Much more remains to be said on the stunning mess Newsweek has created with its May 9 Koran in the toilet story. Newsweek climbs down from the story today, sort of. Others elsewhere have correctly noted that Evan Thomas’s article on the mess reads like “damage control.”
Why did Thomas have to collaborate on this article with four Newsweek reporters for additional reporting when the man with the information interested readers most deserve to hear from is Thomas’s colleague Michael Isikoff? Isikoff makes a token appearance in paragraph 5 of Thomas’s article, like Alfred Hitchcock walking through a scene in one of his own movies.
The observant John Steele Gordon writes to note a point of interest in the text of Thomas’s Newsweek article:
Liberal MSM magazine finds marginally credible story that makes the military (and Bush Administration) look bad and rushes into print with it without any consideration of the possible consequences. So what else is new?
What I find most interesting is that Newsweek insists on spelling the name of the holy book of Islam “Qur’an” despite the fact that there has been a perfectly good word for it in use in the English language (“Koran”) since 1625. “Qur’an” is a transliteration of the Arabic word for the Koran (although my dictionary says there should be a long vowel mark over the A–but, since I don’t speak Arabic, I will have to take its word for it). So using Qur’an instead of Koran is like using “Athina” for “Athens” of “Moskva” for “Moscow.” In other words, political correctness run amok.
I think the apostrophe–utterly meaningless in an English-language context–is a particularly nice touch of cultural pandering.
UPDATE: Austin Bay adds: “The press’s Abu Ghraib: Newsweek apologizes, after 15 are dead.”
JOHN adds: I really think that calling Newsweek’s blunder “the press’s Abu Ghraib” is unfair to the low-lifes who carried out the Abu Ghraib abuses. After all, they didn’t even hurt anyone, let alone kill them. And the people they abused were almost certainly terrorists. One can’t say the same for the people who were murdered in the riots that foreseeably followed Newsweek’s story. I think the most significant thing about this whole sorry affair is Newsweek’s reliance on an anonymous source. It should be obvious by now that nearly all mainstream news outlets–the New York Times and Washington Post, most notoriously, like Newsweek in this instance–rely on a steady stream of anonymous leakers (nearly always hostile to the Bush administration) for their front-page stories. These news outlets are happy to publish anonymous allegations because the stories leaked by their sources fit the reporters’ political preconceptions. No doubt, when someone anonymously tells a reporter that U.S. soldiers flushed a Koran down a toilet, that assertion sounds highly credible. To most reporters, that sounds exactly like the kind of thing a soldier would do. So the story appears in print. Common sense tells us that when a person can make a claim anonymously, he is much more likely to stretch the truth, or flat-out fabricate something, than when he has to attach his own name to his statements. This is why reporters can often get “better” stories from sources who insist on being anonymous. For the source, and usually for the reporter, there are no consequences. The consequences fall to others.