2005-05-26 / This Week's Attitude

Focus On Media Blunders Is Just A White House Diversion

This Week
By Neil S. Friedman

In the wake of Newsweek’s recent lapse in fact checking, it’s rather obvious the Bush administration is savoring another blunder by the liberal media as it orchestrates a campaign of damage control to deflect focus from its ongoing Iraqi fiasco.

Newsweek reporters were flat out wrong for not having a second source — a journalism mandate — verify a report in its May 9 edition. The six-word item in a longer article about military investigators looking into allegations of prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, alleged that U.S. interrogators defiled a Quran — the sacred text of Islam — by flushing it down a toilet to intimidate prisoners.

The magazine also erred in judgment for taking almost two weeks to issue an apology and retraction, after the Pentagon held Newsweek responsible for more than a dozen deaths that occurred during riots in Afghanistan within days after the story appeared. The White House’s image management machinery went into overdrive when press secretary Scott McLellan urged the magazine to “help repair the damage” to America's reputation in the Muslim world, but he carefully avoided criticism of the individuals behind the murders.

The Newsweek story is not the first allegation of Quran desecration. Others have reportedly appeared in European publications about prisoners detained by the British who made similar claims, but without ruffling any Muslim feathers. To many, except perhaps those who revere the Islamic text, the defilement accusation pales in comparison to hideous torture tactics used in Abu Ghraib by American GIs and last week’s release of humiliating photos of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who fanatical Muslims hold in high esteem and which has stirred the fury of his allies.

The White House should be more concerned about who leaked the information to Newsweek in the first place — and the photographs to a British tabloid — and conduct an inquiry to determine who were the Pentagon officials with loose lips.

Pointing the finger at Newsweek for resurgence of anti-Americanism in the Middle East is like blaming liberals in America for the president’s weakening support.

A New York Times editorial recently called attention to the fact that no one at the Pentagon has been held accountable for “…policies that put every American soldier at risk. The men who wrote the memos on legalized torture and evading the Geneva Convention have been promoted.”

And since when did militant Muslims need an excuse to burn American flags? The White House, with its knee jerk reaction to avoid more damage to its tattered image, is merely trying to foist responsibility elsewhere for the latest wave of anti-American Arab activity.

The media, from the Washington Post to The New York Times to CBS News and, now, Newsweek, has admittedly endured some dark days in recent years that has left trust in journalists just above that of low-ranking lawyers, but the glass-housed Bush administration has had enough of its own blunders not to be throwing stones over what should have been a minor furor.

Conspiracy theorists proposed the entire Newsweek matter may have been deliberately orchestrated by the Pentagon to embarrass Newsweek or that the CIA purposely spread the news to Muslim factions in order to reflect badly on the liberal periodical.

If September 11 hijackers were carrying Qurans along with the box cutters they reportedly used to hijack the airplanes that rammed into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, wouldn’t that, too, be a desecration of the Quran? Or do Muslims forgive the ruin of its sacred text in the name of martyrdom?

I’ll never forget one particular Quran passage I came across during a college religion course that was as disturbing then as it is today: “Believers in Islam, take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends. They are friends with one another.”

Reckless reporting by Newsweek, to which I’ve subscribed for nearly twenty years, may have fanned the flames of hatred towards the West — especially the United States — but it doesn’t take much to incite zealous Muslims bent on eradicating their world of those who don’t subscribe to their radical values.

There’s definitely lots of blame to go ‘round — 1) Newsweek for shoddy journalism, 2) Pentagon officials’ loose lips and 3) the Bush Administration for deflecting dissatisfaction with its policies.

Above all, let’s not forget that while Newsweek was the negligent messenger, the criminals ultimately responsible for the deaths of Muslims were an out-of-control gang of extremist Muslims who by and large need little prodding to resort to violence in their perpetually volatile community.

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