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Defending Newsweek

As noted below and elsewhere, there is a lot of heat going around right now about Newsweek and its erroneous story about a Koran being flushed down a toilet at Guantanamo. And while I agree with a lot of it, I have to argue against the most severe sanctions people are proposing against Newsweek -- in particular, lawsuits for the deaths of those killed in the ensuing riots.

The purpose of such lawsuits is to hold people liable for reasonable and predictable reactions to their actions, and I don't think the riots and deaths fall into that category.

I willingly grant the "predictable" element, but I draw the line at "reasonable." The use of that is to justify the unjustifiable. The riots were a completely irrational and wrong response, and Newsweek should not be held responsible for what a bunch of religious, West-hating whackos do. Those lunatics are simply atrocities waiting to happen, and anything -- anything -- can be the trigger. One might as well find the woman who rejected Ted Bundy and blame her for all the women he subsequently murdered.

So, bring on the abuse, the sanctions, the penalties for Newsweek. Ban their reporters from covering events. Contact and boycott their advertisers. Pillory them in public. Blame them for the damage to our diplomatic efforts. Mock them. Deride them. Taunt them. Make them stand in the corner at press events while wearing silly hats. Use back issues as toilet paper.

But don't hold them liable for the deaths. To do that is to excuse the real people to blame -- the rioters themselves.


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Comments (35)

Jay, I disagree. Newsweek n... (Below threshold)
Jeff:

Jay, I disagree. Newsweek needs to be held accountable for their journalism ethics and procedures. They were reporting on an incident, desicrating a Koran, that carries the death penalty in Afganistan and Pakistan. Considering the hypersenitivity surrounding the treatment of muslim prisoners, they just needed to whisper fire in a crowded theater to start a rampage.

They should have used more caution when reporting on a story with such a potentially volital reactions.

I agree, Jay. But I have an... (Below threshold)
Jim:

I agree, Jay. But I have an idea: The radical Islamofascists are demanding that the US turn over those responsible to desecrating the Koran at Gitmo. Why don't we grab up Michael Isikoff and the editor of Newsweek and turn them over to the Radical clerics? LOL. Oh, what a sweet fantasy! LOL.

Jay, You're wrong. If News... (Below threshold)
Bob:

Jay, You're wrong. If Newsweek handed a jug of kerosene and a match to a known arsonist, would you not hold them responsible for any deaths that resulted?
Well, that's just what Newsweek did. They knew what they were doing...

I agree with Jay. While I ... (Below threshold)
Jim in Cleveland:

I agree with Jay. While I think Newsweek is somewhat culpable for what happened, and their "apology" ranks up there with Rather's over Memogate in terms of self-serving insincerity, I don't think riots were a reasonable reaction to the story. Media coverage of The DaVinci Code, which trashes the Catholic Church, has been inaccurate at best, but hasn't led to rioting at the Vatican. Certainly, the deaths underscore the importance of checking sources when one is to run another story on how evil America is. But the Newsweek story doesn't exist in a vaccuum. If media coverage as a whole wasn't already catering to anti-Americanism, riots don't take place because of a irresponsible blurb in Newsweek.

No one can predict with cer... (Below threshold)
Mike:

No one can predict with certainty what these Islamic religious nutjobs are going to do in the Middle East. Their religious tendencies are extreme and their reactions the same. But you can't hold Newsweek responsible for deaths resulting from riots. The crazed clerics calling for a jihad are the ones to blame for that. Many at Newsweek deserve to lose their job and not work in the industry again, but wrongful death lawsuits are ridiculous.

It was William Randolph Hea... (Below threshold)

It was William Randolph Hearst who quipped, "You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war." I rest my case.

Sorry, I should have added ... (Below threshold)
Mike:

Sorry, I should have added that those at Newsweek who were responsible not only should lose their job, but should be publicly scorned and shamed, and essentially everything JayTea said in his post.

I am outraged by Newsweek's... (Below threshold)
Jim:

I am outraged by Newsweek's obvious Anti-Americanism. I'm sure they were delirious with joy as they watched those wackos in Afghanistan burning the American flag. By the way, I've always felt Newsweek's Michael Isikoff is a punk and a skunk. A punk skunk. A pompous punk-skunk. That little weasel would sh*t in his pants if he ever met an Islamic terrorists.

The riots were a complet... (Below threshold)
VA Jim:

The riots were a completely irrational and wrong response, and the university should not be held responsible for what a bunch of sports-crazed, business-hating whackos do. Those lunatics are simply atrocities waiting to happen, and anything -- anything -- can be the trigger. --JT paraphrased

So what's happened to "the progress" we're making in Afghanistan? Did you mean progress, or did you mean taming the dumb animals? Jay Tea, I don't always agree with you, but this time you're way out of line.

Normal Afghans appear to be more balanced: "... the demonstration was like a car and some people who are the enemies of Afghanistan took the steering wheel and turned it in the wrong direction." -Del Agha

Ghazni governor Asadullah Khaled said he spent much of Saturday smoothing things over with mullahs whose intentions were originally peaceful and issuing search warrants for those he believes may have had ulterior motives for organizing the protest.
"There was one mullah who was saying, 'You should defend your Holy Koran, and even if you lose your life you should be proud of this,' " Khaled said.

If the desecration had been by the Saudi (Yemen, Iranian...) government to the Bible, there'd be demonstrations here. No sweat. If some violence-minded minority started to smash windows, set fires, or loot; our cops would bust it up. That's what appears to have happened, just that the Afghans are a bit rougher in breaking crowds up. It is a rougher world than ours.

Note that the Afghans are not making blanket statements about Americans. They sound more reasonable and civilized, even if rougher, than many American commentors. Newsweak was irresponsible and needs to be held accountable for their lies, not for deaths.

I agree with a good deal of... (Below threshold)

I agree with a good deal of Jay's comments, the actions of the rioters were unreasonable by American Standards but not by the standards of many people in that region. One of the largest problems is that this is not over, not by a long shot. the consequences ae not just for those that rioted but also future riotiers. Most in Afghanistan are illiterate so somebody is going to have to tell them that NEWSWEEK retracted it's story but let's face reality here anti American sentiment is the lifeblood of so many people in the Arab world. The Koran flushing incident reinforces what many already believe, so a retraction will just be what they think is some sort of "Zionist" cover up. Then of course we have the heightened hostility towards US troops in the region. How many homicide bombers will this article produce and how many more people will die as a result of this irresponsibility. I dont propose to know the answer, I only know that this goes way beyond words on a page. A slap on the wrist will not suffice. Maybe the end of Newsweek would be the only justification. sounds harsh but how often does irresponsibility get people killed in this country. These reporters know the climate in the Arab World and they know that stories this blasphemous to Muslims would at the very least create a deeper hatred for America. Plausible Deniability? Strikes me as similar to a bartender tanking someone up with drinks and then acting surprised when he runs into a school bus.

I also proposed a boycott o... (Below threshold)

I also proposed a boycott of the mag as well as a renaming since it doesn't seem to actually report any News

http://www.di2.nu/blog.htm?20050516

Jay, I respectfully disagre... (Below threshold)
Cousin Dave:

Jay, I respectfully disagree. In any profession other than journalism, professional are held to standards of negligence, and grossly negligent behavior is often prosecuted. (And indeed, journalists are often responsible for pushing such prosecutions.) My problem here is not just that a riot resulted, but that said riot directly placed American servicemen in harm's way. And, given that the reaction, although not rational, was predictable, I claim that the standard of gross negligence should apply. And furthermore: when a journalist takes action that they know will harm Americans in uniform in wartime, and they proceed with such actions anyway, they have crossed the line over into Lord Haw Haw / Tokyo Rose territory.

My fear is, that now that they've been shown how to do it, the MSM will began taking more such actions and will succeed in turning the course of the war to the enemy's advantage. (Because it's more important for them to be right than to be American.) And if this happens, a future President will be forced to sharply curtail First Amendment rights for everyone. Indeed, it might lead to an overwhelming national consensus to repeal the First Amendment (a proposition that has enjoyed support from at least 50% of all Americans for decades now). And if that day comes, we'll all be sorry.

Let's not let that day come. Let's make examples out of these Newsweek clowns. Throw the books at them. Make them reveal not only all of their sources, but all of their editorial decision making process -- emails, newsroom conversations, everything. If they refuse, find them in contempt of court and let them spend the rest of their lives rotting in jail. That's what would happen to any ordinary American whose irresponsible actions got American servicemen in wartime killed. Why should laws be different for journalists?

Imagine if these Newsweek b... (Below threshold)
Palmateer:

Imagine if these Newsweek boobs had been around in the summer of 1945. The A-bombs have been dropped, and US troops are about to come ashore in Japan and are expecting a subdued welcome. However, Newsweek has just published a story, widely curculated among the Japanese, that US soldiers have been known to treat Japanese prisoners roughly. Imagine the reception that would await the US forces.

This will help demonstrate ... (Below threshold)
jacckofhearts:

This will help demonstrate the actual feelings of Muslims toward America. Perhaps now many Americans will understand the need to subdue and control these out of control humans. Hate is a scary thing and they hate us. I support George W in his war against the hate and violence of the Muslim world.

I agree with Jay.T... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

I agree with Jay.

There is reason to maybe be upset over how a Holy book is treated, and it is certainly disrespectful, but these rioters/murderers wouldn't be justified in what they did, even if the report from Newsweek waw 100% factual.

Killing and rioting over a Holy book is insane, and it also turns the Holy book itself into an item of worship, rather than the God the book is about.

The people ultimately responsible here aren't the editors/reporters of at Newsweek, but the people who would feel justified in murdering others over a book (and murdering those who didn't actually do it at that).

Jay,Sorry, but thi... (Below threshold)

Jay,

Sorry, but this type of behavior is accountable in American Jourisprudence.

Shouting "Fire" in a movie theater is actionable if it results in harm.

This is exactly what Newsweak did.

And Karzai saw the potential for the use of this article from the get go

"Those lunatics are simply ... (Below threshold)
BorgQueen:

"Those lunatics are simply atrocities waiting to happen, and anything -- anything -- can be the trigger."

That's the point....it's not the first time these lunatics have gone on rampages, not the second, not the tenth, and certainly won't be the last. How could Newsweek NOT anticipate the likelihood that this is exactly what would happen?

Reporting an incident that actually happened is one thing.
Reporting something that is so potentially explosive on the "I think I read somewhere" word of an anonymous source with no other corroberation at all is another.

John Adams must be spinning in his grave!

Sorry, but this type of ... (Below threshold)
Mike:

Sorry, but this type of behavior is accountable in American Jourisprudence.

Why would you apply American Jurisprudence to something that happened in Afghanistan?

I think it's important to r... (Below threshold)

I think it's important to remember that the riots weren't just "predictable", they were intended.

Mike, the initiating action... (Below threshold)
Cousin Dave:

Mike, the initiating action didn't happen in Afghanistan; it happened in America. Let me see if I can draw an analogy.

I work in the aerospace field. A scenario: let's say that, for some reason, I have an irrational, all-consuming hatred of General Electric, and I'm constantly on the lookout for information that I can publicize that would be harmful to GE. (Which I don't, for the record; this is a hypothetical.)

Now, one day, an anonymous GE employee phones me to say that every F-100 engine (used in the F-16) ever manufacturered has a faulty part, made from substandard metal or some such. The part in question is buried deep within the bowels of the engine, and requires many hours of tear-down to get at for inspection. Without doing any further checking, I use whatever connections I can muster, including muckraking military Web sites, to publicize this information. The story manages to catch public interest, and Congress gets involved.

As a result, the Air Force is compelled to ground all F-16s worldwide for engine inspections. While this is taking place, Syria launches a ground/air invasion of northern Iraq. They succeed in taking several Kurdish-majority cities. American troops are unsuccessful in defending the areas due to lack of air support caused by the F-16 stand-down. 27 Americans in uniform die in battle, and three more are taken hostage, tortured, and beheaded, with videos winding up on the Internet. U.S. troop morale in the Mideast plunges, and recruiting all but dries up.

Am I responsible for this? Damn straight I am. As a professional in the field, I know, or should have known, that my unsubstianted charges would result in something like what happened. I have directly aided and abetted the enemy, and my ass deserves to be thrown in the klink for a long, long time. This is true even though none of the bad stuff took place in America. It doesn't matter because I am an American and my actions did take place in America, and I an responsible for the direct consequences no matter where they take place.

(Of course, there is one aspect in which this scenario differs from the Newsweek scenario: my changes are falsifiable. If inspection of all of the F-100 engines subsequently reveals no faulty parts, then my charges have been conclusively refuted; my credibility is destroyed and even after I get out of jail, I'll never be able to find a job in the industry again, and rightly so. On the other hand, Newsweek's charges are non-falsifiable; the Pentagon cannot prove that nothing remotely resembling the incident ever happened at any place or any time. So even if the journalists in question do wind up doing jail time, they will emerge with their credibility intact, if not enhanced.)

It is just so Rathergate-is... (Below threshold)
Zsa Zsa:

It is just so Rathergate-ish!...I have to say that when you are dealing with the Mideast anything is possible! Peace in that region is going to take much time and much eggshell walking! Any time we are dealing with religion it is going to be very touchy! It really is so necessary to not report things such as that unless your sources are very accurate and can be divulged!...

Hear hear. What Newsweek... (Below threshold)

Hear hear. What Newsweek did was stupid and wrong. But the response from the Muslim world was way beyond what any reasonable person could have expected. The analogy I used on my blog was this: If I stood up and said "I don't like vanilla" and a thousand people trashed a Baskin Robbins, I would not be held liable for inciting them to riot.

But the response f... (Below threshold)
Insomniac:
But the response from the Muslim world was way beyond what any reasonable person could have expected.

Absolutely incorrect. The violent, irrational, animalian behavior from Islamofascist thugs is well-documented and well-known, as well as them waiting on any and all excuse to erupt into violence because of the "Great Satan." It would have been entirely unreasonable NOT to expect some type of violence over this story.

Cousin Dave,That a... (Below threshold)
Mike:

Cousin Dave,

That analogy is absurd. These were idiotic Afghan religious zealots reacting to a 2 line bit from a magazine. They incited the riot, the story didn't. The riot was in Afghanistan and resulted in the innocent death of Afghanistanis. How can you apply American Jourisprudence to something that didn't even involve Americans?

VA Jim, when I read "those ... (Below threshold)

VA Jim, when I read "those lunatics," I understand it to mean "those who rioted," not "everybody in Afghanistan."

But if you're going to go around looking for things that offend you, you're going to find them whether they exist or not.

Mike, I disagree with your ... (Below threshold)
Cousin Dave:

Mike, I disagree with your conclusion. I do agree that the riot was irrational by Western standards. However, it was predictable given the recent past history of the region. And -- and this is the key point -- it placed American soldiers in harm's way It appears now that no Americans were actually harmed (the first news reports I heard said differnt), but it could have easily gone some other way. This is wartime, and it isn't expected that the enemy will react in a way that we consider logical. The "loose lips sink ships" rule still applies.

I can appreciate that people who think the way the rioters do will look for any excuse. But Newsweek provided them with a whopper of an excuse, one that made their cause look reasonable to their less combustible countrymen, and that made the scope of the action worse than it might have been otherwise. And the damage goes way beyond the riot itself, because if the later news reports are to be believed (which I admit has to be taken with a grain of salt), then America's reputation and interests in the region have suffered considerable harm from this. So the direct and slightly-less-direct consequences go far beyond the deaths of a handful of Afghan citizens. Are innocent Afghan lives worth less than American lives? Let's not tell them that.

And you haven't answered my original point about criminally gross negligence. The First Amendment is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for journalists.

Did I miss something? What... (Below threshold)
VA Jim:

Did I miss something? What innocents died? Murdered? Huh?

The demonstrations were against Newsweak's reporting about official US government policy to insult Islam by flushing korans in toilets. Demonstrations are fair enough. Karzi himself very properly asked "If it is true that it happened," he said, "we will ask the U.S. that the perpetrator be punished."

It doesn't take any genius to see that Newsweak's 'article' gave a great tool to ex-Taliban and others dissatisfied with the new Afghan government. The rioters were a minority of the crowds using the demonstrations as cover; and local cops dispersed them with the Afghan version of tear-gas: Bullets. Who's the innocents here?

"We are really angry that the principles of journalism have not been followed correctly and the report they published was apparently not according to the truth. On the one hand, the acceptance of their mistake is right, of course, because it was an important issue and it removes the problem, but it is totally regrettable that the journalistic standard has been [so low] that this very sensitive issue has been dealt with irresponsibly," said Karzai's spokeman.

•Not all Afghans demonstrated.
•Not all Afghans in the demonstrations (not even very many) rioted. Will people stop labeling all Afghans based on the actions of a few?
•Nobody's been murdered. Those who rioted and refused to disperse got Afghan justice.

On the plus side:
•Local cops, local decisions; they most probably nailed the exact ones who needed it most.
•US assets weren't targeted; mostly Afghani and UN NGO stuff. The destruction of locally owned buildings is a shame, but it's telling that US property was left alone.
•It looks like everyday Afghan citizens can tell who manipulated the crowds.
•It looks like everyday Afghan citizens are learning about the MSM. Have we learned as much?

Newsweek has rung a bell th... (Below threshold)
bullwinkle:

Newsweek has rung a bell that cannot be unrung. You'd be about as successful in attempting to remove the idea that this happened from the Muslims that believed it as you would be at convincing moonbats that Bush won the election legally in spite of the democrats' illegal actions to steal it. Ain't gonna happen. Newsweek should be well aware of the possible consequences of printing inflammatory lies and should have held their story to higher scrutiny, but I'm guessing that the chance to print such a juicy anti-American story was just too good to pass up, ala TANG at CBS. I've read plenty of complaints posted here about others inciting violence, why not hold Newsweek to the same standards? I seem to remember one the contributors on Wizbang even speculating that some government's actions like printing comic books and possibly coming to the aid of one their citizens in a legal situation might be a precursor to war. When a story published in Newsweek rekindles idea of war it's not unreasonable to think they should be held fully accountable.

CBS just announced another ... (Below threshold)
BorgQueen:

CBS just announced another major demonstration taking place across the Arab world right now...

They're all apologizing for believing Newsweek!


Not.

But don't hold them liable ... (Below threshold)

But don't hold them liable for the deaths. To do that is to excuse the real people to blame--the rioters themselves."

I could not agree more. Newsweek didn't start the riots; they didn't cause the riots or the destruction or those thousands of people destroying their own property, causing fires and more, totally out of control, ending up killing 17 of their own people, injuring many more - is NOT the responsibility of Newsweek. It is the responsibility of the rioters, no question about it.

Actually this situation pisses me off anyway - after all, it's only a friggin book, just like the bible is a book. Go buy another one is you need to but to protest as these countries have is just unreasonable in every sense of the word. And it turns out the story isn't even true - some Gitmo detainee ripped the pages of the Koran out and flushed them down the toilet trying to plug up the system. That's not Newsweeks responsibility either; they just should have been careful of what they wrote during wartime.

Cindy

Saying that Newsweek didn't... (Below threshold)
bullwinkle:

Saying that Newsweek didn't start the riots leads to one question. Were they rioting before Newsweek ran the story? The riots may have been an unintended result of reckless reporting, but they were the result.

Have they gone on record ye... (Below threshold)

Have they gone on record yet to say the Koran in question was created in MS Word by a disgruntled guard and was fake, but accurate?

So many good posts above, J... (Below threshold)
BR:

So many good posts above, Jeff, JimK, Bob, Macker, Lance, CousinDavex3, Reelcobra, BorgQueen, Michael W, ZsaZsa, Insomniac, VAJim, Bullwinkle - the bell that cannot be unrung.

FloridayOyster, I share your sentiment.
Surgeon General's warning: Inhaling Newsweek [or any MSM] can be dangerous to your health.

Or: blind faith can be dangerous to everyone's survival.

And: Why is the US even providing flushing toilets at all. Let them dig a hole in the ground like they're used to. Let's riot against the desecration of Western technology.

The sad part is that the wr... (Below threshold)
Phil Wolff:

The sad part is that the wrong statement was so believable, both by those who started the riots, and by the millions of Americans who read it too. What have we come to when we find it so easy to believe our troops abuse prisoners, insulting their religions?

Yes, the consequences were horrible. But they only happened because all the rumor and news that came before set the expectations right.

Newsweek is just as guilty ... (Below threshold)
Marc:

Newsweek is just as guilty for the deaths as those who killed them! They lit the fuse! Michael Isikoff and his superiors at Newsweek are as culpable in these deaths as the terrorist leaders who send out the human bombs! The same people who make derogatory pictures of President Bush, blaming him for Iraqi deaths, are same ones who are defending Newsweek. This article caused their deaths! Where are the protests? The calls to action? There won't be any!!! These people, their cut lives short, their families, don't fit their political agenda! That's why pics of Military & civilian deaths are used, to promote dem/lib politics! Dems/Libs don't care about these people unless they can twist it to promote their agenda! These are REAL people, for God's sake! They had dreams, ambitions, families!!! They are not a statistic or a pic to PS! Newsweek KILLED these people then nonchalantly sweeps it under the rug! I'm sure they appreciate your support!!! You ought to be proud!




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