Newsweek has taken a lot of heat the past few days, since first backing away from, and now retracting, a 10 sentence story published last week, in which an anonymous source claimed to have seen a specific report confirming that interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had desecrated the Koran.
Reporters err. And those errors can have bad consequences. That should be familiar to anyone who followed Judith Miler's reporting that relied on "Curveball": one of the nation's most highly regarded newspapers got played, and her stories about WMD led many people to not question the administration in its buildup to the Iraq War. The Times' own mea culpa was damning, if gentle; the NYRB's ran an excellent piece by Michael Massing, Now they Tell Us (subscription).
And Dan Rather's desire to be first cost him with the National Guard story.
According to Newsweek, their errors were not due to a lack of caution: the story of the desecration of the Koran (which had been reported by others, unsourced), was run by a couple of Pentagon folks, who did not object. And the administration did not object, either, until more than a week later.
A year after the first public revelations of abuses at Abu Graib, the news in Afghanistan and Iraq has not been good for the administration. If the press is discredited, the administration can ignore the results of its [ illegal war / horrible miscalculation / lack of planning ] and push forward in remaking America's tax and social welfare system.
And the press seems complicit in their willingness to not be take too seriously: consider the ABC Note discussion, last week (with hat tip to David Sirota) of how Americans and the American press wish to ignore Iraq:
"Brides gotta run, planes gotta stray, and cable news networks gotta find a way to fill a lot of programming hours as cheaply as possible...We say with all the genuine apolitical and non-partisan human concern that we can muster that the death and carnage in Iraq is truly staggering. And/but we are sort of resigned to the Notion that it simply isn't going to break through to American news organizations, or, for the most part, Americans...What is hands down the biggest story every day in the world will get almost no coverage."
So Newsweek attempts to publish a vetted story, and professionally, quickly retracts the story when it is called into question. The White House wants more (?).
Does the White House care about good journalism? Innocents in Middle Eastern and Asian Countries? Or a cowed press that it can intimidate? Influenced by Ken Auletta's reporting about "Fortress Bush" in the New Yorker a year ago, my money is on "C."
And on the claims that riots in Afghanistan were caused by Newsweeks' reporting, consider the posts by Kevin Drum and Kevin Drum; short answer: student protests over the reports were hijacked by organized groups seeking to make trouble.