The latest journalistic scandal, this one at Newsweek, says much more about the hypocrisy and double standards of the White House, the right-wing punditry and the establishment media than it does about a faded weekly holding of the Washington Post Company and a reporter who made his name stalking Bill Clinton girlfriends.
First of all, consider the similarities between Isikoff’s story and the story just as CBS’s “60 Minutes” ran last fall about Bush’s questionable National Guard service. In both cases, a piece of evidence was called into question-in the Newsweek case a claim by an unnamed source, in the CBS case a document. But in both cases, the central allegations were still probably correct. In the case of Bush’s Guard non-service, a secretary to the man who is alleged to have written the disputed memo says she remembers typing essentially that same thing, even if the memo itself was retyped by someone later, and that she also remembers her boss making the claims in it about Bush’s having gone AWOL. In the current story, the source is only saying that he is not certain the statement about a Koran being flushed in a toilet appears in a Pentagon report on Guantanamo, not that the incident, or others like it, didn’t happen.
In fact, lost in the current media uproar (just as Bush’s non-service in the Guard was lost in the uproar about CBS’s story), is the fact that there are multiple sources, including released Guantanamo inmates, who confirm that the Koran has been treated with deliberate disrespect by Guantanamo guards.
The Bush administration and right-wing pundits are making a big deal out of Newsweek and reporter Michael Isikoff’s use of an unnamed source in this story-a grand irony given how the White House itself makes use of unnamed sources on a routine basis to get its stories out. The problem with Isikoff’s story is not so much that he relied on an unnamed source as that his source backtracked on his initial claim.
The really outrageous thing though, is how the White House and Pentagon are acting as if the Newsweek story has been the cause of the anti-American rioting in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other Muslim countries. This is just silly. The article may have been a trigger, or a rallying cry, but the cause of that rioting is the long-simmering and mounting rage across the Middle East and South Asia at a callous disregard for the people of those countries by U.S. forces, as witness the massive destruction and indiscriminate killing of locals along with enemy fighters during the latest U.S. assault in eastern Iraq and the repeated “accidental” bombings of civilians in Afghanistan by U.S. forces. The cause of the rioting is also the documented record of religious abuse of Muslim prisoners, which has included the smearing of fake menstrual blood on inmate victims, the wrapping of inmates in Israeli flags, etc., and the attacks on and destruction of mosques, etc.
Indeed, I suspect one reason the U.S. government has been so slow to release the hundreds of captives held at Guantanamo who were clearly picked up in error or because of false charges leveled by people trying to get back at them for one grievance or another, is that the government knows those hundreds of people will return to their homes with tales of abuse-religious and otherwise-that will set off a global explosion of anti-U.S. political action and violent retaliation.
If the White House wanted to improve its standing in the Muslim world, it would have President Bush take a public hard line in denouncing such outrageous behavior by American troops and prison guards. No such denouncement has been made by our Christian president, who apparently has not been told during his conversations with God that this might be a good idea. No effort has been made to go up the chain of command to punish those responsible for that behavior, either.
Finally, note how different has been the treatment accorded to Isikoff and to CBS reporter Dan Rather, both of whom had similar problems with their sources. Isikoff, a darling of the right because of his role in exposing the Clinton-Lewinsky liaison, is being portrayed more as a victim than a villain, even by the White House (which of course owes its initial election “win” in no small part to Isikoff’s investigative journalism work, anonymous sources and all), while Rather, long a target of right-wing rage, was hounded out of his job.
While we’re on hypocrisy, check out Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, which today, as its headline over a story blasting Newsweek, used the headline “Holy Shiite!” One has to presume that this equation of the Shi’ia religion with turds will do America no more good in the Muslim world than did Newsweek’s report on the Guantanamo trashing of the Koran.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org