May 17, 2005

The Newsweek Koran Flush Lie: Liberal Hypocrisy and Journalistic Presumptions

Marc Comtois

Newsweek finally fully retracted its story, and the libertarian uber-linker Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) offered this own opinion regarding liberal hypocrisy and their manufactured outrage over this now-false abridgement of religious rights (and the more general Guantanamo "torture" charges)

I want to add that I don't think there's anything immoral about flushing a Koran (or a Bible) down the toilet, assuming you've got a toilet that's up to that rather daunting task, and I think it's amusing to hear people who usually worry about excessive concern for religious beliefs suddenly taking a different position. Nor do I think that doing so counts as torture, and I think that it debases the meaning of "torture" to claim otherwise. If this had happened, it might have been -- indeed, would have been -- impolitic or unwise. But not evil.

And anyone who thinks otherwise needs to be willing to apply the same kind of criticism to things like Piss Christ, or to explain why offending the sensibilities of one kind of religious believer is "art" while doing the same in another context is "torture." If, that is, they want to be taken at all seriously.

I'm sure many don't hold Reynolds' view regarding flushing the Bible and probably, to be intellectually honest at some level, extend that respect to other holy books. Nonetheless, Reynolds' calling out of the left on their religious hypocrisy is noteworthy.

He also offered a good succinct summary of the problem with the presumptions held by most of today's journalists

Nobody's arguing that reporters wake up in the morning asking themselves how to lose the war for America. At least I'm not. Er, except maybe for Robert Fisk.

But in many ways, they act almost as if they were doing so, and it's no accident. As the James Fallows anecdote reported here illustrates, leading representatives of the profession regard themselves as loyal to journalism, not to the United States -- and are proud to do so, and it seems clear that they reflect that priority in their work.

When you go out of your way to report the bad news, and bury the good news, when you're credulous toward critics (remember the Boston Globe porn photos?) and treat all positive news as presumptive lies, and when it's clear that the enemy relies on press behavior in planning its campaigns, then you've got a problem. . .

I hate to keep using the analogy of reporting on racial issues, but it's relevant because it's a case where the press realized that it was reporting on minorities in a way that shaped people's views toward the negative and did harm, and decided to change. So we know they can take account of those things when they care. And because they haven't tried to do it here, it seems fair to conclude that they don't care.

. . . I don't get up in the morning trying to figure out how to destroy freedom of the press in America. Instead, I keep trying to persuade the folks at Newsweek, CBS, etc. not to flush free expression down the toilet through their irresponsibility and bias.

It's long been fashionable to say that the survival of free enterprise depended on the responsible behavior of businesses. I think that the survival of free expression depends on the responsible behavior of businesses in the media field. And I think it's awfully hard. . . to defend this behavior as responsible.

There are many things on which conservatives and libertarians disagree, but on the bankruptcy of modern-day liberalism there is significant common ground.

Finally, the ProJo's Mark Patinkin offers his take

People say we rely too much on questionable sources and rush along without enough research.

I don't disagree. But there are two other things that have left me miffed.

First, I'm astonished by our credulity.

How could we believe this stuff?

In the case of the Dan Rather mess, how could they believe that a known Bush-hater suddenly found copies of authentic military documents from the early 1970s smearing the president?

As far as Newsweek's story -- have you ever tried to flush a book down a commode?

I'm not surprised that journalists are occasionally so gullible. We like to say we are skeptics, even cynics, but we're not always that way. When we're on an explosive trail, we seldom tell ourselves, "It doesn't add up." We want to believe it. We want the glory of the big story. So we place too much weight on sources that tell us what we hope to hear.

There's a second factor that gets us into the kind of trouble Newsweek is in today and CBS got into on the Bush document story. It cuts to the heart of what I think is wrong with some reporters.

Too many of us feel we have no obligation to citizenship, only journalism.

I'm not saying we should censor ourselves if we think a story will taint government and country. Fresh air is good for democracy.

But I'm convinced that if journalists cared as much about being citizens as getting the story, we'd be more careful, and thorough, in our reporting.

In June of 1998, CNN broke a disturbing story. They reported that in 1970, U.S. special forces tracked down American deserters who had snuck into Laos and killed them with Sarin nerve gas.

The report caused an international outcry because the use of Sarin would have been a war crime. Not to mention the domestic outrage that our military would gas Americans, whatever their status.

The problem was that the report was false. It should have been no surprise. Americans gassing other Americans? It doesn't sound credible. You have to wonder how professional journalists could have believed it.

I'll tell you how.

CNN wanted the glory of a big expose, so they checked their bull-detectors at the door.

I'm convinced they'd have been more skeptical had they a greater sense of citizenship. They'd have thought about the catastrophic consequences of such a story and been more careful.

Just as Newsweek should have been more careful with its report of a Koran being desecrated by the U.S. military.

It's simple: If we were better citizens, we'd be better journalists.

Lately, too often, we've failed at both.