Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Who Started the Fire?

     CBS must be breathing a collective sigh of relief this week. Yesterday's conservative whipping-boy, CBS has been replaced at the top of the scorn heap by Newsweek, the liberal-minded international weekly news magazine. Last week, Newsweek reported that interrogators at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, desecrated the Qu'ran, the Muslim holy book, to loosen inmates' lips. When this word got out, riots erupted throughout the Muslim world, including in Afghanistan, where many people thought major unrest had ended months ago. The Pentagon spoke out, saying that the allegations were untrue and unfounded, and Newsweek, which had based its article on an anonymous source, backed away and halfheartedly apologized.
     This is all relatively old news (by internet standards, I suppose) and surely blog fodder for the conservative bloggers, licking their lips about the liberal media. They blast Newsweek for causing the rioting and deaths that ensued. Scott McClellan, the White House Press Secretary said,
"I mean, it's -- this report has had serious consequences. It has caused damage to the image of the United States abroad. It has -- people have lost their lives."

     Newsweek has now officially retracted the article. However, it's still not clear that the allegations were false, only that they were unconfirmable. And just like the CBS story on Bush's record in the Air Force National Guard, this was a story that never should have made it to print. Here's what I find interesting though... Conservatives also complained about the reporting of the Abu Ghraib scandal, saying that it emboldened our enemies and was in itself, traitorous. Notice the theme here - reporting these things is the crime. Conservatives almost uniformly dismissed the allegations of torture as little more than fraternity hazing, but making it public was what was criminal. They also said that our image was so bad in the Islamic world that a little negative publicity was worth whatever information we gleaned from these prisoners. Clearly, this week's riots show that our image did have room to fall, and that our actions, real or not, still have a serious impact on world opinion.
     It's also interesting to note how McClellan said that the article caused people to lose lives. A) because it was the alleged action that spurred the riots, and B) because officially the Pentagon does not track civilian deaths in Iraq or Afghanistan. How come suddenly they're the protector of the average citizen of these countries? How come each life became so precious to them? How come despite the tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis who died, a few killed in riots earn their scorn?
     One last thing - this incident is sure to bring up the Conservative complaint, "Why don't they ever publish about the good things we're doing over there?" To paraphrase an overused Chris Rock quote, "We're supposed to be doing those good things, motherf***er."


Ben said...

So many things I want to say here, but I'll start with:

Even if true, so what? A Koran was flushed down a toilet. Big damn deal. People applaud "art" in which a cricifix is submerged in a jar of urine. Muslims should be more "tolerant" of others. Their religious bigotry has killed a lot of people, magnitudes more than the Iraq war.

Maybe Newsweek retracted the story because they realized their one source was a government official with an axe to grind (the State Department is widely considered anti-Bush, for instance) and was completely unsubstantiated, and their editorial staff's desire to print anything anti-Bush caused them to rush a story that was not up to their normal standards, as far as sources go. They know they were in the wrong, and they feel guilt about people dying because of their possibly untrue story. Remember the burden of proof SHOULD be on the press. It's hard for someone (the government in this case) to prove a negative. It's irresponsible journalism to print an unsubstantiated story that can impugn an individual. It's shameful yellow journalism to impugn an entire country in the same way.

Most Americans do not read blogs. They get their news from the networks or magazines. They ahve no way of knowing anything about Iraq except through these major media outlets. If the news is only about stuff we aren't supposed to do, which you seem to support through your Chris Rock quote, then the press is lying through omission. They are leaving out important facts that give a balanced view. The average American watching Dan Rather or his replacement would think that nothing good is happening and that is not true. Unless you are pushing an agenda, perhaps a "pull-out of Iraq now" agenda. Lying to the people about what is going on is a great way to do that. Control the information, control the people, a very totalitarian big brother attitude. Fits in well with a communist dictatorship. One of the first things that Lenin did was get control of the press. Here the left already has it.

Scott, I'm disappointed with you. You used every trick in the book to spin this against Bush. You're so willing to believe Newsweek when they say bad things about the military, why are you so unwilling to believe them when they retract it? Before they were trustworthy, now they are lying to save face?

Mike said...

Why does the left smile with glee when things like this happen? Why the urge to gloat when the story breaks and defend the liars when it's debunked? Why do you rub your hands together and snicker when someone makes America look bad? Which made you happier, Scott? Hearing we flushed the Qu'ran down the toilet or hearing it caused riots? Did it piss you off when you heard the story was false? These are the things I notice.

Alisa said...

I am one of those conservative ranters against the injusticeness of sensationalist news.

Let's face it. Good stuff doesn't make the news, but bad stuff sells the news.

I think that the journalists in today's society are so imbued with a desire to be the "1st" to print a story that they would rather worry about the sensationalism than the facts. Had the author of that article actually seen a copy of the report with the flushing of the Qu'Ran incident in it, then that would have been fine for him to write the story about it in my mind. However, an unsubstantiated hearsay account of seeing it should have triggered further investigation among other sources to corroborate the truth to that story before printing it.

Now, Newsweek has major sales from the initial story and they're getting even more sales from the retraction and other stories about the domino effect the story has caused.

Sensationalism sells.

Shannon said...

As a liberal ranter against sensationalist journalism, I will state that Newsweek, especially the international edition, is nothing more than a tabloid. The thing about sensationalism is that is doesn't adhere to only a liberal or conservative slant- it slants whichever way is more inflamitory.

We believe whatever our bias tells us. If we support the war and the administration, we see the liberal bias and believe the retraction was honest. If we oppose the war and the administration, we believe the original story.

I believe neither, but do see that both parties, Pentagon and Newsweek, are acting in their own best interests. Does Newsweek have a vested interest in promoting sensationalist crap, er, news? Yes. Does the Pentagon have a vested interest in limiting the amount of "anti-american" news, be it true or not? Yes. This is not an issue of the one side being right and one side being wrong. Both sides seem to be not exactly honest.

If the Pentagon was so concerned about their image in the muslim world, Sabrina Harmon would have gotten more than 6 months for her role in the Abu Gharib case, and the army would be held more accountable for sending someone so untrained to do her job. If the "Liberal Press" cared so much to stir up sensationalist news, they'd be blasting the headline "Muslim hating soldier gets 6 months then spits on the Koran" on cnn.com...or at the very least, it'd be mentioned on the website.

Cynical lesson- we believe what we want to and the truth is in no one's best interest.

canis lupus said...

Maybe its just me, but doesn't it strike you odd that many of these "sources" seem to make show and hand things to "liberal" media outposts and then do an about turn, once the fire has been set. Of course, causing a backlash against the news outlet. In my opinion, if I were a so-called "liberal" outlet out there, I'd be a bit more careful about "government" types volunteering information. Think Trojan horse, folks. A nice way to silence "liberal" or unsavory media outlets. Turn the people against them. Of course, this is a theory.

sideshow bob said...

"It has caused damage to the image of the United States abroad."

Can't handle the competition, Scott? (McClellan, not blog author)

Seriously though, Ben and Mike, I think you misunderestimate Scott. He doesn't seem to be gloating or hand-rubbing to me. From my time reading his blog, it seems to me that he is holding the United States to a very high standard, probably a higher standard than he holds other countries to. And isn't that something that we're supposed to do? I don't think it's a bad thing to expect your country to demonstrate more dignity and compassion and wisdom than our enemies. America will not stay the greatest country in the world for long if we aim to be "no worse than the rest" rather than "the bast we can be" (or best we can be, for that matter).

And about Scott's "reporting these things is the crime" statement...I thought it was interesting that the first person charged in the Abu Ghraib scandal was the photographer, not the people in the pictures or their superior officers in charge of them, the message seeming to be, "do what you will, but for god sakes, don't leave evidence!

sideshow bob said...

BTW- Bill O'Reilly stated on air, talking about the "Runaway Bride", saying, "It's gotta be a crime. It's gotta be a crime," more than insinuating that someone (probably her fiancee) had murdered her. And then there was this doozy, where he rebutted an editorial, and apparently decided to quote statements from some other editorial entirely when he couldn't make his point the more traditional way (i.e. with the editorial he was actually rebutting). Why is this guy deemed to have more credibility than Dan Rather?

Ben said...

As you may have noticed, I lean a bit conservative lately. That said, I don't have a bit of respect for Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity. Neal Boortz I love, and I haven't listened to Limbaugh enough to form an opinion. An Michael Savage is a tool. I give them all little credibility, even Boortz, who warns listeners not to believe anything he says without verifying it through another source first.

Ben said...

Bob, the United States should hold itself to a higher standard, but that doesn't mean that other countries should be able to do whatever they want. They should be held to some sort of minimum level of civilized relations. While we may or may not have flushed a Koran, we know that Muslims have used Bible pages as toilet paper, have decapitated our citizens on video, have blown themselves up to kill innocents, the list goes on and on. Our minor violation does not eman we should forgive and forget all the evil being perpetrated in the world in the name of Allah. The higher standard we should hold ourselves to is one that includes wanting everyone to live in the same peace and freedom that we do. If that means using our power to help opressed people overthrow dictators that rape and torture their own, then good for us!!

Scott said...

The ends justify the means, then? Any of our actions are excused as long as we believe we're the good guys? We should be held to no standards as long as we think good thoughts? It's hard to really talk about the "ends" until it actually ends, anyway.

Shannon said...

We should not judge another culture/religion/society based on the actions of a few radicals. Evil is perpetrated in the name of Jesus (abortion clinic bombings?!) just as it is Allah and neither is right.

We see the decapitation videos and hear of the muslim extremist activites because of the same sensationalist news media that we all love to hate. What we don't hear about it is the father and son who were killed today in Iraq trying to police their country,(brief NPR blurb) or how about those nationals working for organizations like CARE international, trying to rebuild their country, or the emerging Iraqi political leaders who are assasinated trying to bring stability to their country. Just because some stupid radical may have desicrated the bible, we shouldn't be allowed to excuse a (theoretical) koran flushing. Perhaps it's the teacher in me, I'd put both parties on time out.

If we frame the problem as Muslim vs Christian or Conservative vs Liberal, we are never going to solve the problems facing us.

Sylvana said...

I'm with Canis Lupus on this. It is all a set up. I'd also like to remind everyone that although the story about Bush's military "career" used documents that were not real, the secretary in charge of those documents did say that although the documents used were not real there were documents like them that would have showed the very same thing, but those records had "disappeared". So the story wasn't exactly false- they just didn't have the original documents.
I also agree with Ben that other countries do need to be held to a minimum standard. Millions of people in this country would be outraged to hear that some other country had humiliated our soldiers, stripped them naked and flushed the Bible down the toilet- so we should be better than that.
I do not believe that we should be the world police or saviors. If the people of the country don't want it bad enough to fight for it, then we will not be able to help them anyway. We/USA are so sure that we know what's best for everyone that we/USA often overstep our boundaries and come across as dictators ourselves.

Ben said...

I think if you are going to accuse a Prewsident of doing whatever, yuou ought to have proof. He has plenty of proof showing that he was in the Air National Guard, no one has yet shown any proof that he wasn't. Just hearsay, which means nothing.

One comment mentioned that we shouldn't judge the entire Muslim religion by a few bad seeds. Fine. They, and all of you, should not judge the entire US military by one flushed Koran, or a few abused prisoners. Unfortunately while we hold ourselves to higher standards, we seem to hold everyone else to no standards at all, and find ways to rationalize and excuse every bad thing everyone does, except if it was done by the US military or a Republican.

Scott said...

It's not our job to hold other countries to standards we set. We can only hold ourselves to our standards. Do you walk around telling your coworkers, "If you're not nicer to your wife, I'm going to hit you."? As objectivist as it sounds, I don't care if someone 6000 miles away flushes pages of the bible or my baby pictures down the toilet. But we must hold ourselves above the mire to be better than that, if you want to understand what we're fighting for.
Nobody blamed the entire military for the qu'ran incident, if it happened. But when the military regularly ignores violations until they become front-page news and when they go after the whistle-blowers, then it's a problem with our military leadership as a whole. If your kids misbehave once, you get a pass. If you look the other way while your kid hits and yells, and even blame the people who tell you about it, you're the problem.

Ben said...

So the military should not in fact ignore fake stories. Even though Newsweek said this whole thing is not true, as far as they can currently ascertain, we should revamp things to make sure that everyone can continue to not flush Korans down a toilet?

The torture problems at Abu Gharib are being taken care of in military courts. Since there is no credible evidence that any flushing went on, there's no reason to take action. On the other hand the media might want to take action. Their credibility is going down the toilet. Lie after lie after lie, as Ted Kennedy once said. Hvaing a reliable media is invaluable to a democracy. It's too bad we don't.

Newsweek screwed up, not Bush, not the military. Stop trying to twist this and make it the fault of people who are completely unrelated to the fake news story. Blame the people who printed a fake news story.

I lvoe how you keep talking about how I have an "ends justify the means" attitude. The concept of "fake but accurate" seems to be your current calling card. The means of printing unsubstantiated stories are justified by the fact that it makes Bush and/or the military look bad. Follow your own advice, Scott, and stop allowing everyone a free pass, as long as they are anti-Bush.

And there are absolutes. I think that Saddam was, without a doubt, evil, and it is morally correct to take him out and allow the people he oppressed a chance at freedom. And I do feel that the United States is a primary source for good in the world, and have no problem using our power to spread freedom. Of course there are lines that cannot be crossed, but I've yet to see where we've crossed those lines, except for a couple of isolated incidents of torture that are far less appalling than what is being done by others on a daily basis in an institutional manner. I choose to believe the best in the United States. You seem to always choose the worst, and find ways of rationalizing why all the evil others commit is ok. At some point, after realizing your coworker is beating his wife, then yes, I think you should do something about it. When people are unable to help themselves, be it an entire society, or an individual, then yes, it is a moral imperative to help those people if you can. Otherwise you are an accesory to those crimes. I think the 8 million Iraqis who got to vote in a free election for the first time would agree with me here.

Mike said...

I think people expect too much from our 20 year old soldiers. Those who claim we should fight a war with no civilian casualties and no prisoner abuse don't understand war. I think if you were out on the battlefield seeing how dirty the enemy fights and how ruthless they are to our soldiers and our POW's, you would have a different perspective.

Shamus O'Drunkahan said...

You see? This is exactly why I only read Readers Digest. And porn.

Sylvana said...

There are MANY people in the world that think that Bush is evil. Would it be morally justifiable for them to take him out with any means necessary- or is it just OUR opinion and morals that are justifiable?