May 26, 2005

HOWARD KURTZ THINKS THAT NEWSWEEK HAS BEEN VINDICATED, but it’s not clear to me why that is:

Just to review: Newsweek made a specific error, saying this would be in a forthcoming military investigative report, and had to apologize and retract. But that never meant there was no Koran desecration–in fact, The Post reported such a charge in 2003 (as did other outlets later), but the charges were always attributed to detainees. Even these documents (which I’ll bet were seen by Isikoff’s source) atrribute the allegations to detainees. But that casts the outraged White House and Pentagon reaction in a slightly different light, doesn’t it?

(Emphasis in original.) If you read the story that Kurtz references, though, it also says that investigators found no basis to the allegations. It seems to me that Newsweek’s report — that government investigation did support the claims — was rather different, and that this constitutes something rather short of vindication.

UPDATE: Joe Gandelman has a survey of the issue, and agrees that this doesn’t get Newsweek off the hook, even though it’s being spun that way.

This report from the New York Times would seem to make that clear:

The accusation that soldiers had put a Koran in a toilet, which has been made by former and current inmates over the past two years, stirred violence this month that killed at least 17 people in Muslim countries after Newsweek magazine reported that a military investigation was expected to confirm that the incident had in fact occurred.

Newsweek retracted the report last week, saying it had relied on an American government official who had incomplete knowledge of the situation.

None of the documents released Wednesday indicate any such confirmation that the incident took place.

(Emph. added). I think that Newsweek’s defenders would be wise not to make too much of this.

MORE: A reader notes a bit of goalpost-moving:

In a recent post, you quoted the NYT as writing this in a report:

“The accusation that soldiers had put a Koran in a toilet, …”

Notice how it is now ‘put a Koran in a toilet’. No longer is the phrasing ‘flush a Koran down the toilet’. A subtle, yet important change. This version is _plausible_. And easier to get someone to substantiate (or at least say “well, I can’t say that it didn’t happen”).

As Martin Peretz said, they’ve circled the wagons on this one.


I absolutely don’t believe Newsweek has been vindicated, and if you got that impression, I must have been unclear. Newsweek made a bad mistake.

Here is what I’m writing for tomorrow:

“I don’t contend that these FBI papers, unearthed in an ACLU lawsuit,
get Newsweek off the hook. But you’d think they would be getting more

“Let’s parse the wording. Newsweek erred by saying in its ill-fated Periscope item that a forthcoming military investigative report would cite an allegation of the Koran being flushed down a toilet at Guantanamo. That was wrong, and Newsweek’s anonymous source backed off. The FBI documents don’t prove that these Koran incidents took place–indeed, it may be impossible to prove one way or the other.”

I did get that impression, but I’m glad that I was wrong.

Meanwhile, Tom Maguire has a useful roundup of this much-ado-about-not-much story.

MORE: Bill Quick adds some historical perspective that does a better job of explaining why I misunderstood Howard than I did.

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