Archive for May, 2005

Politics: Isikoff still doesn’t get It

Tuesday, May 24th, 2005

On the Charlie Rose Show, Michael Isikoff continued his self-serving spin, evading responsibility for his article’s effects and writing off the long-term harm to Newsweek as nothing more than “a blip”. Sigh. He’s probably right.

Michael Isikoff appeared on the Charlie Rose Show to discuss – and apparently defend – the shoddy reporting in his now-infamous Newsweek article. Newsweek’s owner, the Washington Post reported that Isikoff admitted he had “dropped the ball by not properly corroborating his anonymous source.” In his tepid mea culpa, he acknowledged only “the possibility that his article, which has been blamed for violent protests in Muslim countries, may have spurred riots.” Isikoff reportedly told Rose, “It was terrible what happened…. Even if it was just a little bit that we contributed to the violence that went on over there, that was awful, terrible.” Just a little bit? Consider what Newsweek itself said about the “contribution” Isikoff’s article made to the violence:

By the end of the week, the rioting had spread from Afghanistan throughout much of the Muslim world, from Gaza to Indonesia. Mobs shouting “Protect our Holy Book!” burned down government buildings and ransacked the offices of relief organizations in several Afghan provinces. The violence cost at least 15 lives, injured scores of people and sent a shudder through Washington, where officials worried about the stability of moderate regimes in the region.

The spark was apparently lit at a press conference held on Friday, May 6, by Imran Khan, a Pakistani cricket legend and strident critic of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. Brandishing a copy of that week’s NEWSWEEK (dated May 9), Khan read a report that U.S. interrogators at Guantánamo prison had placed the Qur’an on toilet seats and even flushed one. “This is what the U.S. is doing,” exclaimed Khan, “desecrating the Qur’an.” His remarks, as well as the outraged comments of Muslim clerics and Pakistani government officials, were picked up on local radio and played throughout neighboring Afghanistan. Radical Islamic foes of the U.S.-friendly regime of Hamid Karzai quickly exploited local discontent with a poor economy and the continued presence of U.S. forces, and riots began breaking out last week.

Isikoff again blamed the Pentagon for his failure to verify the story’s accuracy. According the Post story, Isikoff and co-author John Berry “had provided the article in full to a senior Defense Department official. The official asked for a change of wording on a separate issue, but said nothing about the details concerning the Quran.” Isikoff went on to explain that they had provided the article for review “as a precaution.” Maybe Isikoff has since figured out that his abysmal judgment (or laziness, or desire to embarrass the Bush Administration) wasn’t much of a precaution after all. Responsible journalist that he his, he did confess that he and Berry “had erred by not getting positive corroboration on each point in the article by the Pentagon official.”

Oh. They “erred.” Well, no big deal, I guess. According to Isikoff, more anti-American hatred and a few dead rioters won’t affect Newsweek much. “I think it has clearly done some temporary damage,” he said. “It’s thrown us off our game for a little bit,” he said. “I think this will end up being a blip.”

Off their game. That flippant remark says more about Isikoff – his hubris, his arrogance, his refusal to accept responsibility for the immeasurable damage he has done – than anything anyone else could possibly say.

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Politics: Isikoff says "the Pentagon nade me do it!"

Thursday, May 19th, 2005

I always thought that reporters and their editors (and ultimately their publishers) were responsible for verifying their stories. Not according to Michael Isikoff, whose shoddy journalism led directly to the rioting in Afghanistan that left 17 dead.

The facts are not in dispute. Newsweek ran a false story that was based on an anonymous source’s flawed recollection of a report he thought he saw. The writer, Michael Isikoff, did not bother to verify the report. If he had, he might have learned that report was unreliable. Outrage among Muslims worldwide – and in Afghanistan in particular – left 17 dead. Newsweek has since retracted the story and apologized for its error. Not surprisingly, it shows no interest in holding Isikoff responsible.

As CBS News demonstrated with Dan Rather’s forged documents, star reporters are permitted to ignore standards and abuse the privileges granted them by the First Amendment – at least as long it makes the Bush Administration look bad. (It is worth noting that Newsweek is owned by the notoriously biased Washington Post.)

But even Dan Rather showed enough integrity to admit that someone at CBS should have paid a little more attention to checking its facts. Not so Michael Isikoff. According to him, it was the Pentagon’s fault that Newsweek published its deadly fabrication. According to several published reports (i.e. here and here, Isikoff told the New York Times that “Neither Newsweek nor the Pentagon foresaw that a reference to the desecration of the Koran was going to create the kind of response that it did.”

What an astonishing statement! I don’t know about Isikoff, but I would guess that most sentient beings are aware that Americans – and American military personnel in particular – are not widely loved in the Muslim world. Some of us have even heard that Muslim clerics routinely accuse the United States of waging a “war on Islam”. Yet Isikoff claims that he simply never imagined that his story about flushing a copy of the Qur’an down a toilet might provoke some kind of negative reaction among Muslims. I suppose to a “journalist” trying to weasel out of his gross incompetence, the Ignorant Option was more attractive than the Irresponsible Option.

But it was not enough for Isikoff to claim blind ignorance. Isikoff went on to blame the Pentagon for not checking his facts for him: “The Pentagon saw the item before it ran, and then they didn’t move us off it for 11 days afterward.” There was no obligation for anyone at Newsweek to verify the story; that was the Pentagon’s job. Apparently Isikoff’s sole responsibility was to gather some rumors, shape them into a story, and wait for someone to tell him he was wrong. Is this the standard the Newsweek and the Washington Post embrace? Yes. Along with CBS News and much of the “mainstream” media.

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Politics: The Constitution according to Dirty Harry

Wednesday, May 18th, 2005

The Constitution requires super-majorities for several legislative functions. Consenting to judicial appointments is not one of them.

“Dirty Harry” Reid* is a political thug. He is a man who seems to be driven primarily by venomous hatred of President Bush and the values the President embraces. He is a man who lacks the integrity to distinguish between coy innuendo and political discourse. His lust for power is of the most covetous sort. He cannot bear to see any in the hands of those with whom he disagrees; he and those of like mind must have it all. He is, in short, a contemporary Democrat.

And like many of his party, he is outraged that the evil, Bible-thumping Senate Republicans might like to do business in accordance with the rules set down by the Constitution. The filibuster is an artifact of the Senate rules. It requires a super-majority (60 votes) to shut off debate and get on with business. The Republicans, who have the quaint idea that the President should be allowed to exercise the powers granted him by the Constitution, want to amend the rules to eliminate the filibuster for debates on judicial nominees.

Dirty Harry and his cohorts have used the threat of a filibuster to block ten judicial nominees whom they believe hold to values that are not politically correct – things like decency, fair play, Constitutional limits on the power they so desperately crave, and such. He laments that “The goal of the Republican leadership and their allies in the White House is to pave the way for a Supreme Court nominee who would only need 50 votes for confirmation rather than 60.” Dirty Harry seems to think there is something wrong with this.

But that is precisely the situation the Framers envisioned when they declined to specify a super-majority for approval of judicial appointees. In a single sentence (Article II, Section 2, Clause 2), the Constitution grants the President the power “with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur” and grants the power to “nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, … appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court ….” There is no mention of a super-majority for Senate consent to judicial appointments.

We should understand what kind of judiciary Dirty Harry and his pals envision. It was best described by Justice Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit Court. It is a judiciary that “use[s] some constitutional provisions as springboards for major social change while treating others like senile relatives to be cooped up in a nursing home until they quit annoying us.” Dirty Harry just can’t bear the idea of a federal judge who might agree with the Constitution’s own provision that it, along with laws made pursuant to it, is “the supreme Law of the Land”.

No, Dirty Harry thinks federal judges who think like him should be the supreme Law of the Land.

* Thomas Sowell

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