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May 17, 2005

The Newsweek Controversy

Watching Mark Whitaker, editor of Newsweek, talk about the “retraction” of the Quran abuse story at Guantanamo Bay, on the NewsHour, I was struck by how much he looked like a POW making a public statement with a gun pointed at his head.  And I don’t think the gun was being pointed by the folks at the NewsHour.

Although the story was spun as a “retraction”, Whitaker was very careful in his choice of words.  Under questioning by Jeffrey Brown of the NewsHour staff about the accuracy of the allegations by an unnamed Pentagon source that the incidents with the Quran were true, he said:

We went to the extraordinary lengths of actually showing the entire story to a separate high level Pentagon official.  They disputed other aspects of the story but did not dispute that.  After we published the story, we were not challenged on any aspect of it for 11 days until we heard on Friday night, 24 hours before our deadline from the Pentagon, that we had gotten it, had gotten it wrong.

It appears unlikely that the allegations were wrong.  Michael Isikoff is a highly reputable reporter of the old investigative journalist school.  He was famously the reporter who broke the story about Monica Lewinsky which is considered to be what laid the ground-work for the Clinton impeachment.

The information that his source in the Pentagon gave him had been available in the Muslim world for awhile.  Digby says in a great post yesterday:

It's not as if the Muslim world wasn't already well aware of this practice. Detainees have been released and they have talked. As far back as December 2003, when Vanity Fair published David Rose's expose of Guantanamo (sorry, not online), it was known that throughout the Muslim world, Gitmo was seen as an abomination. And it was known that practices in Guantanamo were creating more terrorism and more violence than they stopped.

And later:

This little item in Newsweak is a pretext for action against interrogation techniques that are already well known. Which is why the quasi retraction over the week-end is such a chickenshit display of cowardice on the part of Newsweak. This is old news to anybody who's been paying attention. The jihadists know it, those of us following the story know it and the government certainly knows it. The riots last week in Afghanistan and now around the world are orchestrated to gin up support and their followers are already pissed off enough about this stuff to get with the program quite easily.

As Whitaker said in the same interview with the Newshour, “For some reason at this particular time, ours was the match that lit a fire.”

The New York Times, in an article about Isikoff this morning, reports:

In discussing the article yesterday, Mr. Isikoff, who supplied the source for the article, said: "Whenever something like this happens, you've got to take stock and review what you did - how the story was handled. The big point that leaps out is the cultural one. Neither Newsweek nor the Pentagon foresaw that a reference to the desecration of the Koran was going to create the kind of response that it did. The Pentagon saw the item before it ran, and then they didn't move us off it for 11 days afterward. They were as caught off guard by the furor as we were. We obviously blame ourselves for not understanding the potential ramifications."

Aside from facing what must be immense pressure from the White House, who wants to be the spark that sets off religious wars between the U.S. and Islamist fundamentalists across the globe?

Those of us who foresaw that the war with Iraq was likely to fuel anti-American sentiment around the globe were probably more attuned when the international polls showed that to be the case. 

The International Herald Tribune reported in June of 2003 on a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center with more than 15,000 people in 20 countries and the Palestinian Authority in May of 2003. 

The poll found that 83 percent of Turks now have an unfavorable opinion of the United States, up from 55 percent last summer.  The swing was even sharper in Indonesia, where Islamist radicalism has been rising since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.  While 75 percent had a favorable opinion of the United States in 2000, 83 percent now have an unfavorable view.  Similar levels of animosity hold sway in the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.

Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, said that he had been surprised by the extent to which “the bottom has fallen out in the Muslim world.

And that was in mid-2003, nearly a year before the pictures from Abu Ghraib and the more recent reports about the Quran abuse at Guantanamo Bay. 

Our traditional allies are not too happy with our national policy either. The Economist reported in March of this year on a poll conducted for the Lowy Institute, a foreign-policy think-tank in Sydney.  It asked Australians to rank a list of 15 countries and regions by their “positive feelings”. 

America came eleventh, at 58%, just behind Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.  Only Indonesia, the Middle East, Iran and Iraq rated worse. . . The doubts about America did not stop there.  Among ten potential threats from the outside world, 57% of Australians believed American foreign policies were as dangerous as Islamic fundamentalism.  While 72% of Australians saw the American alliance as important for their country’s security, more than two out of three thought Australia took too much notice of the United States in shaping its foreign policy.  Asked if Australia should support America in any conflict with China over Taiwan, 72% said no.

The issue is not the reporting from Newsweek.  The issue is the dreadful foreign policy conducted by the United States, a policy that will damage our relations with the rest of the world for generations to come.  NWPT46

Posted by Lynn Allen on May 17, 2005 at 11:15 AM in Media | Permalink

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Comments

Isikoff also got it incredibly wrong on Paula Jones. The man will take whatever scandal he can get. He's Joan Rivers in a tie.

Posted by: Jami | May 17, 2005 9:00:48 PM

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