Retractions

By all means, let’s pillory Newsweek for muffing its “Koran in the toilet” revelation, a bit of one-source journalism that’s somehow led millions of people to think most Americans are less than reverent toward Islam. It’s good to know that those who lead us still have some capacity for outrage when the truth of a complex situation is served less than perfectly and lives are needlessly lost. And perhaps Rumsfeld, Rice, their many minions — and, who knows, maybe even the president — can take a lesson from Newsweek and come clean about the untruths they’ve promoted that led to bloodshed. You know what I’m talking about: Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein’s role as international terrorist overlord, and the imminent threat they posed to the United States. There are other matters to say “We’re sorry” for, too — the criminally poor planning for our attack’s aftermath, for instance — but it would be nice to start with a heartfelt retraction and apology to the 20-some thousand who have died because of everything those first untruths set in motion.

4 Replies to “Retractions”

  1. Interesting to see reporters in yesterday’s WH press briefing stick up a bit for Newsweek. Not surprised by it, but good on the press corps to press McClellan on his diatribe against the magazine. During the press conference, he said that the report has caused serious damage to the US. I don’t dispute that, but don’t think a Newsweek article quite compares with, say, the Abu Ghraib affair (or any other offensive act by our military in the Middle East over the past three years, take your pick). Press conference is here:
    http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/05/20050517-2.html
    Totally agree that the WH should offer its own apology for bungled pre-war “intelligence” that led to the invasion of Iraq (not that that mattered). Unfortunately, no reporter offered McClellan the chance yesterday to make his own retraction.

  2. And speaking of the press. There is a good piece in the Village Voice this week by Sydney Schanberg. He talks about the dearth of photos (in the media) which show the suffering of the Iraqis and GIs. He also has some really good insights for writers, describing how he approaches and crafts a story.
    This web version of the article differs from the print version in that the paper published an image of a GI who had been recently killed by small arms fire. This guy lies crumpled on the floor of a building in a way that told you he was dead before he hit the floor. The people in these pictures reminded me of my own family. The little boy is built like my son. The old guy could be my Dad. The GI could be my brother. For me, it is this empathy that the government (Republican and Democrat alike) would like to stifle. After all, who could ever forget the pictures from Tet in 1968 or the little girl in Vietnam that had just been napalmed. Those images helped to change the course of that war. I suppose too that one does not win wars by having empathy for the enemy. Just look the propaganda from both sides of the conflict during World War II. The aim is always to de-humanize the other guy and his family. And the insurgents in Iraq are world class champs in this field. It is just that we are supposed to be in a democracy, different in every way from those car bombers. Yet here we are with a policy which turns away from the truth of the war, rationalizing away the suffering as part of a greater good. Honestly Dan, I don’t know how “right” any of this war is but if all this suffering we’ve participated in isn’t a crime (in a statutory sense) then it sure is a sin.
    On another note, I almost never read the Voice these days. It has really gone to seed. But every now and then they come up with a good piece.
    http://www.villagevoice.com/news/0520,schanberg,64027,6.html

  3. I’ll check out the Schanberg piece. One does get a general sense that most of what’s going on there — especially the day-to-day reality for most of the troops and the people — is not getting out. Not just because of our sides unwillingness to show how it’s really going, either; the insurgency has really narrowed most journalists’ access to the streets. So the images that do manage to filter their way through these official and unofficial forms of censorship are all the more powerful — the soldier you’re talking about, the family shot up by the U.S. patrol, the bodies of insurgents in Fallujah, the victims of street killings in Mosul.
    I agree with you that, whatever our intentions and the way they’ve been adapted for public consumption and to fit the reality we’ve found in Iraq, we’re committing a wrong, and one that’s compounded by the willingness of so many of our fellow citizens to just turn a blind eye to what’s happening.

  4. Hey, Steve:
    The Newsweek report, whatever is behind it, focused latent rage at the United States, whether the rage is justified or not. It’s obvious that that anger has roots far deeper than one sloppy piece of reporting. Just think of the remarkable situation we’ve got at Guantanamo: Whether we treat the Koran with veneration or not, we’ve got hundreds of people just parked down there in limbo, most of whom the military has concluded were just bit players in the Taliban, etc., who have no useful information that would justify indefinite confinement. Most Americans have forgotten we’ve stashed these guys in Cuba. Believe me, the families and fellow tribesmen of the prisoners haven’t forgotten, and they’re not happy with us.
    Anyway, I thought Dave Ross, the guy on CBS Radio, had a good take on the Newsweek thing and how to make Muslims happy:
    “At least now we know the answer to the question ‘Why do they hate us?’ It was Newsweek! One careless sentence in Newsweek. If not for that, radical Muslims might be lined up around the block for Democracy classes!
    “But Newsweek had to spoil it all.
    “I know the White House wants more than a retraction, but frankly I’m not sure WHAT Newsweek can do now. If our image has suffered as much damage as the White House says, perhaps the President himself should stand up and declare flat out that no American military interrogator has EVER abused the Koran.
    “Considering how well things had been going — up to now anyway — the President should have WAY more credibility with Muslims than Newsweek magazine.”
    (That’s at http://wcbs880.com/daveross/)

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