Can bad reporting be bad for your health?
Anyone wondering whether this is the case need look no further than Newsweek magazine, where a combination of lousy judgment and even lousier journalism, led to death, destruction and injury.
In a May 9 report, the once-venerable news magazine reported that US personnel at the Guantanomo Bay detention center had flushed a Koran down the toilet. The report was based on a single anonymous source who couldn’t personally verify the incident, but thought he might have seen it mentioned in a classified document of some sort.
The result was not long in coming. As Reuters described it:
The report sparked violent protests across the Muslim world -- from Afghanistan, where 16 were killed and more than 100 injured, to Pakistan, Indonesia and Gaza. In the past week the reported desecration was condemned in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Malaysia and by the Arab League.
Moreover, in one fell swoop, Newsweek handed Islamist extremists new ammunition with which to stir up yet more anti-American and anti-Western sentiment.
This whole episode should serve as a lesson to journalists everywhere – it is a reminder of the incredible responsibility they bear to report the truth and to weigh the consequences of their actions.
Too often, and especially when it comes to Israel, journalists pounce on a story because it suits their political beliefs, inevitably tossing facts to the wind and causing inestimable harm to innocent people. And then they rarely, if ever, acknowledge their mistakes.
Sure, Newsweek did apologize – but that is the exception which proves the rule. After all, how many times do major news outlets admit the errors of their ways? And even when they do, does it have any noticeable long-term effect on the substance of their reporting?
It would be nice to think that “NewsweekGate” will lead to a change in how journalists do their jobs – especially those covering the Middle East. Nice, but also most unlikely.