Newsweek: The Aftermath

Yesterday was a big, big day for Newsweek (and, I think, a lot of us) and today is a big, big day for reflection about “what it all means.” I’ll skip over the mewling from the networks (Miles O’Brien, I’ll listen to you when you learn to pronounce Kyrgystan) in favor of a few good ones, including Jack Shafer on Slate and Ken Layne on Sploid. (“Sploid?” “Sploid.”)

Layne’s latest shift memo is as thorough a rundown as you’ll find of the timeline of the incident – going back to 2003 when allegations of Qu’ran-desecration-by-toilet at Gitmo was part of the public record.

(Oh, yes, today everyone seems to remember that these allegations aren’t new.)

Layne, whose column ran yesterday evening and who ran both the Newsweek domestic and international edition of the Periscope item last week (and was one of the few to note that the international version actually had less inflammatory material than domestic!), lays out a mini-history of Imram Khan (including a disturbingly fetching photo) and how he came to incite the rioting, and then follows up to the natural conclusion of shit hitting the fan:

Nearly two weeks after Imran Khan got himself on all the teevee channels by angrily waving around the “Periscope” gossip page from Newsweek, the magazine’s editors heard from Important People in D.C. It was time for a public humiliation. The editors balked a bit, obviously, because there was nothing wrong with their report. It was as factual as anything can be without photographs. The Pentagon didn’t even bother disputing it when called for confirmation before that item was published.

So Newsweek came out with a lame yet honest non-retraction last night, and then the White House went public with the pressure, and this evening the Warlords of Washington got what they really wanted: total retraction, sackcloth & ashes, etc. This will “save face” with the Pakis and the Afghans and — crucially — the Saudis. And it has the nice extra bonus system of chopping another deep notch in the “Mainstream Media,” just to make sure the rest of the limp corporate mags and papers will make sure to get permission to print anything about this country’s many wonderful wars.

He notes both Scott McLellan’s comment that the retraction was “a good first step” and Donald Rumsfeld’s kinda ominous comment that “People need to be very careful about what they say, just as they need to be careful about what they do” (with shades of Ari Fleischer’s post-911 free speech caveat). He also notes that the White House is just a phone call away from the Graham family, which owns The Washington Post…and Newsweek.

Over at Slate, Shafer also notes the long shadow of Gitmo abuses, and that “Newsweek‘s initial reluctance to climb down is understandable” based on said shadow, and the fact that the Michael Isikoff is hardly some green cub reporter (and is no stranger to breaking scandalous information).

But Shafer notes that taking a single anonymous source and subsequent Pentagon non-denial as a green light is a no-no, and further notes Newsweek’s “third blunder”: “It let its anonymous source predict the contents of a future government document, a journalistic no-no as far as I’m concerned.” Shafer passes on age-old wisdom from his former lawyer who cautioned against quoting into the future, lest they be in for “a world of legal hurt.”

But even so, there’s blundering and then there’s the “guns don’t kill people; faraway news editors who published mini-news briefs two weeks ago kill people” argument, which Shafer says is just plain wrong:

Are the riots and the deaths the magazine’s fault? I say no, whether Newsweek got the story right or wrong. If Al Jazeera published the most inflammatory story it could find — or make up — about the pope or the Virgin Mary, would we blame the satellite station if Rome rioted or the Romans?

And this: The killing of innocents is the greatest desecration.

The Shift Memo Has Been Horribly Desecrated [Sploid]
Down the Toilet at Newsweek [Slate]

See also this from today’s NYT:

Mr. McClellan and other administration officials blamed the Newsweek article for setting off the anti-American violence that swept Afghanistan and Pakistan. “The report had real consequences,” Mr. McClellan said. “People have lost their lives. Our image abroad has been damaged.”

But only a few days earlier, in a briefing on Thursday, Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had said that the senior commander in Afghanistan believed the protests had stemmed from that country’s reconciliation process.

“He thought it was not at all tied to the article in the magazine,” General Myers said.