NEWSWEEK magazine s retraction of its story on alleged desecration of the Qur an by U.S. military interrogators underscores the risks to the news media of running stories based on anonymous sources.
Publishing information on the say-so of people who aren t willing to put their name and reputation on the line is a tricky business. Most thoughtful journalists believe it should be used only in extraordinary instances.
Even so, the pious breast-beating and criticism of Newsweek by the propaganda makers in the White House reflect a new low in attempts by the Bush Administration to deflect attention from its own disastrous policy decisions in southwest Asia.
The Newsweek story may have inflamed anti-American sentiment in the region but it certainly didn t start the trend. Nearly four years of American military intervention and occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq is responsible for that.
The one-paragraph story, moreover, only repeated what numerous other news sources have reported for at least two years that U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, abused the Muslim holy book as a tactic when questioning suspected terrorists.
If the story was such a potentially harmful act, why did Pentagon officials not object when it was run by them prior to publication? And why did the administration wait more than 10 days to gin up its purported outrage?
The report had real consequences, exclaimed Scott McClellan, President Bush s press secretary. People have lost their lives. Our image abroad has been damaged.
If only Mr. McClellan, his boss, and the policy makers in the White House had the same concern for the lives extinguished and respect for America lost in the military campaigns that have marked the U.S. response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Reeling from the stunning strikes against New York and Washington by faceless terrorists, the administration first sought to assuage U.S. anger by singling out Afghanistan for attack because it harbored terrorist training camps.
Recognizing the futility of bombing an arid wasteland, the administration then shifted its military crosshairs to a more identifiable target: Iraq, with its odious dictator Saddam Hussein.
The justification was that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction which he intended to use and that Iraq was just another front in the war on terrorism. We now know that those claims were false, and there is strong evidence that the administration knew it at the time.
The memo to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, leaked during the recent UK election campaign, shows conclusively that the Bush Administration had decided, as early as the summer of 2002, to invade Iraq but the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.
Castigating the news media when events turn sour, as evident by the U.S. s inability to quell the chaos in Iraq, is a time-honored government tactic that stretches back to the Vietnam War and before. Rarely, however, has it been employed so transparently as in the White House s calculated jihad against Newsweek.
The American people now know that the administration speaks with a forked tongue about its aims in southwest Asia. But that knowledge has come at a terrible price hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars and, most egregiously, the lives of more than 1,600 U.S. military personnel and uncounted thousands more on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq.