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May 15, 2005


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Newsweek magazine on Sunday said it may have erred in a May 9 report that said U.S. interrogators desecrated the Koran at Guantanamo Bay, and apologized to victims of deadly violence sparked by the article.

Two points: (1) If they had wrongly reported the race of a criminal and produced a lynching, they'd feel much worse -- which is why they generally don't report such things, a degree of sensitivity they don't extend to reporting on, you know, minor topics like wars; and (2) If a blogger had made a similar mistake, with similar consequences, we'd be hearing about Big Media's superior fact-checking and layers of editors.

People died, and U.S. military and diplomatic efforts were damaged, because -- let's be clear here -- Newsweek was too anxious to get out a story that would make the Bush Administration and the military look bad.

UPDATE: Reader John Lynch says I'm wrong:

Newsweek isn't the problem. The problem is that people will kill over a book being desecrated. Actually, over a anonymous report buried within a third rate weekly magazine. There is something wrong when people value a book, of which there are millions, over human lives. This is the real problem, and Newsweek isn't the source of it. The problem is an ignorant and violent subculture within the islamic world, and the general lack of tolerance about religion therein.

Well, there's plenty of blame to go around. But in this light, where are the "transgressive artists" -- Andres Serrano, this means you! -- who are willing to take on this mindset in the name of free speech, desensitizing the religious fanatics through repeated acts of outrageousness? Sure, some of them will probably be car-bombed, but bravely transgressive artists surely wouldn't let that discourage them from bravely demonstrating their commitment to trashing icons. Right?

ANOTHER UPDATE: N.Z. Bear despins the defensive spin.

Meanwhile, even before Newsweek's admission, Hubrisblog was noting the implausibility of the claim. Certainly my copy of the Koran is way too big to fit down a toilet, and it's in fairly small print. I should note that StrategyPage -- and, by extension, InstaPundit, since I linked StrategyPage's post on Thursday -- was also ahead of the curve on this one, for reasons having nothing to do with toilet technology.

Reader Daniel McAndrew emails: "If the book were the Holy Bible of Christian faith (that was desecrated) then wouldn't there also be riots resulting??"

I don't recall any riots resulting from Serrano's Piss Christ, or the large number of tiresomely blasphemous imitators he spawned.

MORE: Michael Demmons agrees with John Lynch: "Yeah, Newsweek screwed up badly, but the death and destruction is a result of crazy, psychopathic people incapable of forming a rational response that doesn’t include, well, killing and destruction."

At a larger, moral level this may be true. But given that this was entirely predictable given that (1) Al Qaeda propaganda turns on stuff like this; and (2) Historically, such rumors have been used to stir up trouble in the region (remember the Sepoy Revolt, based on false rumors that the British greased their cartridges with pig fat?). If the folks at Newsweek are too ignorant to realize this, or too sloppy to care, then they shouldn't be in the news business.