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Newsweek Blunder Doesn't Absolve White House

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Newsweek Blunder Doesn't Absolve White House: Margaret Carlson

May 19 (Bloomberg) -- ``I feel terrible.'' Period. Full stop.

So Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker finally said May 16, after a retraction of the magazine's May 1 report, based on an unnamed source, that guards at Guantanamo Bay flushed a Koran down the toilet. In riots that ensued in the Muslim world, at least 16 people died, for which the Bush administration blames Newsweek.

Whitaker should have moved faster. When a source, no matter how previously reliable or highly placed, goes south, the news organization is always in the wrong. It shouldn't fall back on any ``if such and such happened, then I apologize'' constructions of the type perfected by government officials and corporate executives.

Claiming that the situation is ``murky'' and they're still on the story, as Newsweek did, came perilously close to sounding like O.J. protesting that he's still searching for the real killers.

This is not one of those endless media navel-gazing controversies -- the excessively flawed coverage of Michael Jackson or the runaway bride, for example. Lives were lost and Newsweek has become a whipping boy for the White House and the Pentagon.

More Serious Than CBS

This case is far more serious than the recent CBS fracas. In an effort to confirm once and for all the previously published reports that Lieutenant George W. Bush received preferential treatment in the Texas Air National Guard, Dan Rather relied on documents that were discredited. By the time the White House finished with him, you'd have thought Rather tried to make a liar out of a war hero with three Purple Hearts and two Silver Stars.

Newsweek tripped up in a similar race for a scoop. Earlier, the New York Times reported that British detainees released from Guantanamo claimed that guards would ``kick the Koran, throw it in the toilet and generally disrespect it.'' Newsweek moved the story forward with its unnamed source stating the Pentagon would report that U.S. military interrogators flushed a Koran down the toilet to rattle suspects.

The retraction should have come quicker, but the administration should slow its attempt to shift blame for the deadly protests to a weekly publication. They've yet to explain why two Defense Department officials passed up the chance to correct the source's assertion when the magazine took the unusual step of submitting the report prior to publication. The reporter took silence as confirmation.

Inconvenient Questions

Wrong in retrospect? Sure. Silence is always ambiguous. But the Pentagon has managed to dodge the inconvenient question of why it didn't raise a red flag when given the opportunity or at least warn Newsweek of the potentially grave consequences of publishing.

The administration is also ignoring the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard B. Myers, who cited a senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan saying that the protests were ``not at all tied to the article.''

That didn't stop the White House from insisting the opposite. ``The report had real consequences,'' spokesman Scott McClellan said. ``People have lost their lives.'' On May 17, when Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita was specifically asked if, in light of General Myers's statement, he still believed that ``people died because of this erroneous report,'' he said, ``I do, I absolutely do.''

Abu Ghraib? Chalabi?

It's understandable that the administration might want to flush Newsweek down the toilet and spread the blame for its mistakes. But how can anyone believe that one errant story about prisoner mistreatment is equivalent to the actual mistreatment of prisoners? How cathartic it must be to have something other than those famous photos from Abu Ghraib to blame for rampant anti-Americanism? How comforting, after Ahmad Chalabi, to have someone other than the CIA or White House publicly burned by a bad source.

As the high priests of journalism rake through this latest debacle, it wouldn't hurt to look at the messy subject of investigating leaks. Journalists must honor promises of confidentiality, even to the hopelessly wrong, or lose every source who fears retribution for speaking out. But there's no such duty on the other side, especially when the stakes are so high.

In the Valerie Plame case, a high White House aide blew a CIA agent's cover to punish her husband for undercutting the White House claim that Saddam Hussein tried to buy uranium ``yellowcake,'' used to make nuclear bombs. The president said how much he wanted to get to the bottom of it. All he had to do was walk down the hall and pose a direct question to a very small circle of aides. He didn't, so two reporters are about to go to jail for protecting the thug who jeopardized the lives of Plame's contacts abroad.

Again, the administration refuses to look inward. No one excuses Newsweek. But in its long adventure in the Arab world, the administration has hatched few strategies as hollow as holding a magazine responsible for its own failings.

http://quote.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=10000039&refer=columnist_carlson&sid=aCQ_35j2SmoI

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Newsweek Blunder Doesn't Absolve White House: Margaret Carlson

May 19 (Bloomberg) -- ``I feel terrible.'' Period. Full stop.

Again, the administration refuses to look inward. No one excuses Newsweek. But in its long adventure in the Arab world, the administration has hatched few strategies as hollow as holding a magazine responsible for its own failings.

http://quote.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=10000039&refer=columnist_carlson&sid=aCQ_35j2SmoI

And there it is....the administrations failings..........not what goes on in the Muslim world, and holding them responsible....not how the Western media and their cyncism, anti-Bush, and poor reporting has had any effects......not how state controlled media and propoganda has shaped how people think in that part of the world......not the failings of economic, education, cultural and religious instituitions in that part of the world.......not the thousands of radical mosuqes, clerics, religious schools, and madrasses that could be at fault.....not the terrorists and all of their associations.....

It must have been the Bush administration who told that Pakistani cleric to hold up the NEWSWEEK cover to incite the violence.......i

What an awful article

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And there it is....the administrations failings..........not what goes on in the Muslim world, and holding them responsible....not how the Western media and their cyncism, anti-Bush, and poor reporting has had any effects......not how state controlled media and propoganda has shaped how people think in that part of the world......not the failings of economic, education, cultural and religious instituitions in that part of the world.......not the thousands of radical mosuqes, clerics, religious schools, and madrasses that could be at fault.....not the terrorists and all of their associations.....

i love it when conservatives go on bleeding heart tirades. :)

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