May 19, 2005

Seven Points on the Newsweek Scandal

1. Yes, Newsweek fucked up. Their job, always, is to get the story right, and they got it wrong, and I’d imagine they feel quite bad about it, especially since the story led indirectly to people's deaths. This is something that will haunt the magazine for quite some time, and may even hasten the elimination of one-anonymous-source stories forever.

2. But the fact is, this story has much, much more to do with sloppiness and poor sourcing than it does with liberal bias, much less deliberate deception. Partisans of the We Hate MSM Club will of course see it the other way, but that’s because they see liberal bias around every corner and under every bed. And let’s not forget: the story was written by Michael Isikoff, an ace investigative reporter who has been super-tough on administrations of both parties. He is, after all, the guy who did some of the toughest, most damaging reporting for the Lewinsky scandal, after which he famously concluded that Bill Clinton was “psychologically disturbed.”

I’m not denying that existence of political bias in parts of the media, or even at Newsweek. But there no non-circumstantial indication whatsoever that bias was the cause of the Koran story, or that it was deliberate. Michael Isikoff is no Jayson Blair. He’s not even a Mike Barnicle.

3. The rhetoric in some corners of the blogosphere the day the story broke, of course, was insane. The normally sensible Dean Esmay referred to the reporters who made an honest error in judgment as “enemy propagandists.” Powerline, citing no evidence, called the obvious mistake “deliberate.” And even Glenn Reynolds- who I had always thought was a sensible moderate, actually wrote that “if Americans conclude that the press is, basically, on the side of the enemy, the consequences are likely to be dire.” But what indication in the world is there that any mainstream journalist is “on the side of the enemy”? And why is the blogger with the biggest audience on the internet propagating this myth when he knows it’s not true?

Please. I challenge anyone to name a single Newsweek staffer who demonstratively hates America, wants America to lose the war on terror, or identifies in any way whatsoever with Islamofascism. To find such a staffer, I’d imagine, would be impossible, because none exist.

4. Indeed, I’ve learned, through last week's John Rocker incident and others, that in any political discussion with conservative partisans, no matter what the topic, the subject will always- ALWAYS- eventually be changed to liberal media bias. All roads, ultimately, lead to that.

I know the anti-MSMers are thrilled to have another mass media head on a spike, but please, Miss Malkin, Mr. Hewitt, and Messers Hinderaker, Mirengoff, and Johnson: try not to chortle quite so loudly. People are dead, and your downright cheerfulness just goes to show that the line between outrage and outright glee is very thin.

5. No, the Koran story did not ultimately check out. But that doesn’t mean the U.S. hasn’t engaged in tactics in the War on Terror that would be classified, under U.S. or international guidelines, as torture, or at the very least immoral mistreatment of prisoners. In fact, the government’s own reports say they have. To point this out, alas, is NOT unpatriotic, is NOT to say that the terrorists aren’t worse, and is NOT something that, if true, any responsible journalist should cover up. Nor should such coverups be a matter of policy, as suggested by La Shawn Barber and others.

As a proud American who has been outspoken in my support of U.S. actions abroad, I favor exposing such abuses because THEY HURT US. If torture happens, it hands propaganda victories to the enemy, and works to diminish our standing. And when it does, the torture is 100% the fault of the torturers, not the messengers, as Anne Applebaum points out today.

6. If there’s a left-wing version of the right’s one-size-fits-all liberal bias obsession, it’s the “conspiracy by Karl Rove” meme. The increasingly irrelevant Norman Mailer puts that one forward today, alleging that Rove was behind not only the story, but the riots as well. Even the other people on the Huffington blog were backing off that one.

7. And finally, here’s a question I’ve heard no one ask so far: in the riots in Afghanistan how, exactly, did the 16 people die? Did the rioters kill one another, or were they shot at as part of some sort of government police action? Were the dead non-rioters who were killed by the rioters? Because if that's what in fact happened, it would cause the far-right of the blogosphere to choose who to really blame- Islamists, or the "MSM." I'm not entirely certain who they would choose.

UPDATE: David Brooks says many of the same things:

Excuse me, guys, but this is craziness. I used to write for Newsweek. I know Mike Isikoff and the editors. And I know about liberals in the media. The people who run Newsweek are not a bunch of Noam Chomskys with laptops. Not even close. Whatever might have been the cause of their mistakes, liberalism had nothing to do with it.
But he doesn't leave the Bush Administration OR lefty bloggers alone, either.

Posted by Stephen Silver at May 19, 2005 12:41 AM
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