by Austin Bay
May 18, 2005
It was classic "media gotcha," using the "Vietnam and Watergate"
storyline of "United States bad, Third World good" -- but the phony story
led to riots, deaths and an embarrassing retraction.
I'm referring, of course, to Newsweek's "Koran flushing" story,
which ran in the magazine's May 1 edition.
The sin of greed creeps into every scandal, and it lurks behind
this tragic incident. Newsweek wants "market share," and hot stories grab
But profit generated by a frantic "me first" quest isn't the
only motive. The "Vietnam-Watergate" press template is also involved.
"Vietnam-Watergate" is a tired and phony game, but for three decades it's
been the spine of the New York-Washington-Los Angeles media axis. Its rules
are simple and cynical. Presume the U.S. government is lying -- particularly
when the president is a Republican. Presume the worst about the U.S.
military -- even when the president is a Democrat. Add multicultural
icing -- allegations by "Third World victims" are given revered status,
while U.S. statements are met with arrogant contempt. (Yes, it's the myth of
the Noble Savage recast.)
Wake up. There's a war going on -- a global war. American lives
and liberty are at stake, but Newsweek and its clan are still trying to "Get
Newsweek's editors haven't entered the 21st century.
Anti-American propagandists -- and that includes Al Qaeda -- have used Gitmo
and Abu Ghraib as emotional/political weapons. Responsible reporting must
take that into account. News organizations will ultimately lose credibility
if they fail to factor the Al Qaeda propaganda angle in their reports on
Gitmo and Abu Ghraib.
Yes, this makes for a more complicated story, but we are engaged
in an intricate, complex war on an intricate, complex planet.
There's also an odd but apt comparison between Newsweek's fiasco
and the Pentagon's initially slow response to Abu Ghraib. When evaluating
Abu Ghraib allegations, Don Rumsfeld was operating with a 1970s' "paper
information template." To Rumsfeld, "pictures" of Pfc. England with a dog
leash meant snapshots on paper marked "Kodak." Rumsfeld didn't realize his
young troops shoot digital photos that in 10 seconds "go global" on the
I suspect Newsweek's bosses were operating on a "paper
template," the legacy of their own formative era, where their "print
product" reached readers via the postman. In this "template," a press
allegation remains largely "local," or U.S.-bound, and if it's wrong it's
easily retracted (or covered up). Despite calling itself a "global news
organization," this "Koran flushing" article was clearly aimed at the U.S.
However, there is no "over there" in our world, not anymore. We
live in a world where everyone is -- in terms of information -- next door.
Rumsfeld and Newsweek were both handling volatile allegations
with a restricted view of the audience (a 1970s, U.S.-oriented template) and
a poor appreciation of the allegations' impact.
We have enemies looking for "operational opportunities" on a
global scale. Al Qaeda has sympathizers who are cued to react to Western
news reports that "insult Islam." The "fifth-columnist" throws the first
stone. If he can get a couple of bored teenage boys to throw a second and
third stone, he's done his job. Al Qaeda gets another "the Muslim street is
angry" story and perhaps a bloodbath.
Is this a fanciful scenario? Indian military analyst Bahukutumbi
Raman claimed the Afghan riot riots in the wake of the Newsweek phony story
were incited by "well-organized agents of the Hizb ut-Tahrir terror gang."
Welcome, Newsweek, to the 21st century -- and 21st century war.