Did Newsweek shout fire in a crowded theater?

Austin Bay describes it as The Press’ Abu Ghraib. Michelle Malkin as “Newsweek Lied. People Died. She quotes the London TImes story

“At least nine people were killed yesterday as a wave of anti-American demonstrations swept the Islamic world from the Gaza Strip to the Java Sea, sparked by a single paragraph in a magazine alleging that US military interrogators had desecrated the Koran.”

A commenter notes on Austin Bay’s post notes

In every other walk of life, professionals are subject to criminal charges if they engage in grossly negligent behavior that results in injury to innocent third parties. Here have we grossly negligent (if not outright malicious, and I’m still not convinced that Newsweek didn’t make up most of this story out of whole cloth) behavior that has resulted in harm to American servicemen in wartime. This is much, much more serious than Rathergate. Newsweek has crossed over the line from ordinary leftist media conceit into Lord Haw Haw / Tokyo Rose territory.

Newsweek falsely reported that US soldiers descrate the Koran at Gitmo and now 15 people are dead as a consequence. Should Newsweek be punished? What is the punishment for shouting fire in a crowded theater?


12 Responses to Did Newsweek shout fire in a crowded theater?

  1. ooghe says:

    It is telling that the sources you cite profess little interest in whether or not the reports could be true. I would be very curious to know what we would find if they declassified the heretofore hushed-up details of how bad things actually did get. I’m willing to bet a desecrated Koran is far from the worst thing that took place in Guantanamo. Instead, Michelle Malkin and others choose to treat the deaths of seventeen people, and, by extension the thousands who died in Iraq, as fodder for an amusing joke. Personally, I’m not laughing.

  2. plemeljr says:

    Sorry, General Myers thinks Newsweek didn’t cause the violence:

    But only a few days earlier, in a briefing on Thursday, Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had said that the senior commander in Afghanistan believed the protests had stemmed from that country’s reconciliation process.

    “He thought it was not at all tied to the article in the magazine,” General Myers said.

    As well as Pentagon Spokesman Larry Di Rita:

    “The nature of where these things occurred, how quickly they occurred, the nature of individuals who were involved in it, suggest that they may be organized events that are using this alleged allegation as a pretext for activity that was already planned,” said DiRita.

    You might want to rethink your thesis.

  3. oh boy says:

    you’re new here, aren’t you. alex doesn’t rethink things. he charges on, damn the torpedoes, he’s always right.

  4. plemejr, here is CNN debunking Myers claims:
    “He thought it was not at all tied to the article in the magazine.”

    However an Associated Press photo from Jalalabad showed a demonstrator holding a sign saying, “We strongly condemn insulting Quran by American army.”

    In demonstrations in Kabul at least one banner carried by protesters said, “Those who insult the Quran should be brought to justice.” And statements made on video by a protester in another city referred specifically to what was included in the Newsweek report.

    Here is the NYTimes,
    The demonstrations were started on Tuesday by students angered by a report in Newsweek that American interrogators at the Guantánamo Bay detention center had desecrated the Koran by flushing a copy down the toilet.
    They carried banners condemning the reported sacrilege, chanted anti-American slogans and burned President Bush in effigy. The protest proceeded peacefully on Tuesday, but on Wednesday it suddenly turned violent, with hundreds of stone-throwing and stick-wielding demonstrators spreading across town. Soon they were breaking into compounds, smashing cars and setting buildings on fire.

    I found these links in this blog post that talks about how the military wanted to deny that its actions had caused the violence until they had time to prove that they did not engage in the actions. While the media wanted to hold the military accountable until it turned out that they were.

    But, Di Rita’s comment about preplanned violence are totally on. Its too bad people on the left talk about the bogusness of the “Arab street” only when its convenient. I’m willing to hold Newsweek innocent of the deaths when it starts reporting more consistently about the good that the US is doing in these countries and how it is being misrepresented to serve the needs of the people who planned the violence in this case as well.

  5. ooghe says:

    Hamid Karzai said today the riots weren’t a result of the Newsweek article… think the fat lady just sung on that one…

  6. Robert, are you sure? Here is Forbes coverage:
    Afghan President Hamid Karzai has expressed displeasure at the way the US magazine Newsweek handled a story on alleged desecration of the Koran in the Guantanamo detention centre, his spokesman Javed Ludin said today.

    ‘We express in the strongest terms our disapproval of Newsweek’s approach to reporting which allowed them to run the story without proper examination beforehand,’ Ludin said in a statement.

    ‘We would like to emphasise the need for a professional and sensitive approach to journalism particularly with regards to reporting on potentially sensitive issues,’ it said.

    The report in the May 9 edition of the US news magazine sparked demonstrations that left at least 14 people dead in Afghanistan.

    Here is CNN
    The Afghan president said the allegations of defilement of the Quran were “a serious matter about people’s beliefs and feelings.”

    But he said the protests were “directed at the peace process” and the “elections in Afghanistan.”

    Sounds like he is just spinning here. He would like the energy devoted to newsweek devoted elsewhere and it is certainly the case that the enemies of democracy were the ones who took advantage of Newsweek’s incendiary charges.

  7. ooghe says:

    well, in neither of those does he actually claim Newsweek was responsible- in the first he proffers that Newsweek should ‘be careful’ and in the second he says that desecration of the Koran is unacceptable… whereas today he explicitly said:

    “These demonstrations were in reality not related to the Newsweek story,” he said at a joint press conference held after a meeting with President George W. Bush. “They were more against progress in Afghanistan and our strategic partnership with America. We know the people who were behind the demonstrations.”

    Although I have no trouble believing that a political warhorse such as Karzai is capable of (at least) spinning- I also think that he the most likely to assign blame where it is due- at the rioters, and not Newsweek. Insofar as Karzai is the duly elected head of Afghanistan, at this point I think he’s in the position to know and it seems a bit paternalistic to tell him how to interpret political unrest in his own country.

    I don’t doubt the riots had banners about the Koran abuse, I just tend to believe Karzai and Myers- the ones most likely to feel the immediate repercussions of the rioting- over Scott McLellan.

    Overall, I think that the journalistic standards employed in that instance were not significantly different from what is the generally agreed framework for reportage among any news organization. The yelling fire in a crowded theater standard cannot possibly mean that Islamist radicals set the editorial standards of the US media. Originally, the Supreme Court case that employed that reasoning was applying it to a case when a pro-German newspaper editor was found to be encouraging sedition *among US citizens* during a time of war (and even this was shaky). Setting a precedent where the media is explicitly held responsible for any action in the world that the White House claims is not in US interests- just can’t be a good idea. Imagine if Joe Lockhart had held Isikoff responsible for the ‘Wag the Dog’ meme during Kosovo and demanded that a retraction be printed pending investigation.

    If good things are happening in Afghanistan, the improved lives that Afghanis experience will ultimately prevail over radicalism regardless of what Newsweek, al Jazeera- or Izvestia for that matter- has to say about it.

  8. Robert,

    “It is not the anti-American sentiment, it is a protest over news of the desecration of the holy Koran,” Karzai told reporters in Brussels. He said Afghanistan was now a democracy in which demonstrations were allowed, but that security forces were not yet prepared to handle them.

    For full discussion of who is at fault, see

    As for standard journalistic standards, Newsweek engaged in libel, not journalism.

    Whether they should also be liable for the riots is an open question, but lefties keep wanting us to ask ourselves “Why do they hate us?” Their point being that the actions of terrrorists are justified by some bad behavior of ours.

    But with Newsweek they are suddenly singing a different tune. Now they HATE us because they’ve been told to hate us by people relying on lies like those propagated by Newsweek. They’ve engaged in violence because they’ve been incited by these lies.

    I’ll hold newsweek and its defenders innocent when they hold the US and its defenders innocent.

  9. oh boy says:

    moot point, alex. are you still so smug after friday’s admission by the pentagon? i am disgusted by our country.

    and is arlen spector a traitor in your eyes?

    alex, you have absolutely no idea how america and bush are viewed in the rest of the world. we are monsters, monsters. here in the most urbanized, modern part of africa, it is taken as a given that our country has totally and completely lost its mind.

    you’re so stubborn that i cannot imagine you ever saying openly ‘whoops, i was wrong’. but i know that all of this just makes you sick inside.

  10. Josh, what exactly has the Pentagon admitted and what does this have to do with Arlen Spector?

    Doing some homework, I found this:

    The Pentagon on Friday released new details about mishandling of the Quran at the Guantanamo Bay prison for terror suspects, confirming that a soldier deliberately kicked the Muslim holy book and that an interrogator stepped on a Quran and was later fired for “a pattern of unacceptable behavior.”

    In other confirmed incidents, a guard’s urine came through an air vent and splashed on a detainee and his Quran; water balloons thrown by prison guards caused an unspecified number of Qurans to get wet; and in a confirmed but ambiguous case, a two-word obscenity was written in English on the inside cover of a Quran.

    Five incidents – is that a pattern of abuse? Is that indicative of a policy? Of course not. More shuckens. Newsweek ran the “Koran flushing” story to embarrass the White House and Pentagon and suggest a “cover up” of abuse. Well, the cover is off. Here’s the big revelation: the report finds 15 incidents where prisoners “mishandled” their own Korans.

    Hood also said his investigation found 15 cases of detainees mishandling their own Qurans. “These included using a Quran as a pillow, ripping pages out of the Quran, attempting to flush a Quran down the toilet and urinating on the Quran,” Hood’s report said. It offered no possible explanation for those alleged abuses.

    In the most recent of those 15 cases, a detainee on Feb. 18, 2005, allegedly ripped up his Quran and handed it to a guard, stating that he had given up on being a Muslim. Several of the guards witnessed this, Hood reported.


    Do you really think this stuff justified people thinking of us as monstrous given the actual monstronsity in the world?

  11. ooghe says:

    the biggest problem with the detainee situation in Guantanamo is that it has consistently been a symbol of US malintent towards the world at a time when the US literally cannot afford to lose a war of ideas. I’m sure the Whitehouse would prefer the whole sordid business would not be covered at all, regardless of whether or not reports were credible. Perhaps the intelligence they’re gaining in these interrogations has been worthwhile and has justified these practices, or maybe its turned up nothing.

    It’s interesting, Josh, that you’re in South Africa during this. I hope you’re well down there. Much of this debate reminds me of Coetzee’s ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’, and in particular his narrators observation during the interrogation of an insurgent that brutalization is inherent to imperial administration, but that once you identify your civilizing force as imperial, you are already consigning it to eventual collapse.

    The casual psychological degradation- the menstrual blood smearing, the koran abuse, the prisoners wrapped in Israeli flags- may not yet be of the level of, say- the way Germans and Russians treated each other during WWII, but it is dehumanization to be sure- and it should be reported.

    Regardless of the specifics of the pentagon inquiry- whether the Koran was flushed or kicked or whatever- Alex likened the Newsweek report, which, by any standard I can think of was entirely justified, to Lord Haw Haw and other traitors. In fact, what Alex actually said was that whether or not Newsweek should be held culpable was not dependent on the veracity of that claim in particular, it was dependent on whether *the supposed ideological tone of their news reporting in general* passed political muster. In an earlier post on the Rwandan genocide, Alex, you dismissed a character’s suggestion that the Rwandan radio stations be shut down as indicative of ‘regulatory liberal thinking’ and offered instead that a competing message of ‘peace and hope’ should have been beamed in during these weeks of horror in the spirit of competition. Aside from the impossibility of such a solution in those circumstances, how can you be advocating Newsweek be held responsible for 15 deaths in reporting a claim in the Periscope section corroborated at least by the FBI, but in circumstances in which 800,000 died as a result of all-pervading hate radio explicitly exhorting people to commit genocide find any punitive countermeasure to be too regulatory?

    In the case of Newsweek and the reasonably accurate Koran report, why not just suggest the same thing- that al-Hurrah (or, heck, even some actual *private* news outlet) offer a competing meme that takes issue with Newsweeks reportage?

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