Beating up on Newsweek

Newsweek punching bag

Or, the art of misdirection

Newsweek is the press punching bag du jour. And there is no question they deserve a good drubbing. They published an item — which they later had to retract as unsubstantiated — about an incident at Guantanamo in which a copy of the Koran was reportedly flushed down a toilet. This news triggered deadly riots in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Afghan riots

There's little doubt in my mind that Newsweek screwed up: they only had one source for the story, they should have known it would be incendiary in the Muslim world, and should certainly have pulled the story if it could not be verified.

grasping the Koran

So, it's natural that everyone wants to line up and take shots. But I really have to object to the White House and Pentagon taking part in the stoning. They object that Newsweek put out false information and it "got people killed." This line of criticism is disgraceful.

• When it comes to false information, the White House tale of vast caches of weapons of mass destruction and looming mushroom clouds threatening the US from Iraq — used to justify a pre-emptive war — certainly trumps a two-sentence item.

• When it comes to getting people killed, the body count of US service people killed in Iraq is currently over 1600 and counting. That's a hundred times more than the number of people killed in the riots set off by the Newsweek article. And if we start counting the wounded and civilians....

• And if we want to talk about doing things that are incendiary in the Muslim world, we need think only of Abu Ghraib. Stacking naked Iraqis in a pyramid and Lyndie England pointing at prisoners' genitals didn't exactly give Muslims warm and fuzzy feelings.

Stuart Carlson cartoon
Stuart Carlson. Repeat after me: Pot calling kettle black!

Deflecting attention. All of this criticism of Newsweek by the administration should be seen for what it is: turning attention away from the god-awful mess the Bushies have made of Iraq. They would like us to not notice that no one has been held accountable for the abuse and torture in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere — except of course for the few low-rank people in the pictures and Janice Karpinsky, the token officer scapegoat. They would not like us to remember that Usama bin Laden is still on the loose. You get the idea.

As usual, the editorial cartoonists have had a field day. For a selection, see the sidebar.