Before you tear any more hair out about the Newsweek brouhaha, read this (seemingly centrist) UPI article by Pentagon correspondent Pamela Hess and read this editorial from the New York Sun, a paper that's right-wing, but not in the au courant way. While both heap blame on Newsweek and assume the Koran story was false, both lash out at the Bush administration for various failings.
Newsweek's error is not the only factor here. The Pentagon and White House regard "mainstream media" (read: "liberal media") as hostile to their interests. It may be, and an anecdotal case can be made to that end. But rather than trying to blunt that perceived hostility, they fan its flames. For instance, the Pentagon has begun leading the Early Bird -- its daily roundup of defense-related news stories -- with newspaper corrections, some as inane as a name misspelling. It led the Early Bird with a story about a longtime and tough Pentagon reporter who was fired not for inaccuracy but for violating his newspaper's sourcing rules. There seems to be a battle line drawn between "them" and "us."
The White House and the Pentagon must develop a better relationship with reporters -- even those they deem hostile -- so they can knock these stories down before they get printed. Had there been more mutual respect between the two sides, Newsweek might have offered the Pentagon more time to dig up evidence to prove the original source wrong. Had the Pentagon more inclination to do so, it would have provided it more quickly. Instead, both sides are left cleaning up the mess after the damage has already been done.
The White House and Pentagon were quick to blame Newsweek for the Afghan riots over the weekend, despite Myers' on-the-record statements to the contrary. What Myers might have known is that most Afghans don't read, much less in English. Even fewer get subscriptions to Newsweek.
(Don't you love that detail about the Early Bird? Talk about the fish stinking from the head: In the administration of a president so petty and spiteful he nearly puts Nixon to shame we have the Pentagon turning the lead paragraph of its news briefing into a daily game of "Gotcha!" For heaven's sake, are there any grown-ups Bushites?)
The editorial in the Sun chastises the White House for a different reason:
...the Bush administration has been so quick to condemn this particular press blunder that it's in danger of committing a blunder of its own. "Disrespect for the holy Koran is something the United States will never tolerate," Secretary of State Rice said last week. It seemed only an afterthought when the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, yesterday made a meek plea for religious leaders to refrain from inciting violence, as if this bout of chauvinistic rage were entirely understandable. Why do we assume these riots were inevitable, especially since it follows a pattern? Every spring since the liberation of Kabul, the Taliban has ginned up anti-American crowds in Afghanistan and Pakistan using pretexts real and imagined. This year the pretext was [a] 10 sentence column in Newsweek.
Interesting point at the end there -- and it jibes, of course, with General Myers's statement last Thursday that the violence didn't originate with the Newsweek article.
But there's more going on in that paragraph. The Sun editorialist has chosen to blame the people actually doing the rioting; the banshees of the right-wing media and blogosphere blamed American liberals first. (By "liberals," of course, I mean mainstream journalists.) To the Sun, the rioters are America-hating religious extremists. The righty bloggers and the rest of the right-wing press say the same thing about the rioters -- but they hate Michael Isikoff more. He is the real enemy.
UPI's Hess goes on for several paragraphs about the documented abuses of power that generated resentment of the U.S. overseas; she regards this as a colossal blunder in the war for hearts and minds. Ironically, the Sun editorialist also chooses to enumerate a few abuses, and urges a bit of respect for Isikoff because it's obvious that those deeds took place:
Nor are we convinced that this episode is simply another chapter in the story of how the mainstream press is unprofessional or anti-American. Mr. Isikoff is a terrific reporter. It'll be illuminating to hear more from his source and why he would misremember what he said, 11 days after the story was published and the Pentagon spokesman launched a probe. It wasn't the first time the allegations had been reported. The story seems to fit a larger narrative of how guards and interrogators at America's detention facilities have sought to pry information from detainees by using their religion against them. When the wounds of the horrific attacks were still fresh, many Americans began contemplating creative ways to humiliate our pious enemies.
Yeah, the Sun editorialist downplays the significance of these abuses -- but at least he/she concedes that they took place. The Ranting Right can't admit that, because we lefties have expressed such outrage about the abuses, and no point can be conceded to us, because we are the real enemy.