Commentary and links relating to media coverage of war; both before, during, and after.

William A. Dorman is Professor of Government at California State University, Sacramento, and has taught a course in War, Peace and the Mass Media since 1970.

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War, Peace, and the Mass Media
Friday, May 20, 2005  
The 'Newsweek' Scandal: Harm and Hypocrisy
Relying on an unreliable source? Causing harm to America's image abroad? Getting people killed? No, it's not WMDs, the war in Iraq, or Abu Ghraib -- it's a rush-to-judgement item in a popular newsweekly. Who is Scott McClellan to lecture the media on "credibility"?

By Greg Mitchell
Editor & Publisher
May 17, 2005

-- There's nothing funny about riots and torture, but it's not hard to find the dark humor in certain aspects of the uproar over Newsweek's regrettable Koran-flushing item. Only one of the comedic highlights was White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan lecturing the media on Monday about losing “credibility,” given the administration's track record on WMDs in Iraq and other critical issues.

Just last week, McClellan suggested to the same reporters that President Bush had been informed about the D.C. evacuation scare, only to admit later that the president had been out of the loop. And who can forget: This is the man who brought us Mr. Credibility himself, Jim Guckert, a.k.a. Jeff Gannon.

Even more ironic, this is an administration that helped sell a war on intelligence often based (as in Newsweek's case) on a single source. Remember “Curveball”? The mobile biological labs? Now McClellan reminds the media about standards that “should be met” before running a story.

To read the full text, see Editor & Publisher

1:39 AM

Guild Chief Under Fire for Comments About Attacks on Journalists in Iraq

By Joe Strupp
Editor & Publisher
May 19, 2005

Blog editor's note: The Newspaper Guild is the name of the national union for newspaper journalists.

NEW YORK Linda Foley, national president of The Newspaper Guild, drew strong criticism today from some conservative groups for comments she made last Friday about the killing of journalists in Iraq. Foley said, among other things, that she was angry that there was "not more outrage about the number and the brutality, and the cavalier nature of the U.S. military toward the killing of journalists in Iraq. I think it's just a scandal."

Last month, Foley sent a letter to President Bush criticizing the U.S. investigation into the deaths of journalists in Iraq.

The backlash became so severe Thursday that staffers at Guild headquarters in Washington, D.C., stopped answering the phone because of abusive phone calls and "people screaming at us," Foley said. Instead, callers were required to leave messages on voice mail and await a return call.

To read the full text, see Editor & Publisher

1:30 AM

Who's Afraid of Unnamed Sources? 'NYT' Uses Them in Major War Story

By Greg Mitchell
Editor & Publisher
May 19, 2005

NEW YORK A front-page story in The New York Times on Thursday was striking in several regards. It reported a “sobering new assessment” of the U.S. war effort in Iraq. It thus contradicted the tone of much of the same paper’s coverage from Iraq this year (until recently). And, in a week when the use of anonymous sources is drawing unprecedented scrutiny and criticism, it was based mainly on just those kinds of sources.

The Times described these sources as “five high-ranking officers, speaking separately at the Pentagon and in Baghdad, and through an e-mail exchange from Baghdad with a reporter in Washington.”

The article, written by John F. Burns in Baghdad and Eric Schmitt in Washington, could set off a new round of attacks on the Bush war effort, though many who support the war will probably reject it out of hand, considering their view of the Times, not to mention the reliance (post-Newsweek uproar) on unnamed sources.

At least, in this case, there’s more than one of those sources.

To read the full text, see Editor & Publisher

1:27 AM

Wednesday, May 18, 2005  
Charges of Koran Desecration Common

By Calgacus
Global Beat
May 16-23, 2005

Blog editor's note: This item may be of interest to those following the Newsweek-Koran flap.

Contrary to White House spin, the allegations of religious desecration at Guantanamo published by Newsweek on 9 May 2005 are common among ex-prisoners and have been widely reported outside the United States. Several former detainess at the Guantanamo and Bagram airbase prisons have reported instances of their handlers sitting or standing on the Koran, throwing or kicking it in toilets, and urinating on it.

One such incident prompted a hunger strike among Guantanamo detainees in March 2002. Regarding this, the New York Times in a 1 May 2005 article interviewed a former detainee, Nasser Nijer Naser al-Mutairi, who said the protest ended with a senior officer delivering an apology to the entire camp. And the Times reports: "A former interrogator at Guantanamo, in an interview with The Times, confirmed the accounts of the hunger strikes, including the public expression of regret over the treatment of the Korans." (Neil A. Lewis and Eric Schmitt, "Inquiry Finds Abuses at Guantanamo Bay," New York Times, 1 May 2005, p. 35.)

To read the full text, see Global Beat

6:42 PM

Tuesday, May 17, 2005  
Journalists and the Military

Wall Street Journal
May 17, 2005; Page A12

Blog editor's note: Journalism does get things wrong, but the Journal's editorial ignores the preponderance of scholarly evidence that more often than not, error works in favor of the military. The simple fact is that far more frequently corporate journalism in the U.S. tends to respect and trust the military and defense officials up until the point that irrefutable evidence of another version of reality is forthcoming. Only one recent example is press treatment of the death of former NFL player Pat Tillman in Afghanistan.

Newsweek deserves credit for coming clean about its dubious Koran desecration story in an attempt to head off further bloodshed. Already its "Periscope" report last week that U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay flushed a copy of the holy book down a toilet has touched off riots throughout the Islamic world, resulting in at least 17 deaths, and added yet another weapon to al Qaeda's recruiting arsenal since many Muslims won't believe the retraction.

Less reassuring, however, is the magazine's contention that the story is a routine error. "There was absolutely no lapse in journalistic standards here," said Michael Isikoff, who was one of two reporters behind the story. Certainly we all make mistakes. But if printing such an explosive allegation based on the memory of what a single, anonymous source claims he read is standard Newsweek procedure -- no documents were even produced -- its readers must wonder about the rest of its content too.

The more consequential question here, it seems to us, is why Newsweek was so ready to believe the story was true. The allegation after all repudiated explicit U.S. and Army policy to treat Muslim detainees with religious respect, including time to pray, honoring dietary preferences and access to the Koran. Yet the magazine readily printed a story suggesting that what our enemies claim about Guantanamo is essentially true. Why?

To read the full text, see Wall Street Journal

7:43 AM

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