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A question of loyalty: The Newsweek Koran caper

By Nicholas Stix
web posted June 6, 2005

If you think that many members of the mainstream media have been hurting our troops through their propaganda, just imagine if the alleged reporters were in uniform. Instead of figuratively hurting them, they might be literally shooting their comrades and commanding officers in the back!

Newsweek ran a false story in its May 9 issue (which appeared on May 2) by Michael Isikoff and John Barry, "SouthCom Showdown," claiming that an interrogator at our Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detainee camp had flushed a Koran down a toilet, which led to anywhere from 14 to 17 (depending on which reports you read) people being murdered in rioting in Afghanistan, and over 100 being wounded in rioting there and in many other Muslim countries and areas (e.g., the Gaza Strip).

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.)

The riots reportedly started in Pakistan, expanded to Afghanistan, and ultimately spread through much of the Muslim world, after an Islamist former cricket star, Imran Khan, read the passage to a crowd in Pakistan on May 6. According to various reports, from 14 to 17 people were killed in the rioting (in Afghanistan), and over 100 wounded.

Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita questioned the veracity of the Newsweek report, and the magazine backed off, with editor Mark Whitaker issuing a retraction on TV and in print on May 16.

Editor's Note: On May 16, Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker issued the following statement: "Based on what we know now, we are retracting our original story that an internal military investigation had uncovered Qur'an abuse at Guantanamo Bay."

Given that the passage in question cites four separate incidents, any of which could have been used by Muslims as a pretext for murdering people, it is easy, in retrospect, to see how Newsweek's editors could have been shocked (shocked!) that anyone could have singled out the phony flushing-the-Koran-down-the-toilet story. They probably expected the "menstrual blood" story to be the most explosive one.

On May 26, Army Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, the commander at Guantanamo Bay, reported that the prisoner who alleged that the Koran had been flushed provided no credible support for his claim, and has not even claimed to have witnessed the "incident," but rather only to have heard about it. According to military authorities, Korans have been deliberately desecrated, but only by Muslim detainees.

Newsweek's Representative Muslim: Torturing Prisoners is Now O.K.

Newsweek's retraction required the journalistic equivalent of cover fire, and so it was accompanied by a rationalization by assistant managing editor Evan Thomas, "How a Fire Broke Out".

At NEWSWEEK, veteran investigative reporter Michael Isikoff's interest had been sparked by the release late last year of some internal FBI e-mails that painted a stark picture of prisoner abuse at Guantánamo. Isikoff knew that military investigators at Southern Command (which runs the Guantánamo prison) were looking into the allegations. So he called a longtime reliable source, a senior U.S. government official who was knowledgeable about the matter. The source told Isikoff that the report would include new details that were not in the FBI e-mails, including mention of flushing the Qur'an down a toilet. A SouthCom spokesman contacted by Isikoff declined to comment on an ongoing investigation, but NEWSWEEK National Security Correspondent John Barry, realizing the sensitivity of the story, provided a draft of the NEWSWEEK PERISCOPE item to a senior Defense official, asking, "Is this accurate or not?" The official challenged one aspect of the story: the suggestion that Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, sent to Gitmo by the Pentagon in 2001 to oversee prisoner interrogation, might be held accountable for the abuses. Not true, said the official (the PERISCOPE draft was corrected to reflect that). But he was silent about the rest of the item. The official had not meant to mislead, but lacked detailed knowledge of the SouthCom report.

<P>Given all that has been reported about the treatment of detainees—including allegations that a female interrogator pretended to wipe her own menstrual blood on one prisoner—the reports of Qur'an desecration seemed shocking but not incredible. But to Muslims, defacing the Holy Book is especially heinous. "We can understand torturing prisoners, no matter how repulsive," says computer teacher Muhammad Archad, interviewed last week by NEWSWEEK in Peshawar, Pakistan, where one of last week's protests took place. "But insulting the Qur'an is like deliberately torturing all Muslims. This we cannot tolerate."

Right and leftwing writers alike responded with knee-jerk talking points that confused and confounded readers, such as GOP writers' insistence on banning the use of anonymous sources, a "reform" which, if imposed, would effectively end journalism. Only one commentator, to my knowledge, cut through the talking points to the heart of the matter.

Appearing on The O'Reilly Report on Fox News two weeks ago, Bob Zelnick argued that the Newsweek article should never have been published in the first place, no matter how reliably sourced it was.

(Zelnick, a veteran ABC News reporter, is now the head of the journalism school at Boston University – but don't hold it against him! In 1998, Zelnick was working on a book on then-Vice President Al Gore. Afraid that the non-socialist Zelnick would be less than celebratory in his depiction of Gore, the network ordered him to cease and desist. He refused. Since the network was otherwise going to fire Zelnick for committing journalism, he resigned.) The key passage in Evan Thomas' PR piece is,

Given all that has been reported about the treatment of detainees—including allegations that a female interrogator pretended to wipe her own menstrual blood on one prisoner—the reports of Qur'an desecration seemed shocking but not incredible.

That's like a reckless driver arguing with a police officer, "Everyone else was doing it!" That released, al-Qaida-supporting detainees have made wild accusations should not surprise anyone, but the American media have no business giving them a stage and a microphone. During World War II, no one gave air time on American radio stations to Tokyo Rose.

Another part of Newsweek's rationalization, Pakistani teacher Muhammad Archad's claim, "We can understand torturing prisoners, no matter how repulsive. But insulting the Qur'an is like deliberately torturing all Muslims. This we cannot tolerate," must also be challenged.

When the Abu Ghraib stories ran last year, I don't recall any Muslims, in Newsweek or elsewhere, being quoted as saying that they could "understand torturing prisoners." Newsweek is just moving the goalposts to help its team.

The Newsweek story and Evan Thomas' rationalization of it both go back to Mary Mapes and Sy Hersh's hyped Abu Ghraib stories, which were conscious hit jobs designed to discredit the American military, handcuff the American war effort, and win the election for John Kerry.

Well, two out of three ain't bad.

Abu Ghraib was presented as a story of torture, only the story didn't show any torture. And so, leftist journalists played word games, and redefined humiliation as "torture."

Considering that tenured university leftists daily redefine perfectly innocent behavior by whites stateside as "racism," redefining demeaning treatment of terrorist detainees as "torture" in the same prison where Saddam Hussein used to chop people's limbs off, was a cakewalk.

In 1993, the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote of the "defining down of deviance," meaning that behavior that previously was publicly condemned or even illegal, now is presented as acceptable.

At the same time a parallel development, the "defining up of deviance," occurred.

Logically speaking, deviance cannot be simultaneously defined up and down. But this wasn't logic, it was politics. The defining was done by the media, academia, and the law, for different groups. For politically privileged groups deviance was defined down, so that virtually any wickedness could be publicly rationalized, and even praised. For groups that were politically disadvantaged, however deviance was defined up, so that perfectly legal and even virtuous behavior would not only be condemned, but often criminalized.

In every war, atrocities are committed by both sides. Historically, however, U.S. forces have committed a tiny fraction of the amount routinely carried out by other forces, in the current context, by our Muslim enemies. And America still has by far the world's most professional, disciplined military. In any event, prior to the Vietnam War, it was unthinkable for American journalists to write about atrocities carried out by American forces, so long as hostilities were still under way. Not that Ernie Pyle & Co. didn't see any. It was understood that we were at war, and that one does not do propaganda for the enemy. Were a journalist of a mind to give aid and comfort to the enemy, and hurt our troops' morale, his editor would have fired him, and he never would have worked again. The operative principle was, in Michigan Republican Sen. Arthur Vandenberg's (1884-1951) words, "Politics stops at the water's edge."

Back to the ‘60s

During the Vietnam War, however, a treasonous spirit took root among much of the American press, a spirit which manifested itself earliest, to my knowledge, in Walter Cronkite.

At the end of January, 1968, the North Vietnamese communists launched their most aggressive attack of the entire war, the Tet Offensive. Although the communists caught our boys and the South Vietnamese forces unprepared, the Americans and South Vietnamese fought back valiantly, and eventually prevailed. But on February 27, 1968, Walter Cronkite reported instead that the Tet Offensive, and with it the entire war, was a "stalemate." Cronkite's false report proved to be the turning point in the war.

I was nine years old at the time, but I watched the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite every night with my family. Cronkite, the most popular news anchor ever, was watched by more viewers every night than NBC and ABC combined, and was known as "the most trusted man in America." Like millions of Americans of all ages, I had no idea that Cronkite was an anti-American, leftwing hack (and not the brightest bulb, either). Thus, for thirty years, I took for granted that we had lost Tet.

But Cronkite was hardly alone. Peter Arnett is an anti-American reporter who covered Iraq I & II, until his openly pro-Iraqi position got him sacked in March, 2003 by NBC News. According to B.G. Burkett and Mona Charen, however, during the Vietnam War, Arnett fabricated the notorious phrase, "We had to destroy the village in order to save it," and put it in the mouth of an American soldier.

At the time, leftwing journalists also invented the notion that the U.S. military was obsessed with body counts.

And if you ever see Michael Cimino's 1978 movie masterpiece, The Deer Hunter, during the haunting section depicting the fall of Saigon, you'll see a snippet of a report from the end of April or beginning of May, 1975 by Hillary Brown for ABC News. But what the clip in the movie leaves out, is Brown's statement on behalf of the communists, as recounted by her old colleague, Dirck Halstead (who was either unaware of, or undisturbed by the implications of her words), in White Christmas: The Fall of Saigon.

"After 30 years of fighting occupying armies," she closes the standup by saying, "the long war for the Vietnamese people is finally coming to an end."

Like other Marxists, Hillary Brown created a fictional reality, in which the South Vietnamese and the communist North Vietnamese were one, big, happy family, and the Americans were an "occupying army." Hence, in Brown's parallel universe, the War in Vietnam did not pit the South Vietnamese, Americans, Australians and Canadians against the communist North Vietnamese, but pitted rather "the Vietnamese people" against first the French, and then the Anglo-American alliance.

Such a claim is not a case of reporting, but of communist propaganda.

During and after the War in Vietnam, Marxist journalists and academics developed the rhetorical dodge of insisting that North Vietnamese dictator Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist, rather than a communist, so that they could portray the conquest of South Vietnam as an act of national liberation, rather than the totalitarian tyranny that it was. (In fact, going back to Stalin's successful rousing of Russians to fight for "Mother Russia" against the German Wehrmacht in World War II, communist dictators have only thrived to the degree that they have demagogically harnessed nationalist passions. It was only according to Marxist ideology, anyway, that nationalism and communism were antipodes.) That act of "national liberation" -- communist imperialism, in plain English -- cost 750,000 South Vietnamese and 1.5 million Cambodians their lives. Make that genocidal communist imperialism.

Today, Hillary Brown functions as a mouthpiece, er reporter, for Arab terrorists in Israel, who dream of achieving a second Holocaust.

Walter Cronkite's offensive Tet reporting needs to be seen in the context of a movement within the Democrat Party that was disaffected with incumbent Democrat Pres. Lyndon Baines Johnson. The movement, led by senators Eugene McCarthy (MN) and Robert F. Kennedy (NY), succeeded at discouraging Johnson -- despite a landslide victory in 1964 and Democrat control of both houses -- from running for re-election in 1968. Following the assassination of frontrunner Bobby Kennedy, and the third-party candidacy of Democrat Alabama Gov. George Wallace, liberal Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey lost the election to moderate Republican Richard M. Nixon.

It is hard for most people today to imagine that Democrats could have destroyed each other, and thus helped a Republican win an election. Following Pres. Nixon's election, the liberal establishment press (what folks today call the media) repented its sins, and joined in a common front in newsrooms and journalism schools alike against those "evil Republicans" that has, if anything, gotten stronger with time.

Nixon was the One

During the early 1970s, socialist forces scored a journalistic Triple Crown: The My Lai Massacre story, the Pentagon Papers, and Watergate, the last of which was used to finally drive Pres. Nixon from office. Ever since, young leftists have graduated from "J-school" with hopes of deposing yet another GOP president.

The official story is that Nixon was a crook, whose destruction saved the Republic. In a moving oration at the time, Rep. Barbara Jordan (1936-1996) said, "My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total."

In truth, it was Rep. Jordan's faith in the prerogatives of the Democrat Party which were whole, complete, and total. Eloquent political speech often serves grubby, partisan aims. Rep. Jordan prefaced her famous statement with remarks on how prior to her role as an "inquisitor," as a black she had felt left out of the "We the people" from the Preamble to the Constitution. Should we then refer to the congressional Watergate hearings as the Democrat Inquisition, and as a rite of passage, whereby blacks were fully integrated into the Party?

Even "respectable" conservatives like Bill Buckley today speak of Pres. Nixon as if the official story were true. Running Nixon out of town had nothing to do with his criminality. Heck, Jack Kennedy committed more crimes before lunch on any given day than Dick Nixon did in his entire life. And yet, for the folks whose life's work was to "get" Nixon, Kennedy was the Second Coming.

Some Christians delude themselves that today's media hate Pres. Bush more than they ever did Pres. Nixon (or Rudy Giuliani), because Bush is a Christian. But it would be impossible for them to hate anyone -- even Hitler -- more than they hated Nixon.

The campaign to bring down Richard Nixon began in earnest as soon as he had successfully prosecuted the high-level State Department official and Soviet spy Alger Hiss for perjury in 1950.

As historian Irwin Gellman showed in his exhaustively researched biography of the early Nixon, The Contender: Richard Nixon, The Congress Years, 1946-1952, entire libraries of anti-Nixon propaganda have been published that have only the most tenuous connection to reality. For but one anti-Nixon myth, Nixon-haters have for over fifty years insisted that a red-baiting Nixon invented the sobriquet "the pink lady" for socialist Cong. Helen Gahagan Douglas, whom Nixon beat in the 1950 California race for U.S. Senate. In fact, that term was coined by Douglas' Democrat opponent, newspaper publisher Ralph Manchester Boddy … and it was accurate.

To understand the "redness" of much of the American media even today (which is why the has seen to it that the color "red" refers to states that have recently voted Republican), consider that on June 19, 2003, the fiftieth anniversary of the execution of the traitors Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who had handed atomic bomb secrets over to our Soviet enemies, the New York Times ran a house editorial speaking of them as "victims" of red-baiting "hysteria."

JFK-friend Ben Bradlee, the longtime editor of the Washington Post (which, like Newsweek, has long been owned by the Graham family) was so obsessed with his identity as the man who brought Nixon to fall, that like the fictional Captain Queeg in Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny, he sought ever after to relive his great triumph. In 1981, when Bradlee's reporter, Janet Cooke, was caught faking a story which had won her and the Post a Pulitzer Prize, Bradlee told her, "You're just like Nixon."

"Patriots" – in Support of America's Enemies

Leading American journalists have gone from being loyal to America to loyal to her enemies.

As James Fallows recounts in his book, Why We Hate the Media, in 1987, ABC News anchor Peter Jennings and CBS 60 Minutes star Mike Wallace participated on a PBS panel about ethical conflicts in war.

Given a hypothetical situation, in which Jennings was permitted to accompany enemy soldiers and discovered that they were going to ambush American and allied soldiers, Jennings initially said that he would seek to alert the American/allied forces, even if it might cost him his life.

Immediately Mike Wallace spoke up. "I think some other reporters would have a different reaction," he said, obviously referring to himself. "They would regard it simply as a story they were there to cover." "I am astonished, really," at Jennings's answer, Wallace saida moment later. He turned toward Jennings and began to lecture him: "You're a reporter. Granted you're an American"-at least for purposes of the fictional example …[Jennings was then still a Canadian national] "I'm a little bit at a loss to understand why, because you're an American, you would not have covered that story." [Law professor and moderator Charles] Ogletree pushed Wallace. Didn't Jennings have some higher duty, either patriotic or human, to do something other than just roll film as soldiers from his own country were being shot? "No," Wallace said flatly and immediately. "You don't have a higher duty. No. No. You're a reporter!"…

[Jennings then expressed regret for his moment of humanity.]

[Jennings] "I chickened out." Jennings said that he had gotten so wrapped up in the hypothetical questions that he had lost sight of his journalistic duty to remain detached….

A few minutes later Ogletree turned to George M. Connell, a Marine colonel in full uniform, jaw muscles flexing in anger, with stress on each word, Connell looked at the TV stars and said, "I feel utter . . . contempt. " Two days after this hypothetical episode, Connell Jennings or Wallace might be back with the American forces--and could be wounded by stray fire, as combat journalists often had been before. The instant that happened he said, they wouldn't be "just journalists" any more. Then they would drag them back, rather than leaving them to bleed to death on the battlefield. "We'll do it!" Connell said. "And that is what makes me so contemptuous of them. Marines will die going to get ... a couple of journalists."

We can safely ignore Peter Jennings' talk of a "journalistic duty to remain detached." He and Mike Wallace are leftist hacks; they don't for one minute believe in detachment. However, Wallace's contempt for the welfare of American fighting men sounded sincere to me.

Today, rather than politics stopping at the water's edge, for many media bosses, it seems to start there. Following 911, New York Times publisher Arthur Pinch Sulzberger Jr., whose policies led to the Jayson Blair scandal, and who during the Vietnam War cheered on the North Vietnamese communists to kill as many American fighting men as possible, tried to sandbag America before we fought al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan, with constant talk of a coming "quagmire." When that tactic failed, Sulzberger had his editorial page lie about the Geneva Conventions, in demanding that their protections be extended to terrorist detainees who are not covered under the conventions, so that the American legal system could be crushed under the weight of impossible demands, terrorists could go free to kill more Americans and our allies, the Bush Administration could be discredited, and John Kerry could win the 2004 election.

Unsurprisingly, the Times has sought to compensate for the discrediting of the Newsweek story, by working overtime to produce al-Qaida propaganda, and demanding, for the 5,352nd time, the head of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, albeit this time with a resigned air that sees it as incomprehensible that Rumsfeld has yet to be fired.

The Times' routine demands for Rumsfeld's head remind me of the depiction of Osama bin Laden, in the recurring comic short films produced by The Late Show with David Letterman. After inquiring after Dave's health and his family, or wishing him a happy Valentine's Day, OBL says goodbye, and then always remembers to say, as an afterthought, "Oh, and death to America." Only the Times is humorless.

The Times' big gun, Thomas Friedman, who in one of his schizophrenic personalities, supports the war in Iraq -- which surely gives Pinch Sulzberger agita -- has even argued, regarding Gitmo, "Shut It Down." I would be willing to consider that option, but only under the proviso that we then return to the traditional way, according to the laws of war, of dealing with spies, saboteurs, and terrorists (fighters who wear no distinctive insignia, do not openly bear their weapons, whose forces have no recognizable chain of command, and who routinely violate the laws of war, including but not limited to attacking civilians). And that is to summarily execute them. Somehow, I doubt that that is what Friedman has in mind.

Friedman offers no alternative to detention centers for terrorists; he is concerned solely with how the media perceives America. He thinks that if Arab media saw us as more humanitarian, the Arabs would like us better, ditto for the European and British press, and our fighting men would be safer.

I've got news for Friedman: Fewer American fighting men will be killed, if the Arabs think we are bloodthirsty barbarians, than if they think we are cuddly, humanitarian teddy bears. In any event, the Arab media's hatred for us is absolute, and thus independent of what our GIs and Marines do. As for the European media, to the degree that their hatred of America has any rational basis (something I doubt), the Times need only stop beating the drum for terrorists, and the Brits and Europeans will no longer be able to simply echo it.

Now the Los Angeles Times has gotten on the terrorists' bandwagon, demanding that all terrorist detainees be assigned lawyers. The L.A. Times even reached back to that beloved libel of left-wingers from the Vietnam War, that the war is "racist." "[The riots] were about perceived American contempt for the faith, the culture and ultimately the lives of Muslim Arabs and other dark-skinned people in distant lands."

Lines about American "baby-killers" in uniform can't be far behind.

I think that my friend and colleague Michael Shaw hit on the reason why the American Left supported the military during World War II, but beginning with Vietnam has increasingly supported America's enemies. During World War II, we were allied with the Soviet communists; in Vietnam, we fought against communists. If we were presently allied with Red China, North Korea, or Cuba against Islamic terror, the Left would not be a problem.

Meanwhile, on Nightline two weeks ago, Chris Bury resuscitated the "fake but accurate" talking point that was used in defense of Rathergate last fall. Bury insisted repeatedly, that the fact that Newsweek had retracted the story, didn't mean it hadn't happened!

Somewhere, Richard Nixon must be smiling.

Nicholas Stix can be reached at add1dda@aol.com.

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