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With a hat tip to Arthur Silber here, here, and here, I have to say that I too am disheartened, on a variety of levels, over the whole Newsweek affair. Yes, if Newsweek screwed this story up, an apology and retraction are the least one would expect. Of course, this sidesteps a few issues: If the "screw-up" was due to the fact that Newsweek's government source had a change of heart about the story after being "talked to" by various superiors, there are implications here that demand discussion.

In any event, US government officials who demand apologies and retractions from Newsweek might profitably spend some of their time apologizing for their own policy gaffes (Downing Street memo, anyone?)

Yes, we live in volatile times where anything said in the media is liable to invite comparisons to yelling "fire" in a public theater (though there are real questions as to whether this gaffe "triggered" the riots in Afghanistan; see here).

But has anyone bothered to ask why on earth one should "blame" Newsweek for Muslim riots? Let's say, for sake of argument, we take the worst case scenario as true: "Newsweek Lied!" But to say that "People Died!" as a result is to miss a few steps in the causal chain. Michelle Malkin, are you kidding me? As you beat the tom-tom of media censorship, ask yourself a question: Did Newsweek put a gun to the heads of people in Jalalabad to force them to riot? The best conservative defenders of Second Amendment rights tell us, over and over again, that guns don't kill people. People kill people. That is: the actors themselves bear ultimate responsibility for the people whose lives they take. Isn't it amazing how this testament to individual accountability goes out the window when it fits the conservative image of an out-of-control liberal media of fifth-column jihadists?

Moreover, if the mere mention of a possible religious desecration is enough to set off such violence, perhaps nation-builders like Malkin should think twice about the folly of "democratizing" that region of the world. It will take a lot more than elections to create a liberal-democratic society, where flag-burning and book-flushing are among the rights of a free citizenry. The nation-builders will create Democratic People Power for sureŚwith none of the individual rights that keep the tyranny of the masses in check.

Comments welcome.

Update (1): I got a kick out of the fact that the Atlasphere just posted (at 6:32 p.m.) a column by conservative economist Thomas Sowell entitled, "Newsweak." Of course, Sowell is more concerned about the media's liberal bias against the Bush administration rather than the irrationalities of that administration or the irrational savagery of those in Afghanistan who are responsible for deaths attributed to Newsweek. On these issues, check out Silber's follow-ups here, here and here (a Silber trackback is here), and a fine post by Ilana Mercer here (the May 16th entry).

Update (2): This post has been noted by Jonathan Rick in "The Newsweek Incident: Let Them Riot."


While I personally think the toilet is the perfect place for the "holy" Quran, the story (if true, as I believe it is despite the retraction) shows an incredible insensitivity and disrespect for private property rights.

However, people who would riot and murder over some paper being flushed down the toilet are clearly deranged. Even the looniest Christian in this country would not do that if someone threw a Bible in a toilet.

The idea that Western values can take root anywhere where this sort of reaction can be provoked is sheer lunacy.

While the riots are certainly not the magazine's fault, the riots do say something profoundly disturbing about our enemies in this War on Terrorism.

And, though the evidence does not indicate that the magazine "lied," the mental predisposition of certain journalistic outfits is all too clear.

Interesting situation.

Of course I absolutely agree that the rioters were solely responsible for their actions, irrespecetive of what Newsweek may have printed.

But, I have to wonder if in certain limited contexts it isn't better for responsible journalists to temporarily (and I stress temporarily) sit on a story?

Assuming purely for argument's sake that the original story was true, this was basically a one off incident that in the current context had the capacity to create a lot of trouble. It's not like there's some sort of widespread government sanctioned mistreatment (which certainly ought to be bought into the open), so would it really have made much difference to Newsweek if this had been published a few months down the line when the situation in Iraq will hopefully be more stable?


Thanks, gents, for your comments.

I added a link to the entry, courtesy of Jon Rick, which includes a host of other published views similar to my own on this question.

As for the issue that you raise, Matthew, I think that there are plenty of examples to choose from of journalists who did, in fact, "wait out" a situation if it was particularly sensitive, from a military standpoint. From the "Missiles of October" in 1962 to the practices of "embedded" journalists in the lead-up to the Iraq war, many periodicals held back sensitive information in the midst of a military action.

The thing about the Newsweek story is that there really wasn't much ~new~ to that story. Many outlets have reported about "mistreatment" of the Koran as a way to break Muslims held as prisoners. Furthermore, the specific riots that we're talking about actually took place in the supposedly more "stable" Afghanistan, not Iraq. What we're finding out here, of course, is that there really isn't much that is "stable" in that region of the world. How could it be? The quest for "stability" is starting to feel more and more like a Quixotic Quest indeed.

In any event, you raise a good point.

"the specific riots that we're talking about actually took place in the supposedly more "stable" Afghanistan, not Iraq."

Oops, my mistake - though I do stand by the essential point I was making. Afghanistan seems to be going through something of an unstable patch: check out this story from The Times (London) of an Afghan female who discarded Islamic tradition and became a presenter on an "MTV" style music channel - she's just been shot dead!



Matthew, that is one horrific link. It only makes me more pessimistic about the long-term potential for social change in this region of the world.

Thanks for sharing that.