May 18, 2005

But counting is so hard

"How many stories has Newsweek written about the Bush administration allegedly 'skewing intelligence' by relying on raw, insufficiently sourced data? How many times has it lamented that these mistakes have hurt the U.S. abroad? Too many to count." —Rich Lowry, National Review

"No documents were found for your search. Please edit your search and try again." —Nexis results for the phrase "skewing intelligence" in Newsweek over the previous five years.

I haven't posted on flushgate because of my longstanding policy against wasting your time with opinions you can find elsewhere. But in case you're curious, I come down just about exactly here.

Newsweek made a serious error in relying on a single source for its story, and its subsequent report may (or may not) have spurred fatal riots. The magazine subsequently apologized, then retracted the part of the story in question and vowed not to make the error again. In contrast, most of the rest of the media, in reporting the story, has continued to stumble all over itself, making the same mistakes over and over again. And unlike Newsweek, none of them are showing any signs of remorse.

Consider the central question of the story about the story: What exactly has the magazine retracted? Most reporters, particularly on television, are reporting that Newsweek has retracted the allegation that U.S. interrogators desecrated the Koran at Guantanamo Bay. But that's wrong: The magazine has said only that it no longer stands by its claim that allegations of Koran desecration appear in a forthcoming report from U.S. Southern Command. That's a very different point. There have been numerous other reports -- mostly from detainees -- suggesting that U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo did abuse the Koran. We don't know exactly what happened, but we do know that there's a significant difference between what Newsweek said -- that its source can no longer be sure that the allegations appear in an upcoming military report -- and what the press is reporting the magazine said -- that no desecration of the Koran ever took place.

The one place where I differ with CJR is over the question of the extent to which the report sparked the riots. I think we simply don't know. I don't see any reason to think that Myers wasn't spinning at the time he let NW off the hook, assuming that the report was true and trying to deflect responsibility for the riots from the military.

Posted by Daniel Radosh

Post a comment

Powered by
Movable Type 3.2