Newsweek Buries Its Backtracking, NBC Assigns Blame Elsewhere --5/16/2005
2. Couric Fawns Over Specter, Blames GOP for "Disgusted" Public
3. GMA Paints John Bolton as the Prototypical "Bullying" Boss
4. NPR Centers Interview with 'Jerks at Work' Author Around Bolton
5. Schieffer Describes Senator John Warner as "Very Conservative"
6. National Poll of Journalists: 68% Voted for Kerry, 25% for Bush
7. In Look at MRC Labeling Study, Gabler Denigrates MRC as "Clowns"
8. "Top Ten Thoughts Going Through Putin's Mind at This Moment"
Newsweek may have admitted Sunday that its sloppy reporting, about how a U.S. soldier at Guantanamo Bay flushed a Koran down a toilet, led to riots in Afghanistan which killed at least 15 people, but they hardly made their concession prominent in the May 23 edition of the magazine, especially online where, on the magazine's home page, you'd have to guess that this headline, "The Islamic World: How a Fire Broke Out," had something to do with a retraction. And to read Editor Mark Whitaker's message, you'd have to know to click on "Letters and Live Talk" in a left side column, then, under "More," choose "The Editors' Desk." And even then, whether online or in the hard copy, Whitaker didn't approach an apology until the last sentence of his last paragraph: "We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst."
On Sunday night, the networks all gave prominent play to Newsweek's backtracking, and featured the magazine's Washington Bureau Chief, Dan Klaidman, but NBC's Charles Sabine in London tried to shift the blame elsewhere: "The fact that just one unsubstantiated report could bring about the deaths of seventeen people shows just how sensitive some parts of the Muslim world are to the United States' respect for their religion."
Newsweek's Web site buried inside MSNBC.com (www.newsweek.msnbc.com ), on Sunday night and Monday morning offered only this clue to their backtracking on the incendiary charge featured in the Periscope section two weeks earlier: "The Islamic World: How a Fire Broke Out." See: www.msnbc.msn.com
That linked to a piece in the May 23 Newsweek by Evan Thomas, "How a Fire Broke Out: The story of a sensitive NEWSWEEK report about alleged abuses at Guantánamo Bay and a surge of deadly unrest in the Islamic world." An excerpt:
By the end of the week, the rioting had spread from Afghanistan throughout much of the Muslim world, from Gaza to Indonesia. Mobs shouting "Protect our Holy Book!" burned down government buildings and ransacked the offices of relief organizations in several Afghan provinces. The violence cost at least 15 lives, injured scores of people and sent a shudder through Washington, where officials worried about the stability of moderate regimes in the region.
The spark was apparently lit at a press conference held on Friday, May 6, by Imran Khan, a Pakistani cricket legend and strident critic of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. Brandishing a copy of that week's NEWSWEEK (dated May 9), Khan read a report that U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo prison had placed the Qur'an on toilet seats and even flushed one. "This is what the U.S. is doing," exclaimed Khan, "desecrating the Qur'an." His remarks, as well as the outraged comments of Muslim clerics and Pakistani government officials, were picked up on local radio and played throughout neighboring Afghanistan. Radical Islamic foes of the U.S.-friendly regime of Hamid Karzai quickly exploited local discontent with a poor economy and the continued presence of U.S. forces, and riots began breaking out last week.
Late last week Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita told NEWSWEEK that its original story was wrong. The brief PERISCOPE item ("SouthCom Showdown") had reported on the expected results of an upcoming U.S. Southern Command investigation into the abuse of prisoners at Gitmo. According to NEWSWEEK, SouthCom investigators found that Gitmo interrogators had flushed a Qur'an down a toilet in an attempt to rattle detainees. While various released detainees have made allegations about Qur'an desecration, the Pentagon has, according to DiRita, found no credible evidence to support them.
How did NEWSWEEK get its facts wrong? And how did the story feed into serious international unrest? While continuing to report events on the ground, NEWSWEEK interviewed government officials, diplomats and its own staffers, and reconstructed this narrative of events:
At NEWSWEEK, veteran investigative reporter Michael Isikoff's interest had been sparked by the release late last year of some internal FBI e-mails that painted a stark picture of prisoner abuse at Guantanamo. Isikoff knew that military investigators at Southern Command (which runs the Guantanamo prison) were looking into the allegations. So he 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. A SouthCom spokesman contacted by Isikoff declined to comment on an ongoing investigation, but NEWSWEEK National Security Correspondent John Barry, realizing the sensitivity of the story, provided a draft of the NEWSWEEK PERISCOPE item to a senior Defense official, asking, "Is this accurate or not?" The official challenged one aspect of the story: the suggestion that Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, sent to Gitmo by the Pentagon in 2001 to oversee prisoner interrogation, might be held accountable for the abuses. Not true, said the official (the PERISCOPE draft was corrected to reflect that). But he was silent about the rest of the item. The official had not meant to mislead, but lacked detailed knowledge of the SouthCom report.
Given all that has been reported about the treatment of detainees -- including allegations that a female interrogator pretended to wipe her own menstrual blood on one prisoner -- the reports of Qur'an desecration seemed shocking but not incredible. But to Muslims, defacing the Holy Book is especially heinous....
With Karzai scheduled to come to Washington next week, this is a good time for his enemies to make trouble.
That does not quite explain, however, why the protest and rioting over Qur'an desecration spread throughout the Islamic region. After so many gruesome reports of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, the vehemence of feeling around this case came as something of a surprise....
After the rioting began last week, the Pentagon attempted to determine the veracity of the NEWSWEEK story. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers told reporters that so far no allegations had been proven. He did appear to cryptically refer to two mentions found in the logs of prison guards in Gitmo: a report that a detainee had used pages of the Qur'an to stop up a crude toilet as a form of protest, and a complaint from a detainee that a prison guard had knocked down a Qur'an hanging in a bag in his cell....
In the meantime, as part of his ongoing reporting on the detainee-abuse story, Isikoff had contacted a New York defense lawyer, Marc Falkoff, who is representing 13 Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo. According to Falkoff's declassified notes, a mass-suicide attempt -- when 23 detainees tried to hang or strangle themselves in August 2003 -- was triggered by a guard's dropping a Qur'an and stomping on it. One of Falkoff's clients told him, "Another detainee tried to kill himself after the guard took his Qur'an and threw it in the toilet." A U.S. military spokesman, Army Col. Brad Blackner, dismissed the claims as unbelievable. "If you read the Al Qaeda training manual, they are trained to make allegations against the infidels," he said.
More allegations, credible or not, are sure to come....
END of Excerpt
For Newsweek's rationalizing in full: www.msnbc.msn.com
For Whitaker's "The Editor's Desk" item, go to: www.msnbc.msn.com
NBC's Katie Couric offered up a fawning tribute to Pennsylvania's liberal Republican Senator Arlen Specter, whom Couric termed a "moderate," on Friday's Today show. After touting Specter, who is currently undergoing treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma, as a "feisty" and "firm" Senator with a "razor sharp mind," Couric delivered loaded questions that presented conservatives as the main cause of acrimony on Capitol Hill. She asked Specter: "Do you believe the religious right has too much influence on the Republican Party at this point?" Couric also singled out Republicans and their proposal to end the blocking of judicial nominees with filibuster, not Democrats who changed 200 years of tradition, as the culprits for souring the public: "If the nuclear option is played out, don't you think voters are going to be disgusted with all politicians and say come on, get out of the sandbox?"
[The MRC's Rich Noyes submitted this item for CyberAlert.]
Specter did criticize Democrats, saying "the point of the filibuster is mainly to get even. It is masquerading under the guise of defeating extremist judges, but that's not the case." But he delighted Couric in the taped segment by assigning equal blame to the Republicans, saying that although Democrats acted irresponsibly when they blocked judges under President Reagan and the first President Bush, "we Republicans exacerbated it" by thwarting some of President Clinton's nominees.
When Couric asked him who was responsible for the problem, Specter replied, "Both sides, 50-50."
"There's enough blame to go around?" Couric amplified. "Plenty," Specter smilingly answered.
Now, a fuller description of the story that aired during the 9am EDT hour of the May 13 Today, for which Couric traveled to Capitol Hill to tape, as transcribed by the MRC's Megan McCormack. Couric began by promoting Specter as an unbiased umpire:
NBC then switched to the taped piece that Couric narrated: "Feisty, firm, with the razor sharp mind of a former prosecutor, Arlen Specter, 75, has never been afraid of a fight. Recently diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin's lymphoma, Specter is now undergoing chemotherapy."
Referring to how Specter has lost most of his hair, Couric proclaimed, "His look may be different, his drive is not." After a few questions about his health, she outlined the liberal views that have helped make Specter a media favorite:
Couric then resumed her narration: "And now, Specter is the man in the middle when it comes to the current wrangling over judicial nominees. The Democrats want to filibuster and put off a vote on some judges they don't like. The Republicans want to change the rules and make it easier to end filibusters and force a vote. If the two sides can't come together, the Republicans are threatening the so-called nuclear option, which would bring Congress to a screeching halt. What in the world is going on here?"
Couric asked who deserved the blame: "Who's responsible, in your view, Senator, for all the acrimony currently on Capitol Hill?"
Couric then prompted Specter to attack conservatives: "Do you believe the religious right has too much influence on the Republican Party at this point?"
Specter said the problem was that "moderates" weren't assertive enough: "No, I think the problem is that the moderates don't have enough influence. We shouldn't criticize the religious right for the power that they're exercising. We ought to use the power ourselves and bring the party back to the center. Because that's where most of the Republican Party is."
Reading from a paper, Couric did ask Specter whether he conservatives could trust him as an ally: "I know that the head of the Young Conservatives in Pennsylvania said, conservatives can trust Arlen Specter about as far as we can throw Ted Kennedy."
Specter deadpanned: "Well, I saw Ted in the gym recently, and I think he's about right."
Friday's Good Morning America portrayed UN Ambassador-nominee John Bolton as the prototypical "bullying" boss. "With a reputation for being rather, well, let's say prickly," ABC's Robin Roberts insisted, "he has also become a lightning rod for the question of when does being a tough boss turn into being toxic?" Bill Weir proceeded to recount the allegations against Bolton and how they "strike a chord with anyone who's ever worked under harsh management. In fact, some studies have found as many as one in six employees are victims of bullying in the workplace." Serving as an expert for Weir, Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute.
Roberts set up the May 13 segment, as observed by the MRC's Jessica Barnes: "This morning the U.S. Senate will get to decide the fate of John Bolton. He is President Bush's controversial nominee to be the U.S. ambassador to the UN. But with a reputation for being rather, well, let's say prickly, he has also become a lightning rod for the question of when does being a tough boss turn into being toxic? We turn to Bill Weir for that question."
Weir began: "Well, Robin, whether they're diplomats or the office manager down the corner, they all decide whether it is better, at some point, to be feared or loved. And even as allies admit John Bolton is abrasive, and that is why his confirmation is such a heated political fight this morning, it also casts new light on the effectiveness of the so-called toxic boss, why they do what they do and how they get away with it.
Last Thursday, in a business news segment on National Public Radio's drive-time program Morning Edition, co-host Steve Inskeep repeatedly inserted liberal politics into his interview with the author of the book Jerks at Work: How to Deal With People Problems and Problem People. Specifically, Inskeep, in his questions to author Ken Lloyd, echoed Democratic talking points that John Bolton, President Bush's nominee to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is a "bully" who favors a "kiss up, kick down" management style, and who refused to listen to "intelligence analysts who weren't bringing him the information he wanted to hear." Inskeep noted in passing that such allegations might be at least partly false, but, given the context, mentioning them at all seemed a highly dubious choice.
[Tom Johnson, who monitors NPR for the MRC, filed this item for CyberAlert.]
Inskeep began the May 12 segment, "The business news includes a Senate debate that affects the workplace. Today's expected vote on John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations will turn in part on workplace issues, how he treated his colleagues. The precise details of John Bolton's management style are still in dispute. However, we do know that many people have to deal with the kind of complaints that have been loudly discussed in Senate meetings in recent weeks. So, we're gonna look this morning at bullies in the workplace."
Then, after introducing Lloyd, Inskeep said, "One phrase that's been used...in the Senate discussion, in testimony about John Bolton, is a 'kiss up, kick down' manager. What is that, and how common is that kind of person?" After Lloyd answered, Inskeep offered another Bolton-related preamble before asking his next question: "The word 'bully' has been used sometimes to describe John Bolton. Again, without endorsing or...decrying that, let's talk about bullies for a minute. What happens when you have a bully in the workplace?"
Inskeep did make one negative comment about a Democrat, albeit a long-dead Democrat: "There's a famous anecdote about Lyndon Johnson, who was, by some descriptions, a notorious bully, and...a military officer who finally had seen all of his colleagues be abused by [LBJ] and finally said, 'I'm not gonna take that crap from you, Mr. President,' and Johnson immediately backed down."
After that, though, Inskeep returned to Bolton: "Now, another allegation that's been made here is, basically a manager who doesn't listen to subordinates, doesn't listen to people who have advice for him. In this case...the allegation was that John Bolton wasn't listening to intelligence analysts who weren't bringing him the information he wanted to hear, and in fact he may have been leaning on them, allegedly, to change the information. Is that kind of behavior common in the workplace?"
Someone at Morning Edition should have leaned on Inskeep to leave politics out of an interview on a non-political topic.
According to Amazon.com, Jerks at Work was published in 1999; a revised edition is scheduled for publication this fall.
U.S. Senator John Warner of Virginia, who in 1994 campaigned for a liberal independent candidate for Senate instead of the Republican nominee, Oliver North, may be many things, but "very conservative" is certainly not amongst them. Yet on Sunday's Face the Nation on CBS, in a discussion about which way some Republican Senators may vote on ending the Democratic filibusters of judicial nominees, Bob Schieffer referred to Warner as the "very conservative Senator from Virginia."
Schieffer's panel segment with Washington Post editorial writer Colbert King and New York Times White House correspondent Elisabeth Bumiller followed an opening interview with Senator Ted Kennedy, whom Schieffer managed to not label. Schieffer told King: "I think it's very, very close at this point according to my own calculations and it's interesting to me that the person who may actually be the deciding vote could be John Warner, the very conservative Senator from Virginia, who may -- I'm saying may; there's been no public announcement -- could vote with the Democrats to defeat this."
For 2004, Warner earned a fairly high, for a Republican, 25 percent approval rating from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action. See: www.adaction.org
The American Conservative Union gave him a 72 percent in 2004, 20 points lower than his Republican colleague, George Allen. Over his Senate career, the ACU has assessed Warner at 81 percent, ten points lower than Allen during his shorter tenure. See: www.acuratings.org
Journalists -- surprise, surprise -- voted overwhelmingly for John Kerry over George W. Bush last year, a new survey by the University of Connecticut's Department of Public Policy discovered, yet twice as many self-identified themselves as "moderate" over "liberal." Editor & Publisher's Joe Strupp reported Sunday: "Asked who they voted for in the past election, the journalists reported picking Kerry over Bush by 68 percent to 25 percent. In this sample of 300 journalists, from both newspapers and TV, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 3 to 1 -- but about half claim to be Independent. As in previous polls, a majority (53 percent) called their political orientation 'moderate,' versus 28 percent liberal and 10 percent conservative."
Strupp outlined the scope of the survey: "Of 300 surveyed -- with 120 from TV and 180 from newspapers -- a lopsided 43 percent of them were news directors or editors, 4 percent TV producers, 5 percent news analysts and columnists and just 47 percent at the reporter level."
Strupp also relayed how "six in ten among the public feel the media show bias in reporting the news," but he did not note if the poll asked which way the public sees the tilt and, if it did, which way won out.
For Strupp's Editor & Publisher story: www.editorandpublisher.com
Whenever those in Connecticut get their act together, the various parts of the survey should be accessible at: www.dpp.uconn.edu
[Web Update: A very confusing posting style. The poll results are not posted in HTML on a Web page. They are posted as Microsoft Word documents. To access the the results, go to the above link and right click over the TOP half of the links and choose "save link as" (Firefox's wording) or similar in your browser to call up your browswer's download option to download the Word document. If you get a selection with an htm extension, you've clicked the wrong area of the link.]
You read it here first. FNC's Fox Newswatch on Saturday devoted a "Quick Take" to the MRC's labeling study released last week. Host Eric Burns pointed out how, "according to a conservative group called the Media Research Center," the network morning and evening shows "have used the words liberal and conservative in their stories a total of 454 times since last November's election. Liberal was used 59 times, conservative 395 times." Former Los Angeles Times reporter Jane Hall asserted, "Let me surprise you and say I think they have a point," and Newsday columnist Jim Pinkerton declared: "The MRC performs a service." But panelist Neal Gabler resorted to an insult, suggesting that "here's something that the clowns at MRC might want to think about," and then he cited a ridiculous reason for the disparity: "There are more conservatives on television than there are liberals." More than six times more conservatives than liberals?
With "Source: The Media Research Center," at the bottom of the screen, an FNC graphic relayed the numbers:
Hall, now a journalism professor at American University, reacted: "Let me surprise you and say I think they have a point. It was a point that Bernie Goldberg made in his book about bias, that they don't identify Ted Kennedy as a liberal. I'm always skeptical of these counts, and also conservatives have been, they're the winners of the last political fight so that may be a factor."
Gabler denounced the MRC as he offered a flimsy retort: "To really understand this you have to see how many times they have so-called right-wingers and so-called left-wingers on the air and the percentage of times that they're labeled. They didn't even do that study. But here's something that the clowns at MRC might want to think about, as Jane just said, conservatives won the election, conservatives control the Senate and the House....there are more conservatives on television than there are liberals."
Cal Thomas scolded Gabler: "Here's another example. He just called the 'clowns' -- another label. Why do you have to do that? Why don't you just attack the substance of their argument? The fact is that people are labeled. In the old days of journalism, when a Africa-American was involved in a crime, the newspaper would put, 'Joe Smith, a Negro.' Well thank God we've gotten away from that. Why do we have to use labels at all? Why can't just ideas be presented, and let people make up their mind whether they're liberal or conservative?"
Pinkerton wrapped up the segment: "The oldest trick in the book is to say, journalist is to say, 'I'm a moderate, you're a crazed ideologue, whether left or right,' and therefore not to be listened to. The MRC performs a service."
Contradicting Gabler's rationale, a 2002 MRC study of labeling on the broadcast network evening newscasts from 1997 through 2001, a time period with a Democratic President for 80 percent of the time, found a four-to-one skew in labels attached to conservatives over liberals, with these findings which demonstrate that the labeling bias goes beyond just the raw numbers of the ideology of those in the news:
-- On ABC, conservatives received 79 percent of the liberal or conservative labels; on NBC, 80 percent. On the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather, 82 percent of the 353 ideological labels assigned by CBS's reporters were given to conservatives.
-- Only eight House Members were identified as liberals, compared with 34 who were called conservatives.
-- Only one reporter, NBC's Lisa Myers, used "liberal" to describe Democratic candidate Bill Bradley (Sept. 25, 1999), and no network reporter labeled Vice President Al Gore as liberal during the entire 1999-2000 election cycle. In contrast, then-Governor George W. Bush was called a conservative 19 times.
For the full rundown of that study released in June of 2002: www.mrc.org
From the May 12 Late Show with David Letterman, prompted by a photo of President Bush behind the steering wheel of a 1956 Volga with Vladimir Putin leaning over to put his hands on the steering wheel, the "Top Ten Thoughts Going Through Vladimir Putin's Mind at This Moment."
10. "That's it -- turn the wheel left and the car goes left."
9. "He's getting the steering wheel sticky with taffy."
8. "How can an adult get his necktie tangled around the gear shift?"
7. "I regret not making that 15-minute call to Geico."
6. "Floor it, you dumb hillbilly!"
5. "At this point, would it be more dangerous to jump out or stay in?"
4. "This baby gets so much as a scratch, I'm launchin' the nukes."
3. "I'd be better off letting Billy Joel drive this thing."
2. "Not often you hear a grown man saying, 'Vroom! Vroom!'"
1. "Why is his hand in my lap?"
-- Brent Baker