Monday, May 16, 2005

Actions have Consequences

Can Isikoff, Barry and now Whitaker survive the total screw-up with the May 9 Newsweek Perisope story that they now admit may not actually be true? Let's be clear -- the original story was a twisted mess of reporting to conceal lies. I don't normally use that word, preferring fabrications, but I use fabrications when there's need to give benefit of the doubt to incompetence either in writing skills and/or logic. Neither exist here.

Leave the second paragraph aside, that is just Isikof and Barry snickering at the problems for people caused by all sorts of investigations currently underway, though they use this to both bolster and distract from their probing claim in the first. Here's the first paragraph:
"Investigators probing interrogation abuses at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay have confirmed some infractions alleged in internal FBI e-mails that surfaced late last year. Among the previously unreported cases, sources tell NEWSWEEK: interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur'an down a toilet and led a detainee around with a collar and dog leash. An Army spokesman confirms that 10 Gitmo interrogators have already been disciplined for mistreating prisoners, including one woman who took off her top, rubbed her finger through a detainee's hair and sat on the detainee's lap. (New details of sexual abuse—including an instance in which a female interrogator allegedly wiped her red-stained hand on a detainee's face, telling him it was her menstrual blood—are also in a new book to be published this week by a former Gitmo translator.)"
According to the first sentence, investigators have confirmed some infractions (interrogation abuses) that were in FBI e-mails that surfaced late last year. In the third sentence, Isikoff and Barry write the "Army spokesman have confirmed 10 Gitmo interrogators have already been disciplined ...." Isikoff and Barry then go on to include the juicy mistreatment as an example and characterize a different but similar one as a "new details", though it is not clear that these "new details" have been confirmed much less confirmed by investigators, much less that anyone has been disciplined for this "new details" infraction.

The most interesting part, and the focus of this story's wide discussion, is the sentence inserted between these two. Here Isikoff and Barry use factual information to sandwich a claim clearly, questionably, not by the investigators from the first sentence and clearly not substantiated by the Army spokesman. In this second sentence, they begin by establishing two cases "cases" meaning they are confirmed as a true infraction, not a claims being investigated. I'm hesitant to segregate the two they note here but ought to -- one is a joke of an infraction, already heard of from Abu Ghraib and not even worth reporting alone in an story now, much less in connection with other Gitmo infractions while the other one would be a big story, as evidenced by the trouble it has caused, and one any glory seeking reporter would be drooling to report first and be correct about. Further, having the joke and scoop together in the sentence allows one to proclaim that their assertion is true, and skate on any trouble it causes if not, if it weren't for the fact it started causing deaths and injuries.

But I wasn't until the Whitaker apology that we realize the extent of the lie. It wasn't the investigators that confirmed these *cases* and it wasn't the army spokesman. Actually it appears there was no confirmation at all. It was a claim by one by one "knowledge U.S. government source" and no confirmation by two defense department officials. To be clear, one defense department official declined comment altogether while the other didn't confirm anything but took issue with something different in the report. It is particularly not clear in Whitaker's apologetic editorial what exactly these two defense department spokesmen were "approached" with -- the typed report, detailed oral questions with respect to the various items in the report, both and/or general questions about claims and cases intermixed. By the mess of a way the story was written, I have my questions as to what exactly did take place in their meetings with the defense department officials. And without some taped interviews of them, I question if these were confirmations at all. A confirmation, in my mind is "Yes, this item is true." Or "This item is false." If asked, what items are false, I would only point to the items I knew were false. If I were an enterprising reporter not wishing to have an item challenged, I might pick and choose who I ask, and in what order.

Without a transcript of the discussions with the defense department officials, we will never know what actually happened for this Koran claim to skate through unchallenged, but please note that now that, according to Whitaker's apology, the initial "knowledgeable US government source" has retracted the certainty of the claim that it is a case confirmed by investigators but might be something else, the defense department officials *confirmations* aren't worth squat to Newsweek. In other words they weren't confirmations.

Contrary to Mr. Whitaker's wandering explanations, the May 9 Periscope story in Newsweek had little, if any, new information. Even the "New details of sexual abuse—including an instance in which a female interrogator allegedly wiped her red-stained hand on a detainee's face, telling him it was her menstrual blood ...", isn't new -- that story has been out before. The book has been out, so it's a double nothing new. Nothing newsworthy and a fraudulent use of their vaunted 'Periscope'.

This story has an eerily reminiscent of another fishing expedition with an underlying attitude for someone at Newsweek hankering to say, 'Even if the calm is suspect, the main thrust of the story is true.' If the hook comes up empty.

I'd really like to know who contacted who to get the claim "in the notebook" Isikoff and Barry or the "knowledgeable U.S. government source"? Was it a group effort to go fishing? Even if it was not a group effort, without that source to verify this whole scenario, how can we even trust Newsweek when they say that the claim was even made initially and not just a "cover your ass explanation" by Isikoff and Barry. Newsweek says the source has changed his tune, but they can say anything now without contradiction by the source unless the source is exposed. Who's to say there was a source? Newsweek?

There really ought to be an investigation and I'm not talking about this potentially damaging event at Gitmo, I'm talking about the real, actual event at Newsweek. The MSM's reason for being is to keep things people honest, it is the claim they are the Fourth Estate for the purpose to provide and check and balance in the wider world, with the understanding that actions have consequences for those acting must be held to account. The list of events and people examined for actions and subsequently held accountable is long -- Catholic Church was, Richard Nixon was, the remotest person connected with the failure to prevent 9/11 was, Bob Packwood was, so many in connection with Abu Ghraib were, even Brian Darling was for a nonsensical mistake, though the last wasn't a formal congressional investigation.

Mark Whitaker notes in his Newsweek Editorial, "Top administration officials have promised to continue looking into the charges, and so will we." That is insufficient for me. I want the answers to how it was that Newsweek yelled 'Fire' when there was no fire. Fifteen people have died, hundreds have been injured, many Americans will be greater danger for a long time to come, and months and months of grindingly hard diplomatic work to improve the US's reputation in the Muslim world has wiped away because of Newsweek's actions.

We owe it to our country, we owe to our diplomats and citizens abroad, we owe it to our men and women in uniform, and we owe it to the people and country of Afghanistan to have an investigation of Newsweek's actions and let the chips fall where they may.

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