Stretching the Truth on Newsweek: McClellan Gets it Wrong (Part 1)
What was White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan thinking?
You no doubt are well aware of Newsweek's one bad source story, which said that an American interrogator at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet. Newsweek offered a formal retraction of the May 1 story on May 16, although Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker told the Washington Post that the magazine is "still trying to ascertain" whether the Koran incident took place. Last year, four former British detainees charged in a lawsuit that Guantanamo guards threw prisoners' Korans into a toilet.
Newsweek's major mistake was to allege that the U.S. Southern Command had confirmed that an interrogator defiled the sacred Muslim text. The magazine's anonymous source -- incorrectly identified as "sources" -- later backtracked from the claim.
But while everyone admits that this was a case of sloppy journalism, take a look at what McClellan said May 17:
MCCLELLAN: The facts are very clear. This report was used in the region by people opposed to the United States to incite violence.
But are the facts that clear?
Here's what Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on May 12:
MYERS: It's the -- it's a judgment of our commander in Afghanistan, General Eikenberry, that in fact the violence that we saw in Jalalabad was not necessarily the result of the allegations about disrespect for the Koran -- and I'll get to that in just a minute -- but more tied up in the political process and the reconciliation process that President Karzai and his Cabinet is conducting in Afghanistan. So that's -- that was his judgment today in an after- action of that violence. He didn't -- he thought it was not at all tied to the article in the magazine.
MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, in his on-line blog, called for McClellan's resignation.
"Newsweek’s version of this story has varied from the others over the last two years -- ones in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Post, and British and Russian news organizations --only in that it quoted a government source who now says he didn’t have firsthand knowledge of whether or not the investigation took place (oops, sorry, shoulda mentioned that, buh-bye)," he wrote.
Olbermann, referencing Congressional Quarterly columnist Craig Crawford, suggested: "The news organization (Newsweek) turns to the administration for a denial. The administration says nothing. The news organization runs the story. The administration jumps on the necks of the news organization with both feet -- or has its proxies do it for them. ... Ultimately, though, the administration may have effected its biggest mistake over this saga, in making the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs look like a liar or naïf, just to draw a little blood out of Newsweek’s hide."
And, just to prove this isn't a "liberal vs. conservative" issue, consider what conservative columnist David Brooks wrote in the May 19 edition of the New York Times.
"I click my mouse over to the transcripts of administration statements and I can't believe what I'm seeing," Brooks wrote. "We're in the middle of an ideological war against people who want to destroy us, and what have the most powerful people on earth become? Whining media bashers. They're attacking Newsweek while bending over backward to show sensitivity to the Afghans who just went on a murderous rampage."
I couldn't have said it better myself.