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Cablegate: Media Reaction: Koran Desecration and Newsweek; Dhaka

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DHAKA 002570

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR I/FW, B/G, IIP/G/NEA-SA, B/VOA/N (BANGLA SERVICE)
ALSO FOR SA/PAB, SA/PPD (LSCENSNY, SSTRYKER), SA/RA, INR/R/MR,
DEPT PASS TO USAID FOR ANE/ASIA/SA/B (WJOHNSON)
CINCPAC FOR PUBLIC DIPLOMACY ADVISOR, J51 (MAJ TURNER), J45
(MAJ NICHOLLS)
USARPAC FOR APOP-IM (MAJ HEDRICK)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KMDR OIIP OPRC KPAO PREL ETRD PTER ASEC BG OCII
SUBJECT: Media Reaction: Koran Desecration and NewsWeek; Dhaka


Summary: The readers are mature enough to understand that
the retraction of the story was not because of violent
demonstrations by angry Muslim crowds in a number of
countries because that could have been foreseen. It is
obvious to them that tremendous pressure was brought to bear
on Newsweek to plead guilty by powerful quarters. By
capitulating to extraneous pressure Newsweek has seriously
impaired the trust and confidence of many of its readers.
Great damage has been done to the image of the magazine, not
because of publishing the story about abuse of the Holy
Quran but by retracting the story under duress. The paper
has been exposed as being afraid of telling the truth in the
face of coaxing and cajoling. Readers don't have to be told
what `anonymous source' exerted pressure. By capitulating to
that `source', Newsweek will now lack credibility in respect
of many of the stories it they might publish in future. For
this breach of trust with the readers the magazine can only
blame itself.

Following are excerpts from the op-ed article:
------------------------------
Koran Desecration and Newsweek
------------------------------
"Newsweek's News"
Independent English language newspaper "New Age" op-ed
article by columnist Hasnat Abdul Hye comments (6/5/05):

For a newsmagazine that brings news and publishes comments
on current national and international affairs it must have
been a humbling experience to be in the limelight across the
world. That the publicity it received after a news scoop led
to violent demonstrations, bloody crackdowns by authorities
and widespread condemnation of the act reported in the news
scoop, could only have enhanced its embarrassment. The
saving grace for Newsweek was that those who showed their
indignation after the publication of the news did not kill
the messenger. They targeted the American Administration as
the perpetrator of the sacrilegious act. But Newsweek had to
pay a price for spilling the beans because those who were
exposed by the news wanted the readers of Newsweek to
believe that there was no beans to spill and it was all
rumor. Newsweek retracted the news and apologized to the
readers and to the families of those who had died in the
protest demonstrations set off by the news. This is
extraordinary for a new magazine that has been savvy in
handling news, particularly sensitive ones. Its selection of
news, particularly news scoops, goes through a rigorous
process of checks and re-cheeks.

Given this sensitivity of the editorial board, it is
unthinkable that the news in question just slipped through
the normal scrutiny of senior editors of Newsweek. The fact
that the news involved Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo) detainees and
the Holy Quran make it highly improbable that Newsweek's
board of editors did not realize the potential of world wide
repercussions among the Muslims over the news about
desecration of Holy Quran in Gitmo. Like every other agency
in America, Newsweek knew very well that America's
credibility and honor had gone down sharply in the past two
years in the Muslim world where the militants never fail to
miss an opportunity to give vent to their anger against
their antagonist through violent attacks. It is impossible
to think that the editorial board of Newsweek did not know
about the serious consequences that the publication of the
news would have. But this knowledge did not deter them from
revealing the truth because they thought that such
revelation is in the highest tradition of media that is
built on the trust of readers.

Newsweek enhanced the trust of majority of its readers by
publishing the news about guards flushing down the Holy
Quran in toilets in Guantanamo Bay. It was an unpleasant
truth to be told by an American news magazine because it
knew that its publication would bring the wrath of the
Muslim world against the American administration and by
extension, the American people. It took a lot of courage and
moral certitude to stick to the truth.

The news scoop on the defilement of the Holy Quran was made
by Michael Issikoff who had unearthed the Clinton - Lewinsky
scandal and won praise for accuracy and objectivity. He is
by now an old hand in dealing with anonymous and
confidential sources for breaking news. So it cannot be

SIPDIS
suspected that he was amateurish and rash in using the
confidential source before writing the story in `Newsweek's

SIPDIS
Periscope column about desecration of the Holy Quran by
guards in Guantanamo Bay detention center(Gitmo) to
humiliate and unnerve the hardcore detainees. In fact the
new was already known to Defense department officials who
were briefed by the International Committee of the Red Cross
(ICRC) about prison personnel disrespecting or mishandling
copies of the Holy Quran at Gitmo as early as 2002.
According to a spokesperson of ICRC, the organization had
provided several instances that it believed were credible.

The contradiction and pusillanimity in the (Newsweek's
retraction) statement is mind-boggling. If the story was
written `ethically' and `professionally', relying on a
`historically reliable government source' and `provided to
senior defense department officials who did not object to
the allegations', why should Newsweek feel guilty about the
publication of the story? What is the mistake involved in
taking the defense official's silence for confirmation of
the story? That is how stories are checked and conclusions
drawn by the media. Newsweek's hand wringing and retraction
of the story following the furors that erupted in the Muslim
world amount to almost intellectual dishonesty. Having gone
through a process of checking and getting confirmation about
the news meticulously there was no scope and necessity of
mea culpa.

Very few would deny that Newsweek maintained the highest
standard of news gathering in this case. There was no lapse
on its part in following the traditional procedures for news-
gathering of this type. There is, of course, always room for
improving the standard for the use of anonymous sources, as
the Editor-in-Chief has mentioned in his letter. But it does
not mean that he or his magazine has to disown what was done
in good faith and with due diligence. For publishing a
straightforward and honest news story it earned great esteem
and confidence from the readers who could appreciate the
risk it was taking by telling the truth. The readers are
mature enough to understand that the retraction of the story
was not because of the violent demonstrations by angry
Muslim crowds in a number of countries because it could not
be unforeseen. It is obvious to them that tremendous
pressure was brought to bear on Newsweek to plead guilty by
powerful quarters. By capitulating to extraneous pressure
the Newsweek has seriously impaired the trust and confidence
of many of its readers. Great damage has been done to the
image of the magazine, not because of publishing the story
about abuse of the Holy Quran but by retracting the story
under duress. The paper has been exposed as being afraid of
telling the truth in the face of coaxing and cajoling. The
readers don't have to be told what is the `anonymous source'
from where pressure was exerted. By capitulating to that
`source', Newsweek will now lack credibility in respect of
many of the stories it they might publish in future. For
this breach of trust with the readers the magazine can only
blame itself.

Chammas

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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