05/25/05 — Killer stories: Flush out those ‘reliable sources’?

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Killer stories: Flush out those ‘reliable sources’?

Newsweek magazine first apologized — and later retracted — a story that triggered violence in Afghanistan that left scores dead and injured.

The Newsweek story written by Michael Isikoff and John Barry quoted a “high government official” as saying U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had flushed pages of the Quran down prison toilets to intimidate detainees to answer their questions.

Muslims were outraged. Those in Afghanistan used this as an excuse to go on an unrelenting spree of violence. And in the United States, the anti-administration, anti-military media — including the pretentiously sterile Associated Press — went on a feeding frenzy.

This merely fanned the flames of violence and criticism against the United States and its military around the world and especially in Afghanistan. More people were killed and injured.

And the story apparently was a lie.

Even when Newsweek apologized, the TV networks and The AP couched that in suggestions that, despite the magazine’s apology, the story must have had some credence.

The reporters were referred to as highly respected and competent. (Like Dan Rather?)

CBS even suggested that Newsweek retracted its story “under pressure from the White House.”

That was perhaps the most asinine and unbelievable of all assertions regarding the matter. And even Newsweek denied it.

Let’s go back to the origin of the story. Who was this “high and reliable government official” who leaked the story to the Newsweek reporters?

This person obviously has caused scores of people to be killed and injured.

There has been a great to-do over the years about reporters protecting their sources. Some reporters have gone to jail in that noble cause.

But to protect a “source of information” that was false and resulted in the deaths and injuries of scores of people?

That “source” should be identified and held accountable.

If a reporter refuses to identify that “source,” the public — and the courts — should assume the source is non-existent. And the reporter should be held accountable.

Published in Editorials on May 25, 2005 11:47 AM