old story. It was broken nine months ago
by Britain's The Independent, and unlike Newsweek, that paper attributed its sources. Why did it take American journalists nine months to dig it out? The Independent's site only has the very beginning of the article:
but the whole thing is posted in several places, including
2. According to a story in Democracy Now today, not only was abuse of the Koran rampant at Guantanamo, as part of a general culture of trashing and profaning all things Muslim (forced shaving, defiling male prisoners with what they thought was menstrual blood, and other psychological abuse), but several Kuwaiti prisoners filed a lawsuit about this.
The whole sordid tale can be found at http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=05/05/18/1434259&mode=thread&tid=25
It does not make me proud of the American government. Desecration of religion has been considered bad karma at least as far back as the Maccabees of ancient Palestine, 165 years before the birth of Christ, whose defeat of the defilers--who ordered pigs, considered unclean by religious Jews, slaughtered n the holy temple--created the Jewish holiday of Chanukah.
Is it any wonder Americans are hated when they do everything in their power to desecrate the entire culture of the lands they occupy?
And isn't it deeply ironic that White House spokesperson Scott McClellan said, "The report has had serious consequences. People have lost their lives. The image of the United States abroad has been damaged."
I decry the loss of life. It is a human tragedy on the mound of vast human tragedies this war has sprung on us. But Scott--didn't it ever occur to you that far more lives were lost, and our country's reputation was far more damaged
, by the "you're with us or against us" rhetoric, the refusal to wait for the United Nations, the blatantly false justifications for the war (anyone remember that this was supposedly about WMDs? Or remember President Bush joking about looking for them behind the White House furniture?) Engage in unethical and illegal behavior for years, and then blame the messenger?
Something is very wrong with this picture.