The Pentagon has come down hard on Newsweek for publishing a short piece in its May 9th edition regarding the desecration of the Qur'an by US interrogators at Gitmo. Riots broke out in Afghanistan and Pakistan when news of the Qur'an desecration got out. 15 people were killed and thousands were injured. Although Newsweek has issued an apology, citing errors in its story, it has not retracted the story despite White House pressure to do so.
Interestingly Newsweek's primary source for the story, whom they've cited as a reliable government official, has now backed away from his original claim, stating that he is unsure where he learned of the Qur'an desecration incident. With their primary source backing down, quite likely under pressure, Newsweek decided to apologize for "errors" in its reporting.
Kudos to Newsweek for refusing to retract their story. After all, Pentagon and White House officials have not come out and denied the story. They've promised to look into the charges, and considering all the torture and abuse that has been reported about at Gitmo and other US detention facilities, it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that desecrating the Qur'an in order to psychologically torture detainees actually happened. Newsweek must have good reasons for not retracting its story.
Unfortunately, the headlines in today's papers are not "Newsweek refuses to retract story" with a by-line "The magazine apologizes for some errors in its story." Instead the headlines make it look as if Newsweek got its facts wrong and, thus, the story wrong. The rest of the media is towing the Fed's line, which is an attempt to discredit Newsweek.
The point of this post is that this story is an example of how much the government is willing to pressure, intimidate and threaten US media into following marching orders. We have an example of this right here in our own backyard: The AP buckled under government pressure to retract its original story where it reported that the Feds had used a provision in the Patriot Act to spy on Brandon Mayfield. Several days after printing the retraction, the Feds admitted to having used the Patriot Act in the Mayfield investigation.
Where does that leave the AP's credibility now? Unfortunately, few people know about this story, and the AP probably anticipated such an outcome. It chose between getting hammered by the Feds (the way Newsweek is now) or setting aside journalistic principles in order to save its own skin. The AP acquiesced and was spared the wrath of the Feds. It's too bad for America the AP chose the low road in order to protect itself.
Newsweek must have known what was coming its way when it refused to retract its story. Unlike the AP, however, Newsweek was willing to place its bets differently. Let's hope it wins.
The truth is, every once in a while the news media in America get a little back bone by holding up a mirror in front of the government. The problem is, the Feds throw rocks back at the mirror. A majority of editors quietly take the broken mirrors back to their news bureaus and decide to report on easier issues, and in so doing they shrug off their Constitutional duties, leaving Americans with the lousiest news media in the industrialized world.
Updated: Newsweek has caved.