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May 16, 2005
MORE BACKGROUND ON NEWSWEEK'S JOURNALISTIC STANDARDS: And it's not pretty.
But Newsweek's reach seems to be limited, as Iraqi blogger Omar reports:
What is interesting is that Iraq witnessed no demonstration at all, not even a single statement of denoencemnet from anyone although Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya kept running updates on this subject almost every news-hour and have always talked about the descretion incident as if it were confirmed news.
If this is to indicate anything I think it indicvates that Iraqis are more concerned about their own lives than they're about the "issues" of the Islamic world's dignity and more important (and here I see our community approaching a turning point) is that people are giving the media less credit than they used to do.
Less credit here, too, I think. A turning point, indeed, and one that should worry the folks at Newsweek more than it apparently does.
UPDATE: Nick Gillespie observes:
The final insult? It makes those of us who are critical of government sources, largely because they are quicker to lie than they are to tell the truth, agree with the Pentagon (!) spokesman who said of the mystery source, "People are dead because of what this son of a bitch said. How could he be credible now?"
He also suggests that, before this is all over, journalism pundits will be trying to figure out a way to blame the Internet.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis:
This mistake cost people their lives, put the lives of our soldiers in the Mideast at risk, damaged the American position in the effort to defend itself and spread democracy, and damaged the already tattered reputation of journalism.
And to what end?
If the report had come from a source who had the balls to stand by what he said, if the alleged event had been witnessed, if it had been confirmed by independent authorities, I'm not sure what the imperative to report would have been: Why did we need to urgently know this? What public good is served? If it were absolutely true, that might be one matter but...
Given that none of those if's was true -- the informant did not have the balls, the event was not witnessed by a source, the event was not confirmed independently -- and given the knowledge that such a report could only be incendiary, then why report it except to play one of two games:
Show-off -- in which the journalist delights in knowing something no one else knows and wants to tell the world before everyone else does, even if it's not assuredly true.
Gotcha -- in which the reporter think he has exposed something somebody wanted to hide.
An incident such as this should force us to ask what the end result of journalism should be. Is it to expose anything we can expose? Is it to beat the other guy to tell you something you didn't know?
Or is it to tell the truth?
And if you don't know it to be true, is it reporting? If you rely on unnamed sources and unconfirmed reports, is it journalism?
It's what journalists claim that bloggers do -- but honestly, I see a lot more of that from Big Media than from bloggers.
Michael Silence: "This is the biggest buzz in the blogosphere I've seen since the presidential election."
Even if true, it was unbelievably irresponsible for Newsweek to have published the "toilet Koran" story. That they published it on the basis of an anonymous source in the middle of war in which disinformation has figured prominently is almost beyond comprehension. Are the editors completely ignorant of the world? Or do they want to sabotage America's war effort?
They've done considerable damage.
MORE: Unconventional Wisdom wonders if this will mark a tipping point in press coverage of the war. I'm not so hopeful, as the press shows little sign of learning ability where these things are concerned.
STILL MORE: Bill Quick says that these allegations weren't even new.