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May 18, 2005

Love freedom, hate the free press

Posted by Phil on May 18, 2005 1:34 PM

The tempest in a teapot over Newsweek's reportorial miscue is giving lots of folks on the right license to clamp down on quaint notions like truth, credibility, and the free press. (Not to mention misrepresent, hypocrisize, and shamelessly posture.)

To wit (and I know fisking is for jackasses but I'm doing it anyway):

Unfit to Print, by John Podhoretz

LET'S do a thought experiment about the worst example of journalistic malfeasance in recent years — and considering the competition from Jayson Blair and Dan Rather, that's saying a lot.

Never, NEVER forget the other crimes of the media: The True Enemy of the Republican American Way.

Let's say that the item that Newsweek magazine disavowed on Sunday and retracted yesterday — the item by Michael Isikoff and John Barry that said an American interrogator of terrorists housed at Guantanamo Bay had flushed the Koran down the toilet — was actually true. It wasn't. But let's say it was.

Since it probably was, or certainly its believability was bolstered by more heinous abuses we've actually been forced to acknowledge. Which don't matter anyway, because anyone being interrogated at Guantanamo Bay is definitely a terrorist.

Would factual accuracy have justified publishing the item in Newsweek or anywhere else?

Not if you don't believe in a free press, it wouldn't!

That publication led to the furtherance of the notion, extraordinarily dangerous to Americans abroad, that our government is in the habit of desecrating the Muslim Holy Book — and to scores of people getting killed and hundreds getting injured in riots that extended from Afghanistan to Gaza.

Yeah! Say, how'd that notion get started, anyway?

The answer seems obvious now, doesn't it?

Actually, it seems to be getting cloudier....

Newsweek ran an incendiary item about an American official desecrating the Koran, and this incendiary item did what incendiary items are supposed to do. It blew up.

Shock'n'awe! Shock'n'awe!

Only it didn't blow up the target it was intended to blow up. The intended target was in Washington. We'd have to know the identity of Newsweek's supposedly "good and credible" source to know precisely whom the source was trying to injure (and you can bet that, no matter what evil nonsense this supposedly "good" source was peddling, Newsweek will protect his name forever).

They are just as evil as he must be, this traitor who hates America and freedom.

But it doesn't really matter, does it? What matters is that people in Afghanistan are dead for no reason other than some "good and credible" source had an axe to grind with one of his bosses 15,000 miles away in the United States.

Actually, the chairman of the joint chiefs said they're actually dead for a whole other reason, actually. And anyway, who says that "good and credible" source was an "evil" traitor snitch with an "axe to grind"? Maybe--just maybe--he was a solid professional and a true American with a profoundly troubled conscience (I've heard there are people like that) who unfortunately had to retreat from allegations for which he simply didn't have all 800 ducks in a row, being as he was unable to skirt accountability with the impunity of his political masters in the White House and the Pentagon.

There's no question that, for journalists in trouble, truth is always the best defense in a courtroom. But the world is not a courtroom. The world is a messy, complicated place. There are consequences even for reporting the unvarnished truth.

There certainly are. DIRE consequences. Oh, won't someone protect us from the truth and all its messy complications?!

In this case, the potential consequences should have outweighed — by a factor of about 1 billion — the very mild benefit to Newsweek to running something titillating about the War on Terror in its Periscope section.

More like a factor of a billion-TRILLION! Or a dodeca-ZILLION! Golly, talk about morally bankrupt! Why, when I want to be lectured about "potential consequences that should have been weighed," the first people I think of are George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and John Podhoretz!

And so what if the item had been true? Journalists routinely withhold the truth from their readers for all sorts of reasons.

We expect nothing less!

They don't reveal the names of "good and credible" sources, for example, which is a withholding of a truth. They don't publish the identities of rape accusers. Many papers no longer reveal the race of a crime suspect, even though the purpose of describing a crime suspect is to help ordinary citizens avoid him or report him to the authorities.

Why do they withhold these facts? They do so because they have decided that something else is more important than the revelation of all known facts — something like the right of a crime victim to privacy, or the fear of making all black and Latino males seem stereotypically frightening.

That is so right. Good journalists only avoid damning the powerful with truth out of concern for victims and minorities. Just like the White House is carefully protecting the racial identity of those guys who helped Dick Cheney craft our nation's energy policy. They wouldn't want to promote prejudicial notions about the crooks and powermongers who are bankrupting the Treasury and raping the environment: that might make all rich white males seem stereotypically frightening.

We've already learned that the mainstream media do not believe the reputation of the United States at a time of ideological war against Muslim extremism is worthy of the same care. In fact, in many quarters there is a moral and spiritual incentive to tell horrid tales about the United States and its conduct of the War on Terror.

Because they're traitors who hate America and freedom, every one of them, and even if they tell the truth--which they never do, or when they do they tell too much of it--it doesn't matter. Only YOU, John Podhoretz, and whoever else you tell me to listen to, can be trusted to not tell me the truth I shouldn't hear.

So Newsweek went and told one such horrid tale. And the world has reaped the whirlwind. The fact that the tale in question is a cock-and-bull story is almost beside the point.

Yes. In fact, we can almost say it's totally beside the point, so let's go ahead and say that. It's so far beside the point that it wouldn't matter if it WASN'T a cock-and-bull story! Isn't that right, John? So, if this turns out NOT to be a cock-and-bull story, it won't change a thing. We're on the hunt. The MSM is on the run.

No matter what degree of certainty the editors and reporters had about the item's veracity, moral responsibility for the fallout from it falls squarely on their shoulders.

Wait. Even though all they did was have the wrong official cite the wrong document and then decide he couldn't cite the document they said he cited, even though other documents and reports and eyewitness accounts point to the likely occurrence of the abuse cited, and even if it didn't happen, although it probably did, the government is certainly and admittedly guilty of other grotesque abuses of its prisoners' humanity and religious beliefs? And even though the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff said all that mayhem probably wasn't caused by a 10-sentence item in a weekly magazine's front matter?

"Moral responsibility for the fallout" from a range of "it"s perpetrated by the Pentagon and the White House and, in one instance, incompletely resourced by a magazine now falls squarely on the MAGAZINE's shoulders?!

The magazine has blood on its pages regardless. The magazine caused a geopolitical storm injurious to the countrymen of its own editors and reporters regardless.

Actually, John, my copy doesn't have any blood on it. Maybe you got yours bloody swatting the fat flies that hover around your sweaty, corpulent flesh as your gnawed fingers pull another 500 words of partisan horseshit from the stinking sinkhole of your corrupt brain.

They forgot there was a war on. Or they didn't forget, but just didn't care. Now they remember. Now they care.

Now it's too late.

Hold on there, buddy! I think YOU forgot there's TWO wars on--or really three, if you count the big war that's sort of like an umbrella over the other two wars. And while we're talking about "saying stuff that wasn't actually true," "withholding the truth," "forgetting," "not caring," "geopolitical storms," "reaping the whirlwind," and "too late," let's talk about that second (or is it third?) war, because, boy, talk about the motherfucking pot calling the kettle black....

E-mail: Podhoretz@nypost.com

Yeah. Do!