Sunday, May 15, 2005

Newsweek and Afghan Riots

As I'm writing this post, I've got another window open on which I'm writing my journalism ethics final. So now I present some links to stories on how Newsweek magazine is unsure about if a story it ran on the desecration of the Koran by guards at Guantanamo Bay actually happened. See the Reuters story here and the IHT story here. Basically, Newweek reported that Americans had flushed a copy of the Koran down the toilet to make prisoners talk. In reaction to that report, some people in Afghan have started deadly riots. It is unclear now if the desecration took place.

The stories actually say two different things about how Newsweek got this information in the first place.

The Reuters story said Newsweek got the information from a knowledgable government source who had seen government reports saying it had happened. Before you run a story like that with that source, you must have a copy of the verified government report in your hand and should corroborate it with 1 or 2 other sources. Apparently, the government source later said he wasn't sure where he saw the story, but it's unclear from the Reuters story if the source said that before the story ran (in which case Newsweek should have pulled the story immediately) or if that's what led Newsweek to a partial retraction after the story was printed.

The IHT story, on the other hand, implies Newsweek got it from the notes of Marc Folkoff, who is representing some of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners. If that is where Newsweek got its information, it got is from a biased source. If Newsweek were to run with the story from this source, it should have had the information corroborated from at least two other sources. You NEVER run a story like that based only on one source, especially a biased one. Even then you have to have concern about the potential effects the story would have (in this case, deadly rioting) before deciding if it was newsworthy enough to print.

Heads should roll at Newsweek, and a lot of them, probably. If not, Newsweek certainly needs to get its priorities in order. I expect some resignations/firings over this in the next couple of weeks.