Monday, May 16, 2005

Newsweek Puts Out the Fire--Not

Lots of wailing over the Koran tempest at Newsweek, two of whose top reporters are really on the hot seat at the moment. Typical of the hysteria is the increasingly moronic Jon Friedman of Marketwatch, who alternates between diabetes-inducing puff pieces and schoolmarmish rants, such as his overblown retching today. Friedman can't seem to see the difference between a deliberate lie of the Jayson Blair variety and the mistake, however horrific, made by Newsweek.

I'm as quick to lash the media as the next guy, but let's look at what happened here. Did the Koran get flushed down the toilet or not? I don't know. But before we tar and feather the reporters involved, let's see what happened.

According to a Newsweek article on the subject:

[investigative reporter Michael Isikoff] 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."

An editor's note says roughly the same thing.

Isikoff and a colleague tried to get a second source, couldn't. Asked for comment. Got none. Went with the piece. Firestorm. Source recants.

Well, I hate to throw cold water on all the outrage, but I have to say: What these two reporters did was not especially unusual in journalism, and met minimal journalism standards. A source misled them. Newsweek may have rules requiring multiple sourcing in such instances. But if only one source is allowed by Newsweek's procedures--well, then you can't go out and hang the reporters involved. The culprit here is a scoop-hungry Newsweek, but I'd hate to see two good reporters get fed to the wolves as a result.

Remember that Isikoff was hot on the Lewinsky story back in the days when it was politically correct to turn a blind eye toward Clinton's transgressions. So he is definitely a top guy in the business, not a third-rate chump trying to make the administration look bad.

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