May 27, 2005
Cowardice in Journalism Award for Newsweek,
"It's appalling that this story got out there," Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice said on her way back from Iraq.
What's NOT appalling to Condi is that the US is holding prisoners
at Guantanamo under conditions termed "torture" by the Red
Cross. What's not appalling to Condi is that prisoners of the Afghan
war are held in violation of international law after that conflict
has supposedly ended. What is NOT appalling to Condi is that prisoner
witnesses have reported several instances of the Koran's desecration.
What is appalling to her is that these things were REPORTED. So to
Condi goes to the Joseph Goebbels Ministry of Propaganda Iron Cross.
But I don't want to leave out our president. His aides report that
George Bush is "angry" about the report not the desecration
of the Koran, but the REPORTING of it.
And so long as George is angry and Condi appalled, Newsweek
knows what to do: swiftly grab its corporate ankles and ask the White
House for mercy.
But there was no mercy. Donald Rumsfeld pointed the finger at Newsweek
and said, "People lost their lives. People are dead." Maybe
Rumsfeld was upset that Newsweek was taking away his job. After all,
it's hard to beat Rummy when it comes to making people dead.
And just for the record: Newsweek, unlike Rumsfeld, did not
kill anyone nor did its report cause killings. Afghans protested
when they heard the Koran desecration story (as Christians have protested
crucifix desecrations). The Muslim demonstrators were gunned down
by the Afghan military police which operate under Rumsfeld's
Our secretary of defense, in his darkest Big Brother voice, added
a warning for journalists and citizens alike, "People need to
be very careful about what they say."
And Newsweek has now promised to be very, very good, and very,
very careful not to offend Rumsfeld, appall Condi or anger George.
For their good behavior, I'm giving Newsweek and its owner,
the Washington Post, the Yellow Streak Award for Craven Cowardice
As always, the competition is fierce, but Newsweek takes the
honors by backing down on Mike Isakoff's expose of cruelty, racism
and just plain bone-headed incompetence by the US military at the
Guantanamo prison camp.
Isakoff cited a reliable source that among the neat little "interrogation"
techniques used to break down Muslim prisoners was putting a copy
of the Koran into a toilet.
No more. Instead of nailing the wrongdoers, the Bush Administration
went after the guy who REPORTED the crime, Isakoff.
Was there a problem with the story? Certainly. If you want to split
hairs, the inside-government source of the Koran desecration story
now says he can't confirm which military report it appeared in. But
he saw it in one report and a witness has confirmed that the Koran
Of course, there's an easy way to get at the truth. RELEASE THE REPORTS
NOW. Hand them over, Mr. Rumsfeld, and let's see for ourselves what's
But Newsweek and the Post are too polite to ask Rumsfeld
to make the investigative reports public. Rather, the corporate babysitter
for Newsweek, editor Mark Whitaker, said, "Top administration
officials have promised to continue looking into the charges and so
will we." In other words, we'll take the Bush Administration's
word that there is no evidence of Koran-dunking in the draft reports
It used to be that the Washington Post permitted journalism
in its newsrooms. No more. But, frankly, that's an old story.
Every time I say investigative reporting is dead or barely breathing
in the USA, some little smartass will challenge me, "What about
Watergate? Huh?" Hey, buddy, the Watergate investigation was
32 years ago that means it's been nearly a third of a century
since the Washington Post has printed a big investigative scoop.
The Post today would never run the Watergate story: a hidden source
versus official denial. Let's face it, Bob Woodward, now managing
editor at the Post, has gone from "All the President's
Men" to becoming the President's Man -- "Bush at War."
And now the Post company is considering further restrictions
on the use of confidential sources -- no more "Deep Throats."
Despite its supposed new concern for hidden sources, let's note that
Newsweek and the Post have no trouble providing, even
in the midst of this story, cover for secret Administration sources
that are FAVORABLE to Bush. Editor Whitaker's retraction relies on
"Administration officials" whose names he kindly withholds.
In other words, unnamed sources are OK if they defend Bush, unacceptable
if they expose the Administration's mendacity or evil.
A lot of my readers don't like the Koran-story reporter Mike Isakoff
because of his goofy fixation with Monica Lewinsky and Mr. Clinton's
cigar. Have some sympathy for Isakoff: Mike's one darn good reporter,
but as an inmate at the Post/Newsweek facilities, his ability
to send out serious communications to the rest of the world are limited.
A few years ago, while I was tracking the influence of the power
industry on Washington, Isakoff gave me some hard, hot stuff on Bill
Clinton not the cheap intern-under-the-desk gossip but
an FBI report for me to publish in The Guardian of Britain.
I asked Isakoff why he didn't put it in Newsweek or in the
He said, when it comes to issues of substance, "No one gives
a sh--," not the readers, and especially not the editors who
assume that their US target audience is small-minded, ignorant and
wants to stay that way.
That doesn't leave a lot of time, money or courage for real reporting.
And woe to those who practice investigative journalism. As with CBS's
retraction of Dan Rather's report on Bush's draft dodging, Newsweek's
diving to the mat on Guantanamo acts as a warning to all journalists
who step out of line.
Newsweek has now publicly committed to having its reports
vetted by Rumsfeld's Defense Department before publication. Why not
just print Rumsfeld's press releases and eliminate the middleman,
However, not all of us poor scribblers will adhere to this New News
Order. In the meantime, however, for my future security and comfort,
I'm having myself measured for a custom-made orange suit.
Greg Palast was awarded the 2005 George Orwell Prize for Courage in Journalism at the Sundance Film Festival for his investigative reports produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation. See those reports for BBC, Harper's, The Nation and others at www.GregPalast.com.
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