The news loves news about itself. And conservatives love to help the press chase its tail. That’s why supposed inaccuracies about CBS’s report on Bush’s Air National Guard tenure became a bigger story than the actual fact of our tough-guy “war president” having very clearly dodged service in Vietnam. (Not unlike the rest of his ideological brethren, incidentally.) And it’s why the Newsweek Periscope scandal has dominated front pages despite the fact that the supposedly unsubstantiated claim about interrogators at Guantánamo Bay throwing a Koran in the toilet has been reported elsewhere for a year, and is entirely consistent with the rest of Newsweek’s and other reporting about the U.S. treatment of Muslim prisoners there and elsewhere. (What was that place called again? Oh yeah, right, Abu Ghraib or something.) But that won’t keep the conservatives from trying to make their political gravy! White House spokesperson Scott McClellan was “shocked! shocked!” to hear such awful things about practices at Gitmo, and said that because of Newsweek, “The image of the United States abroad has been damaged.”

—Reuters, May 16

McClellan also had this to say about “journalistic standards”: “In this case, it was not met. The report was not accurate, and it was based on a single anonymous source who cannot personally substantiate the report.”

—White House press gaggle, May 16


State Department spokesman Richard Boucher chimed in, adding: “It’s appalling, really, that an article that was unfounded to begin with has caused so much harm, including loss of life.”

—State Department briefing, May 16

The conservative crazies over at Accuracy in Media went a step further, declaring that “Blood is on the hands of Newsweek magazine.” (But not, apparently, on the hands of the administration that invaded Iraq and the president who, in a Freudian slip, called the campaign a “crusade.”) Solemnly intoning the multiculturalist principles we’ve come to expect from our Republican administration, Boucher’s boss, Condoleezza Rice, went up to Congress to solemnly swear: “Disrespect for the Holy Koran is not now, nor has it ever been, nor will it ever be, tolerated by the United States. We honor the sacred books of all the world’s great religions. Disrespect for the Holy Koran is abhorrent to us all.”

—Sentate testimony, May 16

Yet, as Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker pointed out on The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer, the basic facts of the story were not in dispute: “We went to the extraordinary lengths of actually showing the entire story to a separate high-level Pentagon official. They disputed other aspects of the story but did not dispute that. After we published the story, we were not challenged on any aspect of it for 11 days . . .”

NewsHour With Jim Lehrer, May 16

And no one in the White House bothered to dispute the same allegation when it appeared in the ongoing lawsuit by the four British citizens released from Guantánamo last year (from Paragraph 78): “On one occasion, a guard in Plaintiff Ahmed’s cellblock noticed a copy of the Koran on the floor and kicked it. On another occasion, a guard threw a copy of the Koran in a toilet bucket . . . This was part of a continuing pattern of disrespect and contempt for Plaintiffs’ religious beliefs and practices.”


Yet, in the pursuit of truth, our Socratic guide Donald Rumsfeld weighed in: “I think it was Mark Twain who said that something that’s not true can speed around the world three or four times in a matter of seconds . . . while truth is still trying to put their boots on.” Meanwhile, of course, the smoking-gun memo, recently leaked to the British press, showing that Bush decided on war with Iraq before finding evidence of WMDs has gotten a fraction of the press play of Newsweek’s imbroglio. Fittingly, Rumsfeld added: “And people have said, my goodness, why does it take so long for someone to come back and . . . have the actual facts?”

Los Angeles Times, May 17

Ha! Why indeed.

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