Media News 6: Irresponsible journalism costs lives (Newsweek and America)

May 16, 2005

* Pentagon Spokesman Lawrence DiRita rages :“People are dead because of what this son of a bitch said. They are burning American flags. Our forces are in danger...”



[Note by Tom Gross]

Below is another example, albeit an extreme one, of how irresponsible journalism (which so often takes the form of misreporting on America or Israel) can be a contributing factor in innocent people dying and others being threatened with death.

In this case, US troops and civilians have been threatened, and at least 17 Moslems have died in rioting. In past cases, such as when a number of western journalists and news outlets told lies and engaged in incendiary reporting about the incidents in Jenin in April 2002, several Israelis were killed in Israel and abroad as a result in “revenge attacks” for a massacre that never took place, and non-Israeli Jews were also assaulted in France and elsewhere, in part as a consequence of this misreporting.


Newsweek’s error last week (in its May 9 issue) was irresponsible in the extreme: The left-leaning news magazine with a wide international readership claimed that a copy of the Koran had been flushed down a toilet at Guantanamo Bay by US interrogators The magazine’s apology yesterday does not even start to account for the damage caused, damage which the magazine’s editors could and should have predicted. (At least Newsweek did make some attempt at apology, however, in contrast to the lack of apology forthcoming after the untruths and inaccuracies that many western publications have so often told about Israel.)


“We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst,” Newsweek Editor Mark Whitaker wrote in the magazine’s May 23 issue (which was released yesterday).

Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief, Dan Klaidman, added that the apparent error was “terribly unfortunate,” and he offered the magazine’s sympathies to the victims.


Following Newsweek’s article on May 9, angry protests have raged across the Moslem world from Gaza to Indonesia. The protests seemed to have been sparked after the former Pakistan cricket star Imran Kahn held up a copy of the article at a press conference last week. (Khan is a former playboy on the London social circuit known for his many lovers, who subsequently turned Islamic politician in Pakistan. He was formerly married to Jemima Goldsmith, socialite daughter of the late British-Jewish business tycoon Sir James Goldsmith, and has children by her.)


Yesterday a group of Afghan Muslim clerics called for a holy war against the United States if the US military interrogator who reportedly desecrated the Koran is not handed over to them. During the anti-US protests in Afghanistan last week at least 17 people were killed and more than 100 were hurt.

In Gaza, several thousand Palestinians marched through a refugee camp in a protest organized by the Islamic extremist group Hamas. Several hundred Palestinians also marched in the West Bank city of Hebron. Lebanon’s top cleric yesterday called for an international inquiry into Newsweek’s allegations.

I attach below an item today from CNN.

-- Tom Gross




Newsweek backs off Quran desecration story
Account blamed for violent riots in Afghanistan
May 16, 2005

Newsweek magazine backed away Sunday from a report that U.S. interrogators desecrated copies of the Quran while questioning prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay naval base an account blamed for sparking violent riots in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

At least 15 people were killed and dozens injured last week when thousands of demonstrators marched in Afghanistan and other parts of the Muslim world, officials and eyewitnesses said.

“We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst,” newsweek Editor Mark Whitaker wrote in the magazine’s May 23 issue, out Sunday.

In an article assessing its coverage, the magazine wrote, “How did Newsweek get its facts wrong? And how did the story feed into serious international unrest?”

The Pentagon said last week it was unable to corroborate any case in which interrogators at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, defiled the Muslim holy book, as Newsweek reported in its May 9 issue.

“Top administration officials have promised to continue looking into the charges, and so will we,” Whitaker said.

Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita blamed Newsweek’s report for the violent protests that broke out in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other Muslim countries.

“People are dying. They are burning American flags. Our forces are in danger,” he told CNN.

Newsweek said anger over the story spread after it was cited at a May 6 press conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, by Imran Khan, a Pakistani cricket legend and a critic of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.

In the story, the magazine cited sources as saying investigators looking into abuses at the military prison found interrogators “had placed Qurans on toilets, and in at least one case flushed a holy book down the toilet.”

“Desecrating the Quran is a death-penalty offense” in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, said Peter Bergen, a CNN terrorism analyst.

“There is clearly a lot of anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, less so in Afghanistan, but I think that this will feed into it,” Bergen said.

Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief, Dan Klaidman, said the apparent error was “terribly unfortunate,” and he offered the magazine’s sympathies to the victims.

But he said “different forces” were at work that helped spark the riots.

“It’s clear that people seized on the Newsweek report to advance their own agendas, and that that was part of it,” he said.

“But I also think that there’s an enormous amount of pent-up and not-so-pent-up anti-American rage and sentiment in that region.”

“There are a lot of people who think that our war on terror and our war in Iraq is a much wider war against Islam,” he said.

At a Pentagon press conference Thursday, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cited U.S. commanders as saying the protests in Jalalabad, at least, were more about local politics than anti-American sentiment stirred by the Newsweek report.


Newsweek said Michael Isikoff, who reported the item with John Barry, became interested in the story after FBI e-mails that revealed an uglier side of life in Guantanamo were released late last year.

“Isikoff knew that military investigators at Southern Command [which runs the Guantanamo prison] were looking into the allegations,” the article said.

“So he called a longtime reliable source, a senior U.S. government official who was knowledgeable about the matter.

“The source told Isikoff that the [investigators’] report would include new details that were not in the FBI e-mails, including mention of flushing the Quran down a toilet.”

Whitaker wrote that before publishing the account the magazine approached two Pentagon officials for comment. One declined and the other challenged a different aspect of the report, Whitaker wrote.

Myers said at the Pentagon briefing Thursday the military was looking into the allegations.

He said investigators had so far been unable to confirm a “toilet incident, except for one case, a log entry, which they still have to confirm, where a detainee was reported by a guard to be ripping pages out of a Quran and putting [them] in the toilet to stop it up as a protest. But not where the U.S. did it.”

On Friday, Newsweek said, DiRita phoned the magazine and said that investigators found no incidents involving Quran desecration.

A day later, Isikoff reached his source again, who said that although he remembered reading investigative reports about desecration of the Quran, including a toilet incident, “he could no longer be sure that these concerns had surfaced in the [Southern Command] report.”

DiRita “exploded” when Newsweek informed him that one of the original sources behind the report had partially backed off the story, the magazine said.

“People are dead because of what this son of a bitch said,” DiRita told Newsweek, according to the magazine’s report. “How could he be credible now?”

DiRita confirmed the quote to CNN.

He said investigators have found nothing to support allegations that U.S. troops had desecrated copies of the Quran, but turned up one case he said has now led to stricter procedures at the prison camp.

In that case, a Quran fell to the floor during a routine search, he said. The book was encased in surgical mask, which prisoners at the facility are given to protect the book.

Camp commanders have since established stronger procedures when searching near a Quran, DiRita said including a rule that allows only Muslim troops, interrogators or chaplains to touch a copy.

But Newsweek said Isikoff has uncovered more allegations of Quran desecration.

One, from an attorney representing some of the detainees, provided some declassified notes indicating 23 detainees had tried to commit suicide in August 2003 when a guard dropped a Quran and stomped on it.

Isikoff found two other references to Qurans being tossed into toilets or latrines, the magazine reported.

U.S. military officials said such claims are standard terrorist tactics.

“If you read the al Qaeda training manual, they are trained to make allegations against the infidels,” Army Col. Brad Blackner told Newsweek.

(CNN’s Barbara Starr contributed to this report.)

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.