TCS Daily

In the Grand Tradition of Axis Sally and Tokyo Rose

By Jack Birnbaum - May 17, 2005 12:00 AM

Several months ago, if you care (and there isn't any reason you should), I failed to renew my decades-long subscription to Newsweek, after realizing that I wasn't interested in the "lifestyle" features that the magazine was increasingly filled with, and that the rest of the content was freely available to me on the web by linking to the Democratic National Committee's talking points.

But even though it has been clear that most of the large news outlets in this country have long ago discarded straight reporting of what happened for a smorgasbord of thinly disguised opinion pieces (usually on the front page, leading with "Many experts feel that..." or some such) and "investigative reports" that somehow only investigate those with whom the outlet has policy disagreements, Newsweek has now gone a step further. And that step is into the abyss.

In its breathless excitement of finding yet another "insider" who has information that would prove not only embarrassing to the current administration, but also reinforce their worldview that America is terminally insensitive to other cultures, they have passed on to a credulous Islamic world a terror suspect's allegations (if he ever actually made them... even that is unclear) that interrogators at Guantanamo, in their overzealous efforts to obtain information that could, perhaps, prevent another 9/11 or something a lot worse, flushed a Koran down the toilet. (Plumbing is apparently not a required subject in modern journalism schools, but still, one would think that some familiarity with the thickness of the Koran as well as personal experience would have raised a red flag here. Apparently not. Continued speculations on this point are left to the reader.)

So now riots in Afghanistan have left at least 15 people dead. Some experts say (now they've got me doing it... see how easy it is?) that our efforts to introduce democracy there have been irreversibly damaged. There are protests across the Islamic world, from Indonesia to Pakistan to Egypt. And everyone who had a reason to want to believe the original story, now believes that the magazine's own admission that the story was unsubstantiated is just further proof of conspiracy and suppression of the truth about the evil of America.

In the early years of the 20th century, Russian secret police reprinted an old forgery called "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion", a supposed outline of Jewish plans to dominate the world. In the time since, millions have read it and been swayed by it; it probably played at least a minor role in the recrudescence of European anti-Semitism that ended in the Holocaust. Still, today, in the 21st century, it is a best seller in much of the Muslim world.

Now Newsweek has given us their own "protocols". Only time will tell how deep and long-lasting the damage will be, and even then, we will never really know how much of a role it may have played in a failure to succeed in bringing free political systems into the Arab world, or in an Iranian use of a nuclear weapon, or in a group of suicide attackers spreading smallpox around American cities. But we do know this: Newsweek has forfeited any pretensions it had about being a reliable source of information. The only honorable thing to do would be to apologize without conditions, and to shut itself down. I'm not holding my breath. But then, I'm not subscribing any more either. I can't even bear to look at it.

Jack Birnbaum is a frequent contributor. He recently wrote for TCS about The Next Threat.


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