Wednesday, May 18, 2005

I need a new local paper

It's been asked of me whether I trust anything in the MSM. The answer is that yes, I do trust some things in the MSM. When a story or editorial is researched and written with an eye towards reality, truth and some semblence of objetivity, I will at least take it seriously, even if I do discount for the bias of the writer/editor as best I can discern it.

However, when I read drivel like this I just can't take it. I've long ago stopped believing anything the editorial board at the Strib writes. While the paper has some good reporters, who I'll trust, the opinion page folks just have nothing to offer.

Let's disect this editorial, and you'll see why I hope my fellow Daily alumni learned better than this at the U.

The White House has gone ballistic over the retracted statement in the May 9 Newsweek that "investigators probing abuses at Guantanamo Bay have confirmed" that "interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, placed Qur'ans on toilets and, in at least one case, flushed a holy book down the toilet."

I, of course, don't blame the White House for their reaction, but I think it's more than a tad over the top to say the WH has "gone ballistic." Frankly, I'm amazed at the Administration's restraint considering the fallout from the story.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan flat-out said Newsweek was responsible for causing the rioting in Afghanistan that led to at least 17 deaths. Newsweek editors appear to have accepted that responsibility. They shouldn't have;

Um, and why is that? Howard Kurtz at the not-so-much-conservative Washintgon Post even says the "report on the treatment of detainees that triggered several days of rioting in Afghanistan and other countries in which at least 15 people died." While it is true that the ultimate blame for the deaths goes to those who physically took part in the riot, the Newsweek folks bear some responsibility for recklessly putting inflammatory material into an obviously fragile environment. Newsweek yelled "fire" in a crowded theater, and people died.
the White House is simply changing the subject from abuse at Guantanamo to Newsweek's journalism.

Hardly. This wasn't "journalism" as taught by reputable organizations and schools. This was ill-conceived rumor mongering. The WH did exactly what it should have done - defended the country from the damage resulting from Newsweek's considerable lapse in judgment.
It would have been prudent, and more responsible, for Newsweek to have confirmed the story with a second source; that failure gave the White House the opening it has now seized to such good effect. Newsweek then compounded the error by going only halfway in its first correction.

So, which is it? Newsweek made an error, or the Administration is shifting folks' eyes away from the abuse? It can't be both. If it's an error, then there was no abuse from which to shift attention.
Newsweek used as a source a "senior government official," normally a Cabinet secretary or someone fairly close to that rank, who had previously been a reliable source. It then showed the report to two Pentagon officials before publication. One declined comment and one corrected another aspect of the story. Neither challenged the Qur'an-in-the-toilet statement.

Ah, so instead of getting independently verification, Newsweek used the Pentagon's lack of a condemnation as confirmation? If that's what passes for journalism in the MSM, it's no wonder their trust numbers are in the toilet. It's not the Pentagon's responsibility to tell Newsweek how to do its job. If Newsweek takes shortcuts in verification of stories, Newsweek needs to take responsibility when things blow up on them. See, Rather, Dan - National Guard memos.
Only after the report had been printed did the original source back away from his assertion that he had seen the confirmation in a military report on abuse at Guantanamo. On reflection, he thought perhaps he saw it in other reports or drafts; but he did see it.

See, this is why independent verification is necessary. Newsweek took a shortcut and got burned.
As for this short Newsweek item causing the rioting and deaths in Afghanistan, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan told Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers that the violence was "not at all" tied to Newsweek, but was an insurgency seeking to prevent the national reconciliation that President Hamid Karzai is trying to promote. Before the Newsweek item was even published, both the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse reported a new surge of Taliban-led violence.

This like saying the forest fire would've happend had the lit match not been tossed in, because the forest was already dry. If the AP and Agence France-Presse had already reported the Taliban was stirring things up, Newsweek should have realized that they needed to be more careful than usual to get things right lest they inadvertently, well...start a riot or something.
Besides, the White House itself committed much more egregious errors in the way it so casually used dubious intelligence to make a case for going to war in Iraq.

Ai. This is about Newsweek. Newsweek. Now who's trying to shift attention from the real issue?
As the blog Daily Kos pointed out Tuesday, McClellan seems to have a double standard. In his discussion with reporters on July 17, 2003, he was asked: Bush is "president of the United States. This thing he told the country on the verge of taking the nation to war has turned out to be, by your own account, not reliable. That's his fault, isn't it?"

McClellan responded: "No."

I'll give Kos the benefit of the doubt, as I'm sure he's probably accurate here (hey, if it's good enough for Newsweek, this hearsay thing is good enough for me, right?) But here the hypocrisy gate swings both ways (if indeed it can be accurately said to swing towards the president at all.) If the left is going to say the Admin's standard was wrong, then they had durn well better say that Newsweek was wrong too. And not try to play the "well they did it too" card. That's pathetic.
The accusations concerning Qur'ans in toilets have been published repeatedly over the past three years in a number of media, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, a number of other American newspapers, the BBC and a Moroccan Islamic newspaper. The only thing Newsweek added was a claim of "official confirmation." While not a small thing, that supposed confirmation did not break this story; it is old news. And one source's faulty memory over where he saw information about it does not prove that the accusations of Qur'an abuse are untrue. Indeed, they still deserve further investigation.

Sure, accusations have been reported before. Not really unsurprising. I find it quite plausible that after the Abu Ghraib news impacted our country the way it did that prisoners would try and attack us by making false, and inflammatory, accusations. Or, maybe the desecration could have been done by a prisoner - a seeming possibility. This is exactly why Newsweek should have made sure of what it was reporting.

After Abu Ghraib, accusations of prisoner abuse seem more likely to be credible just because "it's happened before." But the terrorists aren't stupid - Newsweek had to know that misinformation aimed at hurting the U.S. abroad was a very real possibility. In this atmosphere, Newsweek's actions are doubly problematic.
The White House response fits a pattern of trying to intimidate the press from exploring issues the administration doesn't want explored. Compare it, for example, to the Dan Rather report on President Bush's military service. To this day, we don't know if what Rather reported was accurate or not, or to what degree it may have been accurate. Nor do we know whether the documents he cited were genuine. All we know is that CBS can't verify that they were genuine.

D.Nile. Calling Dr. D.Nile. The Strib is again shifting focus from where it belongs.
Yet the hullabaloo caused by that incident appears to have intimidated other journalists from trying to pin down the full truth about Bush's military service.

Yes, after looking into it over multiple elections and coming away with nothing more than innuendo and obviously faked documents, journalists have moved on because of pressure from the WH. Couldn't be that after so much time spent trying to find proof of Bush's ANG shenanigans that journalists decided that there were no more rocks to turn over. Nah...
And now there will probably be less enterprise reporting on prisoner abuse or anything else that might embarrass this administration.

Yes, all that MSM criticism of President Bush will just about stop now. The media are soooo frightened that ne'er a single nasty word will be written about him again.

Frankly, after Eason Jordan and Dan Rather, I'd think the Strib editorial board would be more worried about pressure from the blogosphere.
It also fits neatly in with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's effort to muzzle public television and radio. This behavior seems so Nixonian, except that the current crew is much better at the press-intimidation game than William Safire and Vice President Spiro Agnew were. For Newsweek and other media that come in for this treatment, we have one word: Resist.

Yes, by all means. When the WH (and numerous others - let's not put all this Newsweek criticism on McClellan et al) tells Newsweek that it was wrong, ignore 'em. When it is pointed out that the reporting was sloppy, forget that. Fake, but accurate works nowadays. Who cares if it's true if it could've been.

If the U.S. military interrogators were doing this, then by all means investigate and punish as applicable law requires. But this report was carelessly published, and at the very least indirectly it led to riots resulting in multiple deaths. Now, thanks to Newsweek, future claims of abuse will be more suspect than need be. If abuse is real, it needs to be reported accurately. Crying wolf, or jumping the gun, only hurts investigations that need to take place.

I want more from my paper than this. Have some standards. I shouldn't see more credibility on the comics page than the opinions page.
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I'm not alone on touching on this topic. Captain's Quarters, and Spanktuary provide my favorite commentaries to date.

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