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Joe Gandelman's The Moderate Voice is by a political independent with an irrevant style and great journalistic instincts. A link-filled and consistently interesting group blog.

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Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at is a daily review of the best reporting and commentary on the presidency. Read it daily and you'll be extremely well informed.

Rebecca MacKinnon, former correspondent for CNN, has immersed herself in the world of new media and she's seen the light (great linker too.)

Micro Persuasion is Steve Rubel's weblog. It's about how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the business of persuasion. Rubel always has the latest study or article.

Susan Mernit's blog is "writing and news about digital media, ecommerce, social networks, blogs, search, online classifieds, publishing and pop culture from a consultant, writer, and sometime entrepeneur." Connected.

Group Blogs

CJR Daily is Columbia Journalism Review's weblog about the press and its problems, edited by Steve Lovelady, formerly of the Philadelpia Inquirer.

Lost Remote is a very newsy weblog about television and its future, founded by Cory Bergman, executive producer at KING-TV in Seattle. Truly on top of things, with many short posts a day that take an inside look at the industry.

Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide. keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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May 17, 2005

Newsweek's Take-Our-Word-For-It World

It was next-to impossible for us to judge the Periscope item for ourselves; there was almost nothing in it our trust could latch on to, except Newsweek's royal stamp and Michael Isikoff's magic name.

We’re not retracting anything. We don’t know what the ultimate facts are.
— Mark Whitaker, Sunday.
Based on what we know now, we are retracting our original story that an internal military investigation had uncovered Quran abuse at Guantanamo Bay.
— Mark Whitaker, Monday.

As these quotations show, it was news weakly made that helped trigger fatal events far beyond the world of Newsweek and its subscribers. Now that the report has been fully retracted, people have been asking me what I think about this seriously screwed-up story.

The very difficulty of summarizing what the faulty report said tells us something vital about it. To wit:

Newsweek, which I will call S1 for our first level source, and for which we have names (Michael Isikoff, Mark Whitaker, John Barry) said that it had sources (S2) without names, who in turn said that other sources (S3) also without names, working as investigators for the government, have learned enough from their sources (S4), likewise unnamed, to conclude in a forthcoming report for U.S. Southern Command (finally, a name!) that unnamed interrogators (S5) dumped the Quran into toilets to make a point with prisoners (S6) who are Muslims but also not named.

And as Newsweek Editor Mark Whitaker explained, what made this nameless, formless, virtually fact-free item newsworthy was not the “toilet” imagery itself, or some of the other equally revolting allegations, which had been reported numerous times before, but the “fact” that for the first time a government source (that would be S2) said it.

“The fact that a knowledgeable source within the U.S. government was telling us the government itself had knowledge of this was newsworthy,” Whitaker said in an interview with Howard Kurtz.

In this way of thinking—the adequacy of which is in doubt—if you trust the source, and Newsweek told us it did, then the source saying it (Quran thrown down toilets) is enough to make it news. Except that the kind of news the source was willing to make was “weak” even if spot on. It was just a prediction of what someone else will later be saying, not what the source himself knew first hand.

In his post on the Newsweek disaster, Austin Bay points out that we live in a world where “loosey-goosey allegations can lead to riot and death.” Since it is not possible for journalists to ignore this fact, they have no choice but to factor it in with their decision-making.

Here it does not fill me confidence to find Whitaker saying to Howard Kurtz: “I suppose you could say we should have foreseen the consequences of the report, but we didn’t.”

That doesn’t mean a charge like desecration of the Quran should never be reported. If United States policy is to show scrupulous respect for holy texts, then it matters if American policy is being violated. I don’t agree at all with La Shawn Barber: “Newsweek should not have reported it, even if true.” But I do agree that the possible consequences in being wrong—and being right—should have been factored in, driving the need for reliability up, up, up. But nothing like this happened at Newsweek.

We have to chart the sourcing a little to see how thin the original story actually was:

Source Level 1 is named: it is Newsweek magazine itself in the person of its editors and reporters. We know who they are and we can decide whether we trust them.

Source Level 2 are the unnamed sources in the government who were said to have knowledge of an “upcoming report by the U.S. Southern Command in Miami” documenting all this. These sources now appear unreliable, and won’t confirm. It appears that one of them was not really a source for the allegation but a Pentagon official who was shown the report and didn’t disconfirm it. From the New York Times account by Katharine Seelye:

In addition, the reporters, Michael Isikoff, a veteran investigative reporter, and John Barry, a national security correspondent, showed a draft of the article to the source and to a senior Pentagon official asking if it was correct. The source corrected one aspect of the article, which focused on the Southern Command’s internal report on prisoner abuse.

“But he was silent about the rest of the item,” Newsweek reported.

That is the most revealing fact I have come across so far, because it is very clear how much weaker didn’t disconfirm is when compared to alternatives like “Colonel Jones said…”

Did he confirm it?

No, but he didn’t disconfirm it.

Oh, so is that confirmation?

Well, he would have warned us, I think.

Right, right. He would have warned us.

When I say “thin” that is the kind of thing I mean.

Source Level 3 are the (unnamed) “investigators probing interrogation abuses.” They are the ones who will compile the report for U.S. Southern Command. What Newsweek’s sources “had” was simply a prediction about what these people would be putting in their report. (Whitaker in a piece Newsweek ran Monday: “Our original source later said he couldn’t be certain about reading of the alleged Quran incident in the report we cited, and said it might have been in other investigative documents or drafts.”)

Source Level 4, also unnamed, are the people the investigators would have talked to in their probe. We don’t know who that is, but we can guess it is likely to include prisoners, lawyers, rights groups, guards, interrogators, agents and officers— direct witnesses, and those who talked to them.

Source Level 5 are the interrogators in Guantanamo Bay who could have, conceivably, thrown things like the Quran down toilets. Certainly they are among the best sources for what actually went down. Alas, no names.

Source Level 6, also unnamed, are the prisoners for whom the alleged action would have been intended— a special class of witness.

The allegations in the Periscope item thus come with six possible levels of sourcing confidence. But as readers we have names for only Level 1: Newsweek’s editors and reporters. On my six point scale Newsweek’s item ranks as perhaps one and a half, naming itself and Southern Command. The question the magazine should have to answer is why it ever thought sufficient such a meager reliability level for a story of this kind.

As CJR Daily noted, Newsweek was “opting to trust a longtime source, despite the lack of any real corroboration.” Tim Porter was more specific: “No names. No positions. No reasons for their anonymity. No nothing that would add to either the credibility of the original report or the response.”

This is not just Newsweek’s problem. Everyone in journalism knows that trust in the press is under pressure as never before. Some of it comes from high-profile screw-ups by journalists and other spectacular lapses in editorial controls. These stories have filled the headlines so there is no need to repeat the litany.

Some of the pressure originates in a politicized attack on the press that has roots in the culture war, but has now spread to government itself (as with the current conflict between the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and NPR.)

Some can be traced to the heightened scrutiny that results from Big Journalism’s loss of monopoly position in news and commentary. There are more media watchers these days and they have their own ways of checking up on the press, pooling their complaints and getting the word out. PressThink is itself part of this trend.

And some of the heightened pressure is due to the larger setting in world affairs— including the war in Iraq, the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, and the way in which information released in one place can have instant effects around the globe.

Under these conditions, it is imperative that journalists in the United States raise their standards for reliability, because the consequences of being wrong—for themselves, for their profession as a whole, and for others far removed—are graver. The most difficult part of raising standards is not to figure out what to do that might improve reliability, but to admit that standards weren’t as high as they could have been in the first place.

For professionals who have achieved a certain standing (and won awards) this is hard because it requires some humbling first: Maybe we aren’t as good as we need to be. But the alternatives are worse. Instead of improving reliability, the press can simply become more timid, reducing risk by increasing its own toothlessness. It can fall back into formalisms of the “he said, she said” variety, and never really try to figure out the truth. It can switch the mission to entertainment, and select news that way. There is always denial that anything is different today, a favorite among the crumudgeon class.

The Periscope item in the May 9th issue of Newsweek is a creature from an earlier climate of credibility: when a single-source story was good enough; when anonymous was okay as long as you trusted “your guy” at the Pentagon or the DA; when the consequences of being wrong were not as great, as instant, or as global; when the game of being first—which always meant more to journalists than anyone else—could go on as if it had intrinsic value to the public. Porter says the scoop mentality at Newsweek is “vestigial.” I agree.

The obsession with being first was so strong that the wire services or networks routinely crowed if they beat the competition by minutes.

That day is gone. News today is a continuum. It flows ceaselessly from producer to consumer and, more and more, back again to the producer. It can be stopped and recorded for consumption later, it can be sampled at any hour of the day or night, or it can be ignored altogether, as it increasingly is.

By using the loopy logic of “firstness” (this is the first government source to say it!) Newsweek was I think pursuing the wrong goods, and it compounded the problem by settling for a low level of reliability in deciding to make its Periscope item news. On top of that Editor Mark Whitaker does not appear to understand the difference between “take our word for it” journalism, and the “don’t take our word for it, judge for yourself” kind, a shorter term for which is transparency.

It was next-to impossible for us to judge the Periscope item for ourselves; there was almost nothing in it our trust could latch on to, except Newsweek’s royal stamp and Michael Isikoff’s magic name.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

John Robinson, editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, says (at his blog) that his paper has tighter standards than Newsweek when it comes to anonymous sources.

We don’t like ‘em and don’t want ‘em in the paper, particularly on local content. It occasionally means we have to wait to publish a story. It occasionally frustrates the journalists who believe they have the story nailed. We permit them when we know the source has first-hand knowledge of an event, there are other sources, and we judge there’s a compelling public need to know. And even then we may not publish until we do more reporting.

Note: “We permit them when we know the source has first-hand knowledge of an event” would have sunk the Periscope item. Isikoff (whose source it was) granted anonymity to someone with second hand knowledge. (My category S2.) New York would have flunked the Greensboro test.

Media beat reporters: I’m gonna give you a freebie. Check into regional and “status level” differences in professional opinion about what Newsweek did, and compare the anonymous sourcing standards at national vs. local outlets. Read between the lines of what this guy wrote. My sense is: resentments of the national press are a story, not in Greensboro only but many places. Where do I get it? I read the comments at my blog.

I did Hugh Hewitt’s radio show with Glenn Reynolds Tuesday night; we talked about the Newsweek fallout. Transcript is here. Glenn posted a short summary and reflection on what we said here. He writes:

Both Jay and I rated this scandal an 8 on a scale where RatherGate was a 10. While there will be specific consequences, for Newsweek and its staff, the bigger damage will be yet another incremental loss of press credibility. I’d rather have a press that was trusted, and trustworthy. We’re still some distance from that, I’m afraid.

Agreed. One correction: Hewitt asked me if I were boss of the Washington Post Co., would I fire reporter Mike Isikoff; but I thought he had asked me about editor Mark Whitaker. (I talked over his question.) I said I might.

Thinking about it after… I don’t think anyone should be fired. No. Mike Isikoff is supposed to push his story, and be an advocate. The failures I see are in Newsweek’s decision-making overall. When Hewitt asked me, would you fire…. I should have changed the subject.

Meanwhile, others want to argue with Glenn Reynolds, and why not? At Hit & Run, Matt Welch had something to say back to Glenn. First, from Instapundit:

I WARNED EARLIER that if Americans concluded that the press was on the other side, the consequences would be dire… I’m a big fan of freedom of the press. I think it’s too bad that the journalistic profession is ruining things for everybody through the hubris, irresponsibility, sloppiness, and outright agenda-driven bias of its practitioners.

A big “fan” of the First Amendment? That’s a strange way of describing your relationship to it, Glenn. Maybe it’s sarcasm. Says Welch:

But if we’re to ladle out blame for the pending First Amendment collapse on journalists who have a dispute with one source, let’s save a drop or two for commentators who have encouraged their readers to believe the falsehood that professional reporters have been showing up to work all these years to carry out a specific agenda to undermine America.

Joe Gandelman thinks back to Newsweek and Isikoff in the Clinton impeachment struggle and “raises BOTH eyebrows when he reads how biased Newsweek now is right-down-the-line and how it hates Republicans when not too long ago GOPers were praising it…and Isikoff. Does this obscure Newsweek’s journalistic failure on the Koran story? No.”

In today’s editions, Mark Whitaker tells Kit Seeyle of the New York Times: “Unlike CBS, we felt we were being extremely forthcoming by publishing all the details and publishing the Pentagon’s denials and saying we committed an error. But then it seemed that people felt like we weren’t apologizing. In order for people to understand we had made an error, we had to say ‘retraction’ because that’s the word they were looking for.”

Whitaker also told Charles McGrath of the Times: “Everybody behaved professionally and by the book in this case.” He doesn’t seem to grasp how this almost makes it worse.

At Daily Pundit, Bill Quick’s paraphrase of this post is: “if Newsweek asks us to take them on faith as a source again, (my conclusion, not Jay’s) we probably shouldn’t.”

Does anyone know why Michelle Malkin is crafting headlines like, NEWSWEEK LIED. PEOPLE DIED and then putting a * after LIED, so as to explain: “Newsweek was reckless and sloppy and wrong. But I do not think the magazine ‘lied.’” Make sense to you? Not to me.

Jim O’Sullivan explains in comments:

Newsweek “lied” in the same sense that Bush “lied,” according to anti-Bush forces, when he said Hussein had WMDs. Bush and Newsweek both believed what they were saying. If they can throw around the “L” word, so can we.

Oh. I get it now. Which one of you is tit and which is tat?

Austin Bay is among those calling for the source to be named:

With 15 to 17 dead, that source needs to come forward on his own; if the source doesn’t, Newsweek needs to tell us who he is. I suspect we’ll find the source is a bureaucrat or political appointee who leaked to the press on the expectation of “future considerations,” and this “flushing” tidbit sounded just like the kind of “hot tip” the Vietnam/Watergate template press would love to have. Let’s get the principal players out in the open, the reporters and editors who were at the “press checkpoint.”

Ditto for Dan Gillmor: “I’m starting to think that unnamed sources who lie like this should be outed. No, this is not a call for journalists to break their promises. But maybe we should tell people who demand anonymity that they will be outed if it turns out they lied. This would undoubtedly lead to fewer stories based on unnamed sources, but it might also lead to more honorable journalism.”

Bob Zelnick, self-described conservative, Bush supporter, former Pentagon reporter for ABC News, now chair of the Journalism Department at Boston University, talked to Howard Kurtz:

Zelnick [said] he often based stories on information from unnamed officials. “I don’t see how a reporter can function in a sensitive beat without relying on anonymous sources — even one anonymous source if the reporter has confidence in him,” he said.

But Zelnick said that even if the Koran incident was true, he would have had “reservations” about running it because “the potential to inflame is greater than the value of the piece itself.”

Wanna see someone thinking for herself about this story? Cori Dauber, And You Thought You Had a Bad Day. I recommend it.

Miami Herald editor Tom Fiedler talks to USA Today:

Tighter vetting procedures and a prohibition against basing a story on one unnamed source might have prevented the misstep, Fiedler says. “It didn’t have to happen, and we’re going to all bear the consequences. We learned in carpentry to measure twice and cut once. We’d better do that in journalism.”

This man understands what I meant by “raise reliability.” Fiedler to colleagues: We better start doing that now. If Newsweek had measured twice…

Here’s a revealing twist: the Los Angeles Times grants anonymity to a Newsweek journalist for purposes of… well, see for yourself:

A Newsweek journalist familiar with the reporting on the article agreed with his editor’s regrets Monday, but said it appeared the administration was seizing on the error to minimize the abuse allegations.

“The issue of how prisoners are treated at Guantanamo has not gone away,” said the journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Now they want to deflect that by talking about how irresponsible Newsweek magazine was.”

Recall Tim Porter’s adjective, vestigial? Joe Hagan’s piece in the Wall Street Journal has this:

Editors are caught in the middle. They need to assure readers that the use of anonymous sources isn’t fomenting inaccuracy or bias. But they feel they must also protect their reporters’ ability to gather news.

“It’s a subject of immense importance to our business,” says Bob Woodward, assistant managing editor of the Washington Post. He says he fears a “secret government” and adds, “I think there’s not enough use of unnamed sources, frankly.”

Via Instapundit’s post, former Newsweek staffer Alex Wong says bigfoot-ism was involved: “I just can’t see a less established reporter getting a pass on such a fact [without] more backup documentation than the hearsay of one anonymous source. Newsweek’s prizing of their Bigfoots is on a higher level than the other publications I’ve worked for. It’s not necessarily a bad thing — branding a couple of writers is a pretty good business strategy. But perhaps, this time, it bit the mag in the ass.”

Josh Marshall takes note of how the White House called Newsweek’s retraction “a good first step,” and then demanded more action.

A question. What “more action” should a White House ever be in a position to demand after a story has been retracted, especially in a case where the White House is not even directly involved in the facts of the case.

Think about.

Marshall elsewhere is suspicious of the White House playing up the Newsweek article as “cause” in the rioting, when Gen. Richard B. Myers had cast doubt on it. He’s the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Marshall says we should “let Newsweek’s reporting stand or fall on its own (though bear in mind that even at this point the Pentagon’s denials seem rather technical).” That is the route I took in my post, evaluating how well-sourced the story was, apart from what the White House said. Now Josh:

But do not miss the fact that the White House and the political appointees at the Pentagon are exploiting this in every way they can — even going so far, it would seem, as to declare as a moral certainty claims that only a few days ago they professed to believe were false.

Andrew Sullivan asks:

After U.S. interrogators have tortured over two dozen detainees to death, after they have wrapped one in an Israeli flag, after they have smeared naked detainees with fake menstrual blood, after they have told one detainee to “Fuck Allah,” after they have ordered detainees to pray to Allah in order to kick them from behind in the head, is it completely beyond credibility that they would also have desecrated the Koran?

Posted by Jay Rosen at May 17, 2005 1:07 AM   Print


Sloppy reporting and sourcing? Absolutely. However, it was a perfectly legitimate story to cover, whether or not it was United States policy "to show scrupulous respect for holy texts." If it is our policy to desecrate holy texts, that's a legitimate story too.

Which brings me to: "But I do agree that the possible consequences in being wrong--and being right--should have been factored in, driving the need for reliability up, up, up. But nothing like this happened at Newsweek." I tentatively agree, but I'm not really sure how much the possible consequences should really weigh in such a case.

First of all, there wasn't world-wide rioting of Muslims. It wasn't so obviously offensive to Muslims that they would all have to go out and riot in the streets. Indeed, it is patronizing to think so. Do we really want our reporting to be controlled by potential overreaction in places like Afghanistan and Indonesia? Once certain governments figure out they can intimidate the press by overreacting, we're likely to see more overreactions. No one will dare report anything that might be potentially offensive. I'm not claiming an unlimited slippery slope, or to ignore how potentially offensive a particular story is, but we don't want reporters shying away from stories that will be offensive.

And who knows what will lead to the next overreaction? Where were the massive riots and deaths for the stories about the fake menstrual blood and other attacks on the prisoners' religious beliefs? Frankly, can we be sure that such riots would not occur?

Who should apologize for the riots? Newsweek? Or the raving lunatics who think violence is the proper response to a reported insult to their religion?

Posted by: Ernest Miller at May 17, 2005 2:36 AM | Permalink

Seems to me the MSMs have such a gusto for looking for "anything" bad it can find under a rock or conjure up about the USA or our troops that it has sacrificed any credibility it might have once had, i.e., Dan Blather and crew.

Rutting in the dirt all the time just gets you dirty; evidently the MSM's have gotten more than just a little bit dirt on them lately.

I think more and more people are going to find their news on the internet in the very near future. I know I will. I'll find news sources which I find reliable and not so left leaning all the time. Newsweeks transparent leftist liberal bias has finally gotten them into very hot water with it's readership worldwide.

Bigger news does not equate to better news.

Posted by: John D. at May 17, 2005 6:48 AM | Permalink

Compare this level of journalism to the level shown in two posts below in the Spokane mayor's sex scandal story.

If Newsweek showed the same level of professionalism then they would not be losing market share to other news outlets.

Posted by: Tim at May 17, 2005 8:41 AM | Permalink

I think Michelle Malkin's point is a valid one. Of course I do; I was trying to make the same point with that headline on my blog. Newsweek "lied" in the same sense that Bush "lied," according to anti-Bush forces, when he said Hussein had WMDs. Bush and Newsweek both believed what they were saying. If they can throw around the "L" word, so can we. At least we use quotes or asterisks.

Posted by: Jim O'Sullivan at May 17, 2005 9:23 AM | Permalink

The thing isn't that media outlets are's that they are always wrong in the same direction--the direction that hurts the United States.

Posted by: George Purcell at May 17, 2005 9:25 AM | Permalink

"If they can throw around the 'L' word, so can we."

Wow. Okay, Jim. Thanks for the explanation.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 17, 2005 9:26 AM | Permalink

This whole thing reminds of the time Hunter Thompson reported, during the 1972 presidential campaign, that there were rumors going around that one of the candidates was on drugs. When called on it, he simply claimed, "Well, there were rumors going around. I know, because I started them."

Posted by: jimbo at May 17, 2005 9:27 AM | Permalink

from Brian Montopoli's CJR editorial:

First off, Newsweek couldn't have expected its story to stir up so much Muslim anger, given that details about Guantanamo interrogators allegedly defacing the Koran have been periodically published for more than a year now.

That is rather disingenuous, IMO, on two different counts. First, it scarcely justifies pulishes a badly- and unreliably-sourced claim. And secondly, if senior writers and editors at Newsweek aren't aware that people have been publicly executed for even inadvertent desecrations (as defined by local muslims) of the Quran, then they are not knowledgeable enough to report on these issues.

I agree with you, and disagree with Malkin, that a well-sourced and corroborated story is appropriate news, whatever its content. But there is a basic risk/reward issue in these decisions. Newsweek appears to have calculated that there was little risk *to them* in this story and perhaps great reward. In economic terms they looked to benefit from an externality.

The blogosphere and Pentagon reaction is aimed at forcing them to appropriately internalize and absorb the cost of their actions. Unfortunately, some of that cost is sunk: not only more than a dozen dead and over 100 injured, but destroyed NGO offices and supplies, massive destruction of relations between the US and tentatively allied, or at least not actively hostile, governments in the muslim world and the likelihood of future attacks on US military, some of whom may well die as a result of Newsweek's cowardly and opportunistic story.

Posted by: Robin Burk at May 17, 2005 10:04 AM | Permalink

At a credibility symposium at the American Press Institute a couple years ago, several of us community newspaper types practically begged the metro newspaper types in the room to take the lead on ending anonymous sourcing. The metro folks were sympathetic, but they said they simply didn't have any choice -- that they were prisoners of the DC culture. In essence, they blamed their sources.

Yet a Washington Post editor -- someone I like and respect -- said it drove him crazy to walk the newsroom aisles and overhear reporters opening phone calls by offering anonymity.

The problem doesn't start with our government sources. It starts with us. Only we can end it.

There are more than 1400 daily newspapers in America. I bet 1200 of them (all but the metros) never use anonymous sources in their local reporting -- but they routinely carry stories from AP or supplemental wire services that are built around anonymous sourcing.

So 1400 top editors share this burden. When they all raise their right hands and swear on the third edition of Fowler's Modern English Usage "no more anonymous sources in my newspaper," they will have done more to elevate journalism than a century of Pulitzer-winning stories.

Posted by: Mike Phillips at May 17, 2005 10:13 AM | Permalink


And if Newsweek hadn't printed the story which Americans would live? Let's face it, this article was simply one particular pretense for an expression of anger towards the US. If it hadn't been desecrating the Koran, it would have been something else.

As for knowing that people have been killed for desecrating the Koran, so what? People have been killed for a whole bunch of silly reasons in the Middle East. Frankly, I'm not sure why they haven't rioted and killed people over some of the other insults to their religion that have taken place in Guantanamo.

Newsweek screwed up. However, I think we should not hold them accountable for the obscene reactions of others.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at May 17, 2005 10:25 AM | Permalink

Hmm maybe Newsweek should point out in its next issue that all that religion stuff is fairy tales and fables anyway. Wonder how that would go over...

Posted by: TG at May 17, 2005 10:30 AM | Permalink

To Ernest Miller:

Legitimate story? Proper to cover?

Then perhaps you can tell me why the MSM holds back racial information on criminals? Why did the MSM decide to either not, or stop showing photos and film of our countrymen jumping from the WTC? Why do they withhold these facts? They do so because they have decided that something else is more important than the revelation of all known facts — something like the right of a crime victim to privacy, or the fear of making all black and Latino males seem stereotypically frightening, or the fear of inflaming passions (by showing WTC jumpers).

But this story, even if it had been true, was legitimate and proper?

Posted by: Kyle Stedman at May 17, 2005 10:35 AM | Permalink

And if Newsweek hadn't printed the story which Americans would live?

To begin with, I for one care about ALL those who died, no matter what their nationality, in the riots.

Moreover, to insist on Newsweek's culpability doesn't let others off the hook. Yes, there is a horrid degree of superstition, violence and hatred that is promulgated and festers within many muslim societies. They are there to find with very little effort, if one is willing to see.

And yes, I have no doubt that the riots were helped along by organized Islamacist movements, the most likely candidate being Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

We need IMO to hold EACH of these factors accountable for their contribution to the violence and deaths and to the disruption of fragile diplomatic and cultural understandings being bridged in that part of the world.

What Newsweek did was to pour gasoline on a pile of dry wood. Given the rather publicly known availability of matches in that region, and those who like to light fires, the result was more than predictable. And I hold Newsweek in particular contempt because they sat safe and secure well away from the likely conflagration, at least until it spread to the blogosphere and the Pentagon and State Departments both went public with their criticism.

Posted by: Robin Burk at May 17, 2005 10:37 AM | Permalink

This echoes the entire Rather-CBS-National Guard event entirely. Somehow the White House's silence over the fake documents when they were given copies somehow confirmed their accuracy. It was absurd and completely illogical then and even more so now.

Posted by: Tollhouse at May 17, 2005 10:48 AM | Permalink

They do appear to have been fomented:

The outcry over the Newsweek article apparently began in Pakistan, when Imran Khan, the legendary cricketer turned opposition politician, summoned reporters to a press conference on May 6 to draw attention to it. Once close to the Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and a onetime crusader against corruption, Mr. Khan has been vocal in recent years against United States strikes in Afghanistan and Iraq. -- NYT

It is unfortunate so much of the world is a religious tinderbox. And of course, the USA is hardly excluded from that.

Posted by: TG at May 17, 2005 10:49 AM | Permalink


I don't have to defend all the actions of the MSM. I think they should report these stories. They certainly reported, initially, and showed video of some of those who jumped. Perhaps they stopped showing these videos because it is no longer news? How often do they have to show that video?

In any case, privacy considerations are something different are they not? They still report the story, they just leave out particular details. And, in any case, there is a judgement call as to when particular details are relevant. There have been many people who wish the media took more care with regard to privacy.


You're right, it was pile of dry wood, and Newsweek was the spark (not gasoline, but the spark). The spark could have been anything. There are those who want to create these riots and they'll use any pretense to do so. After all, who can say why other, actual insults to Islam in Guantanamo wouldn't have set off similar riots?

The gasoline, by the way, is provided by the those who inflame the crowds with their anti-US demogogery.

As for Newsweek sitting safe and secure, what do you expect them to do? Send their reporters into the streets of Afghanistan with copies of potentially offensive stories in Newsweek?

And where is the Pentagon's responsibility in this? One of the problems with the story is that it was plausible enough, wasn't it? If the story had been US soldier flusing copies of the bible down the toilet, people would have said, huh? But there isn't there plenty of evidence that the US military has deliberately insulted the religious beliefs of its captives? Wouldn't Newsweek's story been easily dismissed if the US military had never insulted the religious beliefs of its captives?

If you're going to hold people accountable, then hold them all accountable for their contributions to this senseless tragedy. Me, I say 99.9% of the responsibility lies with the demogogic lunatics.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at May 17, 2005 10:50 AM | Permalink

But there isn't there plenty of evidence that the US military has deliberately insulted the religious beliefs of its captives?


There have been ALLEGATIONS of this - and they have come from detainees who appear to have strong allegiances to Islamacist groups. So when we're judging credibility, it's worthwhile to remember that the Al-Qaeda training manuals explicitly encourage those who are captured to assert torture and Quran desecration in order to undermine the credibility of the captors.

I need more than such allegations to constitute EVIDENCE. And that is why the Newsweek blurb was so incendiary - it purported to offer the first testimony to such desecration by someone other than a detainee.

Posted by: Robin Burk at May 17, 2005 11:14 AM | Permalink

Ernest: you claim this story was "plausible enough", but I've yet to see anyone who makes that claim explain how, exactly, one is supposed to be able to flush a book down a toilet. Sure, if it's an outhouse or a port-a-john, you can just toss it down the hole and have done with it--but that doesn't constitute flushing, as I'm sure we can all agree. The only toilets I can think of where it'd be semi-conceivable to flush a book are the ones in airplanes, which are basically flushable port-a-johns. But I have trouble imagining a need for such toilets at gitmo.

I happen to have several copies of the quran at home, and I don't think I'd be able to flush any of them down any of my toilets.

So, really, I just can't understand how this story is plausible at all, much less plausible enough...

Posted by: DSG at May 17, 2005 11:23 AM | Permalink

What concerns me about the Newsweek story and its reaction is twofold.

If this is a common-practice but for once had direct and immediate real-world implications (riots) that cause us to go step-by-step through the sourcing of the story to realize the problem, how many other Periscope items have been written this way, but there were no riots to flush out the errors? I hate to go back to the worst of the reporting era for examples but Whitewater? Monicagate? Even pre-Iraq war converage? How about your typical nominee fight or Tom DeLay story? Because those kind of badly sourced "tibits" don't cause riots in the streets, whatever errors those stories contain, whatever political implications those stories have, are felt. Maybe weeks or years later it becomes revealed to the reporter or to the public that so-and-so was a "leak" for someone who was feeding them stories they wanted. I really have issues with Isiakoff and his Monica-era "reporting." (and I use the quotes as a slur against his work).

But you know, the fall out from this incident is one that I'm afraid of. Not that the press will go get better sourcing. Is that they will WITHHOLD stories about Muslims, Arabs, Gitmo, Iraq because printing such stories will cause 'deaths.' I have a feeling the exact WRONG lesson is going to be learned by Newsweek.

Posted by: catrina at May 17, 2005 11:24 AM | Permalink


An entire book has been written by an American who was a translator at Gitmo regarding his experience, which included disrespect towards certain Muslim religious beliefs, such as temptation with pornography, ritual uncleanliness, etc. Perhaps they are all lies.

We do know, however, that at Abu Ghraib prisoners were made naked and dogs were brought in at least partly in order to insult the religious beliefs of the captives.


Plausible enough is just that. Perhaps it was only a portion of a Koran flushed, or it was done a page at a time, or it was flushed, but did not go down the pipe.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at May 17, 2005 11:39 AM | Permalink

Here's what Whitaker said on NewsHour:

"And then after we published it, no one in the government came back to us and said, you got this wrong; you should correct it; this is going to have dire consequences for 11 days -- until afterwards. And I think that what that says is that no one anticipated the effect that this might have.

In retrospect, perhaps we all should have. We at Newsweek should have. Perhaps the Pentagon officials who reviewed the story should have; perhaps the government, after the story was printed."

Wait a minute. So Newsweek publishes stuff that it thinks is probably true, and then waits around to see who complains to make sure it is true? That's kind of what this sounds like...that the magazine's reporters and editors are only "pretty sure" they've got it right, and then wait for the lack of fallout to make sure they nailed it.

This Newsweek thing is really sad. It really is. Journalism is truly going down the tubes. There's nothing noble about it anymore.

Posted by: JennyD at May 17, 2005 11:47 AM | Permalink

I for one am just glad that Jay Rosen is on the right side of this one. As I said here once before, "It's the accuracy, stupid". If Jay Rosen chooses to start the drum beat for the end of anonymous sourcing in major news stories lacking any other evidence, he will be making a huge contribution to the future usefulness and credibility of our news industry.

Think of all the recent journalistic scandals - either the invention of sources, the mis-quoting of sources, or the lying of anonymous sources have played key roles repeatedly. The only difference between journalism and rumor-spreading is that we should be able to check the sources used in journalism.

Posted by: Marc Siegel at May 17, 2005 11:50 AM | Permalink

I really don't hold any hope that the press will reform after reading the WSJ article. Bob Woodward says they need MORE anonymous sourcing?

And check out this whiney, dishonest quote from Dana Priest: "We get bashed for all the anonymous sources but the administration is the one that insists on it". Yeah, Dana, blame the victim. Does she really believe someone doing a backgrounder is the same as the "source" for the Newsweek debacle? Is she fooling herself or attempting to fool us?

I'm convinced the press will never change.

Posted by: kilgore trout at May 17, 2005 12:07 PM | Permalink

i'm purely a consumer of news - totally uninvolved in the business, and totally ignorant of thigs taught at j-school.

there were several things that bothered me about the newsweek piece, and the most troubling was that whitaker, believe they were practicing, etical, correct, and by-the-book journalisim.

jay, is the kind of stuff seen in the newsweek piece taught as standard, ethical practice at j-school?


Posted by: b.sikes at May 17, 2005 12:28 PM | Permalink

I would side with Ernest Miller--no one can know where the next provocation of sick, barbaric, religious nuts will come from. The big issue to me is the promiscuous use of anonymous sources in a way that seems to encourage gossip and smears.

Also, it gets to be like controlled leaks. Like the anonymous Newsweek source--why the hell was he anonymous? He's just spinning, he's not supplying any useful information to anyone. What journalist decides this clown needs the cloak of anonymity. It's almost surreal.

Posted by: Brian at May 17, 2005 12:30 PM | Permalink

"A Newsweek journalist... who spoke on condition of anonymity. ..."

Which just goes to show that the Los Angeles Times is more easygoing about anonymous sources than the Knoxville News Sentinel:

Anonymous sources should be used only for substantive, factual information, not for opinion, criticism or incidental information....

Posted by: Old Grouch [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 17, 2005 1:42 PM | Permalink

Maybe I'm missing something, but even if the anonymous source was 100% correct, all he said was that a future report would contain allegations of the flushing incident. There was no qualitative evaluation of the veracity of these allegations. I fail to see how this is reportable news, much less news that is so important it warrants jeopardizing US soldiers and providing the enemy free PR.

Ernest Miller: "An entire book has been written ... which included disrespect towards certain Muslim religious beliefs"

And there is some conjecture that this "leak" has a direct correlation to this book. It certainly wouldn't be the first time someone used "new leaks" to hype a book pre-publication (can anyone say Richard Clark?).

As far as I know, the only confirmed flushing of a Quran at Gitmo was done by a Muslim detainee in an effort to back-up the plumbing and create a disturbance.

Posted by: submandave at May 17, 2005 2:34 PM | Permalink

Former ABC newsman Bob Zelnick hits it dead on. In law, there is a rule about admissibility of information (evidence) from which journalism can benefit:

Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence. - Federal Rules of Evidence, Art. I, Rule 403.

In the Newsweek case, the probative value of the information was far outweighed by the prejudicial effect. What is accomplished by making such inflammatory information public? The only thing it accomplishes is stoking anti-American or, more to the point politically, anti-Bush Administration feeling. I suppose many of our dominant liberal media friends consider the probative value of such animosity toward the Bush-Administration to be worth the price.

In fact, the incessant, overdose dissemination of Abu Garaib photographs by our dominant media last year was a prime example of the prejudicial effect exceeding probative value. (I argue the prejudicial effect of the photographs outweighed their probative value; the information alone was enough). But I believe that some in our dominant press valued the harm those photographs did to a Bush war effort, and his administration, they largely opposed.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at May 17, 2005 2:34 PM | Permalink

It seems to me that the Periscope section is essentially a gossip column. It might be about politics and not celebrity marriages but it's still a gossip column. How about Newsweek, and others in the same role, adopt a "no gossip" policy when it comes to covering such a serious topics as war and peace, life and death? Is that too much to ask of news organizations in the middle of a war? Responsible reporting only, ladies and gentlemen. Please.

It might sound trite, coming from a different era and all, but "loose lips" do sink ships.

Posted by: kcom [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 17, 2005 2:47 PM | Permalink

In fact, the incessant, overdose dissemination of Abu Garaib photographs by our dominant media last year was a prime example of the prejudicial effect exceeding probative value.

And so was incessant Monica coverage. I'm not sure I can buy political or ideological convictions over the more ready explanation of personal fame/pride and monetary gain in most cases of media over-saturation like this. It all gets hyped to move product. If they can get in a kick at a public figure (Bush, Clinton, Jacko, whomever) so much the better. The sheer volume of this behavior from all sides has led me to this decidely cynical view...

Posted by: TG at May 17, 2005 2:59 PM | Permalink


You are incorrect. The original report in Newsweek was that US military investigators had determined that US guards had flushed a Koran in a toilet. Clearly, this is news.

As for the leak, I've heard nothing like that and would be quite surprised if it were the case. Certainly we would need more evidence than pure speculation.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at May 17, 2005 3:09 PM | Permalink

Ernest, there have been two big pushes for Erik Saar's book, both in 2005. First, the leaked pages from his manuscript that got to the Associated Press in January, coincident with abu Ghraib trials. And then May 2, just before the Newsweek story, when the hardback copy of the book officially went on sale. FWIW

By the way, there are several inconsistencies re: Saar's reported rank, responsibilities and purported competancy in Arabic which are obvious to those with relevant military experience but probably not obvious to the average citizen. These may or may not undercut his claims and in any case, that's another thread.

As to whether the Newsweek story was 'news', it would have been if it had been well sourced and corroborated. As it is .... I'm not sure it rises above malicious - or at least irresponsible - gossip.

Posted by: Robin Burk at May 17, 2005 3:19 PM | Permalink


I noted in my first post that Newsweek's work was sloppy and ill-considered. That doesn't mean that the story itself wasn't news and should not have been pursued.

The idea that this leak is related to Saar's book, without more evidence, is ridiculous. FWIW

Yes, Saar's book undoubtedly has numerous holes and inconsistencies. Nevertheless, I haven't heard a single US spokeperson ever say that religious beliefs are not used in ways demeaning to those religious beliefs in order to encourage cooperation by the prisoners. Indeed, we know that this occurred at Abu Ghraib.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at May 17, 2005 3:38 PM | Permalink

re JennyD's
"So Newsweek publishes stuff that it thinks is probably true, and then waits around to see who complains to make sure it is true? That's kind of what this sounds like."

It sounds like "the blogosphere is self-correcting".

Posted by: Anna at May 17, 2005 3:43 PM | Permalink

Newsweek did an incredibly stupid, sloppy thing. No doubt about that.

But in the real world, some lies have more consequences than others, and with all due respect, Jay, I think you blow that fact off just a little too quickly.

Moreover, Ernest Miller's assertion above notwithstanding, the Newsweek article was NOT The spark that led to the rioting and deaths. Even the government is admitting this now.

Posted by: Lex at May 17, 2005 4:30 PM | Permalink


Actually, that only goes to prove my point that anything could have sparked the riots, they were waiting to happen.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at May 17, 2005 4:34 PM | Permalink

Correction: Rule 403, the balancing of probative value and prejudicial effect, is under Article IV, not Article I, of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at May 17, 2005 4:44 PM | Permalink


Thank you Newsweek, you've done an invaluable service.

You put another nail in MSM's coffin.

A free and independent press is a wonderful thing for a democracy. I wish we had one.

Posted by: ed at May 17, 2005 4:51 PM | Permalink

pure, unadulterated nonsense.

Newsweek was not saying that the desecration occurred, but that it had been confirmed in a government report. There was no "six levels of sourcing", Newsweek had a reliable source who had access to the report --- and who said it appeared in that report. When the shit hit the fan, the source started equivocating.

But the story was completely NON-CONTROVERSIAL, and UNDISPUTED for eleven days. And that is the real significance of the story --- that the Michele Malkins and Jim Jarvises and LaShawn Barber did not RAISE HOLY HELL about the fact that the USA was flushing Korans down the toilet -- and that the Jay Rosens were not raising holy hell because the media was not covering the story.

Posted by: rsmythe at May 17, 2005 6:20 PM | Permalink

This one has attracted every loose wingnut out there, like iron filings to a magnet, and whenever that happens you get some bizarre premises being tossed into the magnetic field.
So it's a close contest for sure for harebrained idea of the week ... but so far my favorite is Keith Olbermanns blog at MSNBC calling for Scott McClellan to resign forthwith for cynically and with intention aforethought feeding the flames of rioting Islamic extremists.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 17, 2005 6:46 PM | Permalink

JennyD: "Wait a minute. So Newsweek publishes stuff that it thinks is probably true, and then waits around to see who complains to make sure it is true?"

And the greatest irony?

The New York Times bares its soul -- again

I can remember attending a speech two years ago by Times Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. at the annual National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention in New York. What struck me was how emotional one speaker became in castigating the paper for failing to help people requesting corrections. For sure, these sorts of complaints were in the air long before the conference took place.
Vote of No Confidence

One of the lingering mysteries of the Jayson Blair affair is why the people whose quotes were fabricated or plagiarized didn't complain to the New York Times.

The Associated Press managing editors surveyed 3,000 people through its Credibility Roundtables Project, and many people said they don't contact newspapers about mistakes. "What's the point?" said Deborah Hudgins of Manchester, Md. "Do they really care?"

"Why waste the time," said John Martin Meek of Green Valley, Ariz., adding that the local paper has never responded to his calls or e-mails. Newspaper errors, said Karen Johnson of Otis Orchards, Wash., are really "deliberate embellishments or fabrications to make the story more interesting." Pretty depressing stuff.
New York Times gets complaints about thier stories, and complaints about ignoring the complaints. Then New York Times can't understand why no one complains?

Is the New York Times unique among national newspapers, magazines and TV news? How many have given up on NEWSWEEK?

Isn't the "no one complained" theory by NEWSWEEK convenient?

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 17, 2005 8:09 PM | Permalink

Whoops! From Vote of No Confidence down in the above comment comes from Intra-Times Battle Over Iraqi Weapons

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 17, 2005 8:11 PM | Permalink


On Saar's book and other things, just FYI: Shredding a Book

On publishing potentially inflammatory "news". If it's well sourced and verified, it should be published. It should not be sensationalized, but given the care and attention to NOT make it more inflamatory.

As for Newsweek sitting safe and secure, what do you expect them to do? Send their reporters into the streets of Afghanistan with copies of potentially offensive stories in Newsweek?
Perhaps they can just send the American soldiers in Afghanistan copies to distribute for them?

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 17, 2005 8:36 PM | Permalink

This premise that Newsweek caused rioting Afghans to kill each other holds even less water than Newsweek's own orignal reporting -- and that's saying something.
As early as last Thursday, Gen. Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, after hearing from commanders on the scene in Afghanistan, said that the "rioting was related more to the ongoing political reconciliation process in Afghanistan than anything else."
Somehow, that little tidbit gets conveniently left out by most cable TV carnival barkers and hysterical bloggers eager to make the logical leap. Equally ignored is Gen. Myers' observation that his senior commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Eichenberry, reports that " [the rioting] was not at all tied to the article in the magazine." (Emphasis added.)
But who needs to listen to the guys on the scene when you have everyone from Scott McClellan to Donald Rumsfeld to Jeff Jarvis, all trying to tie those deaths to one line in one report that was relegated (by editors, let us note) to the speculation section (Periscope) of a news magazine ?
Facts -- they're so fucking inconvenient !

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 17, 2005 9:25 PM | Permalink

This whole thing is so wrong on so many disturbing levels that it makes me want to chuck the rest of the week and crawl into a hole.

I don't trust Newsweek. I don't trust Isikoff. I don't trust the Pentagon. I don't trust the White House. I don't trust the interrogators and I don't trust the detainees. Call it a mood.

And what great truths do we pluck from this fetid, writhing, greasy pit of suspect credibility?

Why, whatever truths we believed last week, only this week the packaging is more sinister and dramatic. Journalism is no longer noble. Swear off unnamed sources. The press hates America. Another nail in the coffin of the MSM.

To me, the most important lesson in this is an old one: Any source can recant, and when the shit comes down, many sources will. When that happens, what are you left with? If your best answer amounts to "good intentions," then maybe it's time to re-evaluate your story. It's not about truth. It never was. It's about how do you know what you know, and what can you prove?

Journalists do this every day all across the world, and because it works, you don't hear about it. Why? Because when we do our jobs right, it isn't news. And who wants to talk about that?

Posted by: Daniel Conover at May 17, 2005 9:27 PM | Permalink

Daniel, I so agree. It is really sad. I feel for people who are doing a job while others are screwing it up. I remember believing the being part of the press was absolutely noble and good. I remember losing the sense when I was one of a pack of people trying to get close to an elected official. I remember thinking that real journalism wasn't about a swarm. Or about "gotcha" reporting.

Steve L. I am not a wingnut. But I do know about sloppy, celebrity-journalist-reports-type journalism. The Bigfoot theory makes a lot of sense here. The push to publish something even more amazing than Time, or the NY Times, or whatever outlet. I love journalism. I miss it because I don't see it around as often as I would like. Try to get through this without calling me names.

Posted by: JennyD at May 17, 2005 9:34 PM | Permalink

Daniel Conover: "Journalists do this every day all across the world, and because it works, you don't hear about it. Why? Because when we do our jobs right, it isn't news. And who wants to talk about that?"

BINGO! Maybe journalists should start complaining about journalism's bad news bias instead of defending it now that they're being swept up in the resulting cynicism?

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 17, 2005 9:41 PM | Permalink

Q -- Jenny, did I call you a wingnut ?
A -- Not to my knowledge.
Q -- Are the wingnuts abroad on this one like a swarm of wasps dislodged from their hive ?
A -- Cruise the blogosphere or the cable channels and tell me otherwise.
Q --And whom exactly did I designate chief wingnut to date ?
A -- Keith Olbermann, an MSM (gasp!) commentator who poses as a blogger on the side.
Q --So can we stop leaping to unwarranted conclusions ? That would be the first step toward having a useful conversation.
A -- I can't wait to hear.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 17, 2005 9:54 PM | Permalink


Was Evan Thomas' admission that the news media was blatantly partisan a politicized attack? How about MIchael Barone's? In the early 90s, the ombudsman of the Wash Post said on C-Span that the news media had been partisan for his entire 4 decade career. Are you contending that was a political attack?

The press credibility keeps taking hits because millions of readers and viewers know that Newsweek, CBS and the rest of the MSM are partisan in their coverage.

And Jay, the longer you bury your head in the sand and try to deny it, the more your own credibility is damaged.

Posted by: stan at May 17, 2005 10:26 PM | Permalink

"Actually, that only goes to prove my point that anything could have sparked the riots, they were waiting to happen."

Exactly that's because we've skrewed up enough militarily to give them due cause. That and they wanted to beleive ill of us in the first place. How does one dig out from that baseline? This thing is a pebble in the pond and I have no clear idea if what Gen. Meyers said is true either. When everyone in an administration lies, it's a hard job to find the truth at a liars convention.

Posted by: Ezekial Mondavi at May 17, 2005 10:31 PM | Permalink

Stan is the wingnut denying reality not Jay.

Posted by: George Bushe at May 17, 2005 10:32 PM | Permalink

Bingo, indeed. Rhetorica nails it with "[t]]he news media are biased toward conflict ... because conflict draws readers and viewers. Harmony is boring."
CJR Daily has been harping on this flaw for the 17 months of its existence. Again and again (including in the current case study) the bias for conflict is mistaken for some sort of bias of a partisan, political nature. It is not. Karl Rove, of all people, got it right -- the press is not so much "liberal" as it is "oppositional" to those in power, whomever they might be. (Witness the self-same Isakoff and his year-long crusade to paint Bill Clinton's sexual obsessions as a threat to the national comity.)
But, as we have learned, there is no easy corrective; various attempts in the recent history of journalism to produce publications featuring "good news" have failed again and again.
No one wants to hear that no school buses today rolled over today and that no school children were threatened.
What they want to hear is that a school bus rolled over and consequently they must do something to protect their children.
That is human nature, and journalism caters to it shamelessly.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 17, 2005 10:38 PM | Permalink

Steve Lovelady: "This premise that Newsweek caused rioting Afghans to kill each other holds even less water than Newsweek's own orignal reporting -- and that's saying something."

I think that's correct, and carefully worded. I'm tempted to remind everyone that news magazines don't kill people, guns do, or people, or something like that ...

Anyway ... what sparked the demonstrations "from Gaza to Pakistan to Indonesia"?

And if it was Newsweek, and there were no demonstrations based on former detainee allegations, is it ironic that Muslims find Newsweek more credible?

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 17, 2005 10:43 PM | Permalink

Steve Lovelady (please forgive the back-to-back): "... various attempts in the recent history of journalism to produce publications featuring "good news" have failed again and again."

Understood, but I don't understand why it has to be one or the other ... or why "good news" consists of "nothing bad happened".

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 17, 2005 10:47 PM | Permalink

Darn, one more ... "That is human nature, and journalism caters to it shamelessly."

Actually, I think there's a human nature down side. I only have anecdotal evidence, combined with falling subscriptions/viewers, but many people tell me they've turned off the TV news and canceled the paper because they're tired of all bad news all the time.

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 17, 2005 10:52 PM | Permalink

"Was full of inconsistencies..."

Big deal, so was the Swift Boats story. Nobody rioted.

"So far, the only confirmed story of desecration of the Koran was by one of the detainees..."

Confirmed by who, exactly?

Look, Bush said Afghanistan is a free democracy. Free democracies do not have the death penalty for disrespecting a book! They do not riot at rumors. This happened before in the 1970s in Pakistan. The big picture is that the big picture is far different than the big picture painted by Bush. And none of you finds this strange???

I'm shocked that the free media is your enemy, and murderous riots are the expected response.

And all those islamo-fascist you apologize for can kiss my Koran-encrusted butt. In spite of what Condi said, disrespect WILL be tolerated in this country.

Posted by: t0m at May 17, 2005 11:31 PM | Permalink

They're called personal human interest features. They exist in all newspapers and magazines in their own section. You act as if there is no such thing? Watch CBS Sunday Morning. The evening news isn't on long enough to depress anyone save the already depressed. I don't
think the critics are seeing the content itself.

Posted by: Ezekial Mondavi at May 17, 2005 11:36 PM | Permalink

"Confirmed by who, exactly?"

General Richard B. Meyers USAF unless he's lying.

Posted by: Ezekial Mondavi at May 17, 2005 11:38 PM | Permalink

Thanks to the pros-- Steve, Lex, and Ernest-- for setting the context here.

I did find Jay's technical examination of sources interesting. I think it's also worth investigating (for stories more important than this) the connectors that spread the story. It's not like Newsweek is a big seller across Afghanistan. From what I read (in the WP) the Taliban radio had the role of actually fanning the flames. Which is not that different from the problems within our country's press of information cascades...

Posted by: Jon Garfunkel at May 17, 2005 11:47 PM | Permalink

For those who may be interested, I did Hugh Hewitt's radio show with Glenn Reynolds Tuesday night; we talked about the Newsweek fallout. Transcript here. Glenn posted a short summary and reflection on what we said here.

Hewitt asked me if I were boss of the Washington Post Co., would I fire Mike Isikoff; but I didn't hear him well, and I thought he had asked me about editor Mark Whitaker. I said I might.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 17, 2005 11:51 PM | Permalink

Why is it that the entire Middle East is an anti-American tinderbox again?

It couldn't have anything to do with pig-headed, misguided Bush wars or fifty years of anti-Islam American policy.

It must be Newsweek's fault.

Thanks to Steve Lovelady and CJR for a whiff of reality in the propaganda firestorm.

Don't you think a source's recantation under pressure from an ideologically extreme administration is an issue that calls for just a little understanding on the part of practicing journalists? To me it says if we have the slightest interest in actual news, we need to shift fundamentally to an investigative journalism model which appreciates the obvious fact that the object of your investigation will not confess or confirm their guilt until you have proven it beyond a shadow of a doubt. What we need to STOP is the whole charade of pretending PR is reality for the months and years it takes to debunk the serial lies and stonewalling all of which happens after public attention has moved on. The "PR is reality until proven otherwise charade" is the most serious problem facing present day US journalism. You're right that boycotting Scott McLellan's stonewalling lie fests would be a start, but only a start.

Link to Scott McLellan lie of the day:

This suggests that institutional memory stretching back farther than five minutes would also be essential for improvement.

Robin Burk has the most amusing take:
We can't believe eyewitnesses of torture and Qu-ran degradation, American or Arabic, because they're prejudiced! When all relevant evidence is systematically ignored and excluded, indeed, that leaves us with no evidence. I suppose next you'll tell us their torture scars are self-inflicted?

It's as if you are willing to grant that the US Army attempted to lynch a black man (tortured the various Iraqis and Pakistanis), but refuse to take his word for what his lynchers said to him before they lynched him (they desecrated a Qu'ran).

It's a weird, weird world we live in where this kind of psychosis is considered comprehensible, let alone socially respectable

Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 18, 2005 1:42 AM | Permalink

I don't get the outrage at Newsweek. The reporters were forced to rely on a source because an investigation by our government paid for by our taxpayers about how government employees treated prisoners is kept from us by our government. The report is necessary because we, the people, and our representatives, have no access to investigate what our government is actually doing. Allegations of abuse are believed in large measure because our government claims that it is not bound by any international treaty or judicial review but only by its own whims as to how it operates in secrecy.

Put it this way: If Newsweek had run with a leak from a secret investigation into allegations of torture in Cuban prison, would anyone have been surprise if a Havana source quickly backtracked on the story? Why are we treating Pentagon denials as more seriously than Castro denials, when the Bush administration demands the same sort of secrecy -- and, now, press fealty -- that Castro has demanded?

Posted by: Yudel [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 18, 2005 2:10 AM | Permalink

What I'd like to know is why we never hear about all the good stories about what a great job the mainstream media is doing. Every day, hundreds of thousands of reporters and editors throughout the USA are helping democracy in America with solid reporting --- but all we hear about are the mistakes and errors. Why should we tar all journalists with the errors of a few bad apples? There is certainly no proof that responsibility goes all the way to the top of news organizations! If the media critics would provide a fair and balanced view of journalism, and highlight the great work being done by the reporters who go out each day, the media war would soon be over!

Posted by: rsmythe at May 18, 2005 3:31 AM | Permalink

FWIW, I did an earnest little riff on this affair earlier today.

Steve, other people than Olbermann have advanced the Rovian Triple Lindy Sucker Punch Theory. My theory is the White House didn't have a problem with the CBS story and the Pentagon didn't have a problem with the Newsweek story because they had no reason to think the stories weren't accurate.

Here's what I know and don't know. I don't know if the source retracted anything other than that the report in which he saw the Koran-flushing incident was the one he named to the Newsweek reporters. So far as I can tell, he didn't.

I do know that on May 10, Lawrence DiRita said he didn't know whether the allegations were true because the reports on the various Guantanamo investigations were "several weeks" from being completed and reviewed. On May 12, Joint Chiefs chair Richard Meyers said his man in Afghanistan, General Karl Eikenberry, was of the opinion that the Newsweek piece had little to do with the rioting there. On May 15, DiRita said the story had killed people. And on May 16, Scott McClellan said the Pentagon "said last week that they could find no credible evidence of it either. They have looked into it.”

Also on May 16, USA Today got an on the record statement from a spokesman for the Southern Command, which is producing the report Isikof's source mistakenly fingered:

"Army Lt. Col. Jim Marshall, a spokesman for the military's Southern Command, said Monday that the military did not start looking at allegations of Koran desecration until last week after the Newsweek article was published. The story had reported that U.S. interrogators in Cuba had flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet.

Marshall said he did not know how long the inquiry would take. "We have a sense of urgency about it. But we want to make sure it is thorough as well," he said."

So McClellan is lying, as opposed to his usual practice of not telling the truth. And the Pentagon, the Army and the White House are obviously working from different scripts, which is fairly rare in this administration.

My guess is that Newsweek's source will prove to have been generally correct, and the incident will turn up in one of the other reports coming out of Guantanamo. If I had to bet, it'd be on the one involving the FBI, since no one in the administration has mentioned it.

I think Isikof is a narcissistic suck-up, but the actual damage here seems to have been done by his partner in crime, John Barry, who asked someone in the Pentagon if the story was accurate but forgot to ask whomever that was if he'd know whether or not it was accurate, and by his editors, who probably thought that by going to print now they were sealing the deal for one of Isikof's ponderously breathless reports a few weeks down the road. That feature should be called "The Flagpole" rather than "The Periscope."

All of which is to say that in my moderately humble opinion, this is another case of sloppy journalism that, like the CBS memos story, will prove to have been largely accurate and, again like the CBS story, will make following up on the allegations extremely difficult for other reporters.

Posted by: weldon berger at May 18, 2005 6:44 AM | Permalink

Is an unsubstantiated allegation about the contents of a future report NEWS?

I am not saying that it is not important for journalism to look into, but it should not be NEWS until it has been properly investigated. In this case it was not properly investigated, therefore it should have not been NEWS.

Unless Newsweek, CBS and others show that they understand this difference, their product will be shown the respect of uninformed bloggers or the National Enquirer.

Posted by: Tim at May 18, 2005 7:36 AM | Permalink

I have come across many references to the Newsweek blunder, who like most wild mainstream media thrives on conflict, but this one deserves a wider readership ...

'Blogger and journalism professor Jay Rosen has the ultimate analysis of the Newsweek Koran story fiasco. His conclusion: Newsweek was doing Take-Our-Word-For-It journalism.
And, increasingly, it seems like Jay Rosen is right.
Trust Me Journalism is a kind of journalism that boils down to this: trust us because we're reporters. Trust us because we work for a prominent news magazine that has given you reliable information in the past. Trust us because we had to pay incredible dues to get where we are to edit and report in these positions (unlike you guys in pajamas at your computers).'
Trust me....

PS - Antipodean archives: This Conversation Hour with co-host Andrew McIntyre with an action shot Jay Rosen and Virginia Haussegger ; Will blogging make journalism better? Media Futures

Posted by: Jozef Imrich at May 18, 2005 9:13 AM | Permalink


What was "largely accurate" about CBS' memo-fraud story? Thanks,

Posted by: Brian at May 18, 2005 11:56 AM | Permalink

Brian: pretty much everything other than the provenance of the documents, and even that isn't as clear-cut as many people would like to believe. Read the Thornburgh report.

Posted by: weldon berger at May 18, 2005 2:44 PM | Permalink


The "take our word for it attitude" expressed by Newsweek was the same attitude I saw in Eason Jordan. It was a 'here I am, a high power in the mainstream media word' attitude, and when high-level people in the mainstream world say things, most people do take it for granted that it is largely true and factual.

Journalism needs a rating standard - something - to alert the public to the quality, identity (or lack thereof), and validity of sources. There should be a transparency which allows the reader to practically be the reporter getting the data directly.


Posted by: rony at May 18, 2005 3:11 PM | Permalink

What I'd like to know is why we never hear about all the good stories about what a great job the mainstream media is doing... If the media critics would provide a fair and balanced view of journalism, and highlight the great work being done by the reporters who go out each day, the media war would soon be over!

Ouch. A direct hit, a fair shot and a first-rate satiric takedown.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at May 18, 2005 4:31 PM | Permalink

And after you read the Thornburgh report, read the Goodale report.
James Goodale, the former lead lawyer for the New York Times during the Pentagon Papers uproar, has pointed out in the New York Review of Books:

Lost in the commotion over the authenticity of the documents is that the underlying facts of Rather's 60 Minutes report are substantially true. Bush did not take the physical exam required of all pilots; his superiors gave him the benefit of any doubt; he did receive special treatment and Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, Bush's commanding officer, was unhappy with the loss of ANG's investment in him when Bush informed Killian he was leaving for Alabama. Before the broadcast, Mary Mapes, the CBS producer of the program, confirmed the facts in the documents with retired Maj. Gen. Bobby Hodges, who had been Killian's superior in the ANG. Later Hodges told the panel he did not think the documents were authentic, but did not disagree that the facts were substantially correct.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 18, 2005 10:08 PM | Permalink

I've been away too long. Lots of good stuff here to follow up on. No answers, just connections and questions:

"they've turned off the TV news and canceled the paper because they're tired of all bad news all the time."

Deborah Tannen looks at other effects of this aspect of our psychology in We need higher quality outrage (part of an excellent series from last fall) -
"When there's a ruckus in the street outside your home, you fling open the window to see what's happening. But if there's a row outside every night, you shut the window and try to block it out. That's what's happening in our public discourse. ..."

"Anyway ... what sparked the demonstrations "from Gaza to Pakistan to Indonesia"?
... "From what I read (in the WP) the Taliban radio had the role of actually fanning the flames.

Tangential, definitional question: is it still "grassroots activism" if the grassroots is receiving its marching orders from a central authority?
(same pattern has occurred locally, so I'm curious as to how this sort of 'informational cascade' is typically interpreted)

Any source can recant... When that happens, what are you left with?...It's not about truth. It never was. It's about how do you know what you know, and what can you prove?" ...
"Trust Me Journalism"

the converse of these sentiments (in the "look before you leap" vs. "he who hesitates is lost" vein) being the point recounted by David Weinberger a while back - "If you can't blurt out the truth, what business are you in?"

We know a lot more than we can prove. Yes, some of it is wrong, but much more of it is right. Do we take the JennyD-advocated "science-only journalism" approach (only report what we can nail down tight) - which leaves readers knowing less than we do - or the "this is how it looks to me" approach - which can leave readers as mistaken as we are?
In science, these are known as Type I and Type II errors. Which kind does least disservice to the reader?

Posted by: Anna at May 19, 2005 1:07 AM | Permalink

Right Anna, I can't remember which is which, but depending on how you do your analysis, you either end up with too many false positives, or too many false negatives.

In medicine, it's bad to have false negatives. You miss illnesses that need treatment.

In journalism, it's bad to have false positives, because you end up reporting things that aren't true.

Interestingly, the way you handle false positives is too a) increase your sample size--which in journalism would be to demand multiple sources for the same item, and b) to tighten the threshold for an item actually being news. That is, you would be more skeptical of an item, and start with the idea that an item needs to prove it worthy of being published.

Newsweek seems to have taken steps to end up with this kind of error. False positive. And it's not enough to say, well, clearly there are prisoner abuses so it's okay if we got this wrong. No. This is about the reputation of a profession, and of a so-called professional news organization. Regardless of politics or culture or climate, this profession is supposed to follow a set procedures that give them expertise and special skills, and build their credibility. Blaming Bush, or Iraq, or anyone else for a breakdown of that professionalism misses the point entirely.

The thing I notice most about this and other discussions is the news has become a commodity. There are so many sources of information that simply putting it on paper or on the web or on TV no longer is enough to be special. The news "experts" are no longer that; the people who say trust me, I'm a news expert, can't get away with just that now because there are dozens and dozens of potential news experts.

So what next?

What happens in business when a product becomes a commodity is often two-fold: first, companies must word exceedinly hard to maintain a reputation for quality delivery of the commodity. It's one of the few things that separates providers when the product is essentially the same. For journalism, that means that credibility, transparency, reputation are vital to a successful news organization.

The other things producers of commodities do is differentiate the product with speciality add-ons. Like perspective. Or perhaps addmission and maybe embrace of point-of-view (bias?). Some news providers might become specialists in health, or some topic. Others might add point-of-view to everything they do. Some might provide a huge volume of straight news, a place for audiences who want to know everything.

All of these models, though, require reputation on the part of the provider to pull them off.

Posted by: JennyD at May 19, 2005 8:17 AM | Permalink

Steve Lovelady, quoting Goodale:

Before the broadcast, Mary Mapes, the CBS producer of the program, confirmed the facts in the documents with retired Maj. Gen. Bobby Hodges, who had been Killian's superior in the ANG. Later Hodges told the panel he did not think the documents were authentic, but did not disagree that the facts were substantially correct.
From the CBS Panel report (p. 12):
Major General Hodges told the Panel a different version of his conversation with Mapes. Major General Hodges said that he did not confirm the content of the documents but only said that he and Lieutenant Colonel Killian had discussed the fact that Lieutenant Bush had missed a flying physical and that Lieutenant Bush wanted to transfer to Alabama. Major General Hodges also told the Panel that he did not believe that Lieutenant Colonel Killian had ever ordered anyone to take a physical, including Lieutenant Bush. Major General Hodges further told the Panel that General Walter (“Buck”) Staudt had never pressured him regarding Lieutenant Bush, as alleged in the August 18, 1973 memorandum. Moreover, Major General Hodges said that when he finally saw the documents after the September 8 Segment aired, he was convinced that they were not authentic and told this to Rather and Mapes in a telephone call on September 10, 2004.
p. 17:
Mapes also told the Panel that she informed the vetters that the substance of the documents had been verified by another National Guardsman, Major General Hodges, whose name was included in an early version of the script that was available to the vetters on September 8, though his name was not actually used on the air in the final script.6

Footnote 6: However, as noted above, Major General Hodges denied to the Panel that he gave such confirmation.
p. 18
The official Bush records make no mention of this alleged order for Lieutenant Bush to take a physical, and Guardsmen who served with Lieutenant
Colonel Killian, including Major General Hodges, Lieutenant Colonel Via and Colonel Martin, told the Panel that they never heard of any such order.
I could just keeps on going, BTW ...

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 19, 2005 8:26 AM | Permalink

Anna and JennyD make outstanding contributions.

David Weinberger a while back - "If you can't blurt out the truth, what business are you in?" and In journalism, it's bad to have false positives ...

If we accept the idea that journalism has genres, that there is a difference between tabloid, op-ed, blotter, sports, politics, ..., news, then does custodian of fact and a discipline of verification define a genre or extend across many genres in journalism?

Did Newsweek adhere to "custodian of fact" with a "discipline of verification" journalism and, if not, was the article properly identified/placed for it's genre?

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 19, 2005 9:06 AM | Permalink

Sisyphus, as so often is the case, you entirely miss the poiint.
Of course the Goodale report is at odds with the Thornburgh report. It was specifically written as a rebuttal to the Thornburgh report. It also, as it happens, was written by a media lawyer as fully as accomplished as Thornburgh is.
So who's right ? I've read both, as I was recommending to Bryan and to Weldon Berger. (That's why I wrote " ... and the Goodale report.") I came away satisfied that the Thornburgh report hit the money on the head probably two times out of three, or maybe three times out of four -- but also convinced that Goodale raised troubling questions about lapses in Thornburgh's investigation and problems with some of his Thornburgh's conclusions
But your mileage may differ, owing to geography, individual driver technique and local weather.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 19, 2005 11:00 AM | Permalink

Sisyphus, as so often is the case, you entirely miss the poiint.

I'm glad you took the opportunity to clarify it.

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 19, 2005 12:17 PM | Permalink

"Lost in the commotion over the authenticity of the documents is that the underlying facts of Rather's 60 Minutes report are substantially true." - James Goodale, April 7, 2005

Goodale's opinion is unfounded; he subsequently admits it is merely his belief:

"I did not say the new information was substantially true. I said Killian's commanding officer at the time, Major General Bobby Hodges, and Killian's secretary, Marion Carr Knox, said that it was. Although they do not say so, apparently Thornburgh and Boccardi chose not to believe Hodges and Knox. I found no reason to disbelieve them, and Thornburgh and Boccardi give none. - James Goodale, Response to Thornburgh and Boccardi letter to NYT Review of Books

Goodale attempts to conflate the fact that Bush did not take a physical (which Bush admits, since it was unnecessary due to his transfer to a new base in Alabama which did not have the planes Bush was trained to fly), with the assertion that Bush did so against orders. As the Thornburg and Boccardi quotes reproduced by Sisyphus show, that assertion remains unfounded.

The problem, of course, is that a significant proportion of the dominant news media misunderstand these facts in the same way that Lovelady does - - and their reporting reflects it.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at May 19, 2005 1:06 PM | Permalink

Lovelady, I realize you don't explicitly state that you subscribe to Goodale's assertions. But since you reiterated them, on inference I'm using you as a bogey-man representative of our liberal press friends who do.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at May 19, 2005 1:21 PM | Permalink

I wonder how many articles critical of Clinton were printed that were, basically, false news items?

Clinton-hate is a bastard brother to Bush hate/ Reagan hate/ and original Nixon (Vietnam) hate.

Enron went under -- and Arthur Andersen, their lying auditors, also went under. The press was screaming for the heads of THOSE corps, yet none were murdered because of Andersen. And LOTS of innocent folk lost their jobs. The Big Five are now the Big Four (after being Big Six, and earlier Big Eight).

The heads of Newsweek should have the same fate, with the same lack of tears. They failed in their duty, in an attempt to get better news.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at May 19, 2005 1:40 PM | Permalink

As I said above, I think Goodale serves as a useful corrective to Thornburgh on about one-fourth of the issues in dispute.
If that makes me a Goodale subscriber in your eyes, I can live with that. I've been in worse company.
What bemuses me about this conversation is to see so many bias warriors citing Thornburgh as the authority to believe on the whole CBS fiasco -- given that Thornburgh-Boccardi specifically declined to cite bias as a causative factor, and given also that once their report was out T&B were all but universally denounced as whitewashers by those still demanding Rather's head.
Ah, the unlikely allies that we embrace in moments of stress ...

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 19, 2005 1:44 PM | Permalink

Is there anyone here who wants to make the case that George W. Bush received no special treatment during his National Guard service? That his military service record is an example to which our children should aspire? That the White House has been nothing but forthright and candid in response to questions about this period in the president's life? That power and priviledge were never brought to bear on his behalf?

Because that's what this discussion could have been about. Instead, thanks to CBS, we're still parsing the finer points of studies conducted on the issue of fake memos. The original issue -- the president's honor and character as a young man -- is lost.

During my last six months in the Army I was taken off my tank and assigned to a desk. I probably participated in the "chaptering out" of half a dozen soldiers, and to put it plainly, some of those men had cleaner personnel records than Lt. Bush.

This was a sensitive story because it quantified character traits that other people have observed in the president, and CBS should have known it was a politically dangerous subject and acted accordingly.

Now, so what if Bush was a spoiled rich kid? The man himself admits he was wild in his younger days and that it wasn't until later in life that he became responsible. One can argue that his past is irrevelant, and many of his supporters do exactly that.

But arguing against the relevancy of a criticism isn't really the same thing as arguing on behalf of a proposition. In my view, Bush is remarkably fortunate that the national discussion of his character during the Vietnam War has been drowned out by a discussion of Dan Rather and Liberal Media Bias.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at May 19, 2005 2:13 PM | Permalink

"What bemuses me about this conversation is to see so many bias warriors citing Thornburgh ..."

Let's see, so far Weldon Berger, myself and Trained Auditor have cited Thornburgh in this conversation.

How many fit: "universally denounced [T&B] as whitewashers by those still demanding Rather's head."?

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 19, 2005 2:25 PM | Permalink

Dan, were President Bush's "character traits" debated in 2000, including his National Guard service?

Bush also was accused of skirting the draft by joining the Texas Air Guard in 1968. He became an F-102 fighter pilot before being discharged as a first lieutenant in 1973.

Doubler says it is unfair to criticize those who joined the Guard during the Vietnam War.

"The government allowed it and in many ways encouraged it," he said "There were a lot of things the government did to authorize people to serve in places other than the front lines."

Bush's drill performance also stirred controversy during the campaign. Some reports charged that he was absent for a year. However, probably the most comprehensive media review of Bush's military records concluded that while he, "served irregularly after the spring of 1972 and got an expedited discharge, he did accumulate the days of service required for him for his ultimate honorable discharge." The review was done by, the online version of the magazine founded by the late John F. Kennedy Jr. Guardsmen say Bush's service record is not unusual.

"In any six-year time frame you probably can find some problems," says retired Rep. G.V. 'Sonny' Montgomery, D-Miss., founder of the House Guard and Reserve Caucus. "Just learning to fly the F-102 and not getting hurt and not hurting anybody is an accomplishment."
In fact, wasn't the 2004 debate trying to further the previous 2000 debate to prove AWOL or disobeying an order?

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 19, 2005 2:35 PM | Permalink

Is there anyone here who wants to make the case that even if everything people like Daniel Conover believes is true about Bush and TANG, the 2004 election would have a different outcome?

Does anyone here want to make the case that if the press had pursued Kerry's military, financial and health records with the zeal they pursued Bush's, Bush would have won in a landslide?

Would anyone here like to make the case that the USA would look different today if the South had won the Civil War? Sheesh!

Posted by: kilgore trout at May 19, 2005 2:47 PM | Permalink

Let's also remember the very likely motive for the Bush Guard story resurfacing when it did in the 2004 campaign:

Our liberal press friends, seeing their boy Kerry's Vietnam-era reputation going down in Swift Boat Vet flames, were grasping for something similar to tar President Bush with in order to cancel out the Swift Boat Vet charges.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at May 19, 2005 2:47 PM | Permalink

The South didn't win the Civil War?

Wow. You coulda fooled me.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at May 19, 2005 3:08 PM | Permalink

Sisyphus -
I should have said "what bemuses me about this conversation and others like it is to see so many bias warriors citing Thornburgh ..."
It is a common right-wing reponse to embrace the former infidels Thornburgh & Boccardi as gospel anytime Goodale is brought up. Indeed, it seems to be the default setting for those who earlier wanted T&B lynched. Boccardi himself has expressed bemusement at the phenomenon, but he shouldn't be surprised. Denounced yesterday, sanctified today. Just one more short-term marriage of convenience. Nothing wrong with that -- other than intellectual dishonesty and disingenuousness.
As to the phrase that you so conveniently shortened, what I wrote was that "T&B were all but universally denounced as whitewashers by those still demanding Rather's head." I did not write "T&B were universally denounced as whitewashers by Sisyphus and Trained Auditor."
I have no idea if you and/or Trained Auditor initially dismissed Thornburgh as an apologist, or if you demanded Rather's head ..... although I'd be mildly surprised if you hadn't. Heck, Tom Grey just chimed in to add Mark Whitaker's scalp to his wishlist.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 19, 2005 3:17 PM | Permalink

You know, I'm just messing with y'all, but there really is a point there. I live in Charleston, "where the Civil War began, and, God willing, may someday end." It's nothing to walk into a bar here and see a bunch of guys in Confederate infantry uniforms shooting pool. We're crazy about reliving the Civil War down here. Or maybe we're just crazy. The subject is open to debate.

But in a sense, most of us are re-enacting the Vietnam War, or at least refighting the war at home. Doonesbury has been nailing this point lately: The tie-dies and the penny-loafers from State College University circa 1968 are still acting out their dramas, only now they're grown up and running the country. Today we call the conflict "Culture War."

Neither Gore nor Bush made a big deal out of Vietnam, but the war became the elephant in the room when Kerry got nominated. The destruction of his reputation and the general lack of discussion on the president's service record is one of the most remarkable things I've ever witnessed.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at May 19, 2005 3:20 PM | Permalink

Yeah Dan, and Bush won the election too. Wow!

Posted by: kilgore trout at May 19, 2005 3:23 PM | Permalink

Yep, nothing else matters but winning. Right?

Posted by: Daniel Conover at May 19, 2005 3:29 PM | Permalink

The caravan has moved on, Dan.

Posted by: kilgore trout at May 19, 2005 3:42 PM | Permalink

Thanks. I'm sure that will make a useful quote someday.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at May 19, 2005 3:49 PM | Permalink

Dan, ... but the war became the elephant in the room when Kerry got nominated. The destruction of his reputation and the general lack of discussion on the president's service record is one of the most remarkable things I've ever witnessed.

If I remember correctly, Democrats decided to make Vietnam the elephant in the election booth (via the press), even before Kerry was nominated.

Bush A Military "Deserter?" Calm Down, Michael
Democratic Party Chief Attacks Bush on Military Record

Wasn't this then hotly pursued by the press beginning in Feb. 2004?

Did the "destruction" of Kerry's reputation occur in August when the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth started advertising on TV (they initially held a press conference in May)?

I'm really having trouble understanding how the CBS 60 Minutes Wednesday report in September impacted the National Guard debate that started in 2000 and was revived in February 2004?

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 19, 2005 4:03 PM | Permalink

You sure Bush won that election, Trout ?
Periodically here and elsewhere -- usually as threads begin to sputter toward final inertia -- I see these odd eruptions of handwringing about, or anger at, Kerry. (Often it takes the form of sputtering about the unreleased Form that dare not speak its name.) To watch it, you'd think he was still a factor in some national equation or another.
Which he isn't.
It's an odd way to treat a corpse.
"Don't die yet! I'm not done kicking you around !"
I'm still trying to get a handle on the psychology of it.
Yearning for a vanquished foe ?
Guilt ?
Fear of success ?
Disappointment at the spoils of victory ?
It's puzzlement, for sure . . . but I've seen it often enough that I no longer dismiss it as an aberration.
Any shrinks in the crowd who want to take a shot at this one ?

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 19, 2005 4:05 PM | Permalink

too bad the whole national guard discussion is so off topic, because I know a lot about it (and too bad Rosen never bothered to do a piece on Goodale's article....)

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 19, 2005 4:06 PM | Permalink

Psst! Steve!

"The caravan has moved on."

Tell the rest of the conspiracy. Looks like that crafty Bush has slipped past us again.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at May 19, 2005 4:24 PM | Permalink

I couldn't care less about the press ignoring Kerry, and I couldn't care less about the hysteria about Bush's TANG. My point is that those who continue to relive the 2004 election are losers. Bush is POTUS no matter what the hysterics on the left say----this thread was about the malfeasance of Newsweek---but for some it's always November 2004. Those who are fighting the Election 2004, I say ZZzzzzzzzz.

Posted by: kilgore trout at May 19, 2005 4:34 PM | Permalink

No, Kilgore, your thread is about the malfeasance of Newsweek. I'm in the general malfeasance thread.

You're convinced the press will never change. We get that. And one of those "people like (Kilgore Trout)" was more than happy to connect the dots from Newsweek to Rathergate.

And if that's all this subject was really about, then you'd be done for the day.

In my thread, I'm interested in how we know what we know, how we get things wrong and how we can do things better. I'm interested in figuring out what things meant, why they occurred and what I should learn from them. In other words, I'm an America-hating communist.

You've made your point. You've evaded mine. And I think you just called me a hysteric and a loser. Kurt Vonnegut would be so proud.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at May 19, 2005 4:53 PM | Permalink

OK, Dan, whatever you say---just calm down.

Posted by: kilgore trout at May 19, 2005 5:05 PM | Permalink

Dan, "And one of those "people like (Kilgore Trout)" was more than happy to connect the dots from Newsweek to Rathergate."

You mean Mark Whitaker in the original post? weldon berger?

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 19, 2005 5:10 PM | Permalink

OK, Dan, whatever you say---just calm down.

Now that's a good comeback. A tip of the hat as I rush out the door.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at May 19, 2005 5:18 PM | Permalink

My thanks to all who participated. With 100 plus replies, it's time to bring this thread to a close and let the caravan move on. Hopefully, and if the gods of blogging permit, there will be a new thread soon where a new argument can be joined.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 19, 2005 6:02 PM | Permalink

From the Intro