May 16, 2005

Newsweek and the Qur'an

I admit that I was outraged when I first heard the story about intentional desecrations of the Qur'an at Guantanamo Bay. I'm not 100% sure why I didn't blog about it, though. Maybe I had a gut instinct that we weren't getting the whole story, maybe I was nervous because I hadn't heard much about the story from other outlets (and it gets a small mention in the Newsweek article. If you blink, you might miss it). But I held off, and I'm glad I did.

No surprise that there were riots in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Palestine because of the story. If I had heard of Muslim soldiers desecrating Bibles, I'd have been just as outraged. 15 people were killed in these riots, though, which is tragic. I think that the story at Christianity Today is telling:

When The Washington Times in 2002 reported that Muslims holed up in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity had used the Bible as toilet paper, Christian leaders there complained under their breath. Christian and Muslim leaders here in America were silent.

When, on the first season of Survivor, Rudy Boesch said, "The only reason I'd bring a Bible out here is if … I needed toilet paper," it was played for laughs. There were no deadly riots—at least none that Weblog remembered.

When an NBC sitcom plot included a joke about flushing a consecrated Communion wafer down the toilet after a Catholic funeral Mass, Weblog remembers reading one press release from an organization that complains about a lot of things. No riots. No protests. No mainstream media coverage (at least none Weblog remembers seeing). And for what it's worth, Roman Catholics believe that the host is the actual body of God incarnate.

But if, let's say, a Christian leader had called for a boycott over such matters, the cry would go out that we are living in a theocracy.

I recommend the rest of that article, incidentally -- very good reading.

Of course, now Newsweek is saying that the story may have been wrong.
In an apology to readers, Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker (search) said that its lone source for a story accusing U.S. interrogators of flushing the Koran (search) down the toilet to rattle a detainee later said he could not recall where information about the alleged incident came from.

"We believed our story was newsworthy because a U.S. official said government investigators turned up this evidence," Whitaker wrote. "But we regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst."

Had this been a blogger, there would have been cries of regulation, accountability, etc. Had it been Drudge, or Limbaugh, or O'Reilly, there would have been a lynch mob ready to exact justice. But it was Newsweek. So I'm betting that in a week or so (maybe less) we won't hear anything more about this, or what kind of punishment was inflicted, or who got fired or demoted. Unless the story is kept alive.

People died because a major news source based a story entirely on the statement of an undisclosed source. Something needs to be done, internally. Newsweek needs to institute a plicy similar to the one the Wall Street Journal has -- there should be a limited number of undisclosed sources used in a story, and the story should be verified by sources who are willing to go on the record. If this happens, maybe in the future people won't die because a magazine didn't bother to check their sources.

Posted by: Warren Kelly at 04:57 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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