Unspun Logo

Shifting the Blame

Posted by Rick · May 18th, 2005 · 2 Comments

Perhaps I’m too cynical. Perhaps. But I’m not buying the idea that the Newsweek story about the Quran and the Toilet was false. It seems much more likely to me that Newsweek got it right and the Bush Administration is scrambling to achieve two goals: 1) Find some way to reduce Muslim anger and 2) “prove” that the mainstream media can’t be trusted if it reports something negative about a United States government that has lost its moorings and gone out of control.

And they’re getting lots of help from their conservative buddies:

EVAN THOMAS ROLLS OUT another defense, one often seen after a publication has been caught out in a disastrous story that it first tried to present as an exclusive, and that is the we-didn’t-publish-this-false-story-first defense. Journalistic scoops that turn out badly suddenly aren’t scoops anymore but just previously reported information. Here’s Thomas: “Newsweek was not the first to report allegations of desecrating the Qur’an. As early as last spring and summer, similar reports from released detainees started surfacing in British and Russian news reports, and in the Arab news agency Al-Jazeera; claims by other released detainees have been covered in other media since then.” — George Neumayr, Newsweek Blows Smoke (May 17, 2005) The American Spectator.

Imagine that. The stories of Quran Flushing were reported earlier by eyewitnesses and published in the foreign press.

So now we know it couldn’t possibly be true. The story Newsweek published isn’t new. It has been reported several times since the first eyewitnesses were made available to the world again — no wonder the Bush Administration doesn’t like letting anyone out of Guantanamo — but when the world finally reacts, our government says, “Not true! Newsweek is irresponsible!”

The American Spectator piece is particularly interesting in its attack upon Newsweek. In the paragraph immediately following the one I quoted above, Neumayr states,

In other words, the Muslims should have rioted earlier? Or maybe Newsweek is saying that last week’s rioting was opportunistic, the work of fanatical Muslims eagerly looking for Western offenses as a pretext for violence? The latter explanation would bring Newsweek dangerously close to a position its multicultural sensitivities forbid: a refusal to excuse Islamic violence as a legitimate reaction to Western criticism or practice. — George Neumayr, Newsweek Blows Smoke (May 17, 2005) The American Spectator.

Huh? Say what? How do you get from Newsweek saying that the story had been reported before to Newsweek saying that “Muslims should have rioted earlier”? Even more bizarre is Neumayr’s supposition that “maybe Newsweek is saying…” and then going on to note that this shows Newsweek is taking a hypocritical and untenable position because they’ve (rightly) taken Jerry Falwell and his ilk to task for their comments about Muslims.

Lest anyone be confused, Neumayr didn’t report some fact, that Newsweek did say what he decided would bring them dangerously close to his own view. He said, if we imagine that Newsweek said X, then that brings them dangerously close to Y. I mean, if we imagine that the President of the United States said he was moving to Saudi Arabia, then that brings him dangerously close to saying that he likes green cheese.

This is wrong in two ways. First of all, while we do wish the President would carry his love-fest one step further and actually make the move, there’s no connection between Saudi Arabia and green cheese. And second, the President didn’t say he was moving to Saudi Arabia. Similarly, even if Newsweek said that “the rioting was opportunistic[,]” there is no connection between that and taking the same position that Jerry Falwell takes.

Jerry Falwell has publicly stated that the founder of Islam was a terrorist. He has endorsed Pat Robertson’s view that Islam is not a religion of peace. Even if we accept Neumayr’s imagined interpretation of Newsweek’s position, it does not speak to the character or even the core of Islam. But, remember, as Neumayr put it, “maybe Newsweek is saying….”

Scramble, scramble, scramble. We must do everything we can to ensure the public goes into an uproar whenever someone reports what the United States is doing. We must convince the public that it is the one who reports these things that is responsible for inflaming the Muslim world.

It couldn’t possibly be the people who are doing the things that are reported.

Alberto Gonzales, the same Attorney General who advocated ignoring the Geneva Convention, also warned the Bush Administration that U.S. officials could be prosecuted for war crimes because of the new, unorthodox techniques [i.e., torture] being used against Afghanis and Iraqis. And, in fact, for awhile charges for war crimes were pending against U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Germany. Rumsfeld took the charges seriously enough that he almost didn’t attend an important security conference being held in Munich, Germany. The German prosecutor, however, said that since Americans were pretending to do something doing something about Abu Ghraib, Germany would not prosecute and everyone was happy. Well, everyone except for a few Iraqi prisoners.

The saddest part, though, is this: The Bush Administration tricked Americans into going to war by manufacturing lies about Weapons of Mass Destruction. The now-Attorney General of the United States said that the Geneva Convention on Human Rights was antiquated and did not apply anymore and so we shoved lightbulbs up Iraqi asses and forced Iraqi prisoners to simulate sex acts. Iraqi prisoners have been murdered. And after news reporters told the world about that, some people said that the soldiers should have killed the reporters. Given these known truths I do not find it surprising in the least that we would flush a copy of the Quran down the toilet as a torture technique. But Newsweek, under heavy pressure for “causing” an uproar in the Muslim world, has retracted their story. They’ve said it was a mistake.

I believe there was a mistake.

It just wasn’t Newsweek that made it.

Special thanks to Bob Marcotte for pointing me to the American Spectator story.

Categories: News Reporting


2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Bob // May 18, 2005 at 9:26 am

    An interesting spin on this over at

    Or would somebody rather play politics with this? The way Craig Crawford reconstructed it, this one went similarly to the way the Killian Memos story evolved at the White House. The news organization turns to the administration for a denial. The administration says nothing. The news organization runs the story. The administration jumps on the necks of the news organization with both feet — or has its proxies do it for them.

    That’s beyond shameful. It’s treasonous.

    It’s also not very smart. While places like the Fox News Channel (which, only today, I finally recognized — it’s the newscast perpetually running on the giant video screens in the movie “1984”) ask how many heads should roll at Newsweek, it forgets in its fervor that both the story and the phony controversy around it are not so cut-and-dried this time.

    Firstly, the principal reporter on the Gitmo story was Michael Isikoff — “Spikey” in a different lifetime; Linda Tripp’s favorite journalist, and one of the ten people most responsible (intentionally or otherwise) for the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Spikey isn’t just a hero to the Right — the Right owes him.

  • 2 Rick Horowitz // May 27, 2005 at 11:30 am

    Well, I figured people would take me for a fruitcake on this post, because I said that the apology was forced out of Newsweek and that these events most likely did happen. I said the government was lying and trying to pin the blame on the messenger, instead of the people who deserve the blame — that is, the perpetrators.

    Pentagon officials said yesterday that investigators have identified five incidents of military guards and an interrogator “mishandling” the Koran at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but characterized the episodes as minor and said most occurred before specific rules on the treatment of Muslim holy items were issued. — Josh White and Dan Eggen, Pentagon Confirms Koran Incidents (May 27, 2005) The Washington Post.

    Imagine how up-in-arms right-wing conservative christians would be if, instead of blaming murderers and rapists for their crimes, we blamed the papers and the courts for telling us about those crimes. But put murderers and rapists in uniforms, send them to foreign countries, and suddenly it’s all good.

    But, hey, what do I know?

    So…I wonder how many heads will roll at the Washington Post….

Leave a Comment