Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Can't Hold it Any Longer

Reading Silent Bounce this morning, I ran head-on into this post about the Newsweek item about the Koran desecration at Gitmo. I've been stewing over this whole steaming pile of shit for a while now, and I just have to let loose on it before I explode.

Holly makes the point that anyone other than a journalist would face prison time if they were responsible for 17 deaths and over 100 injuries, not to mention how much property damage has occured. She also quotes Stan Lee: "With great power comes great responsibility". Absolutely true.

What Michael Isikoff and John Barry did was reprehensible and totally irresponsible, and they should be held accountable for their actions. Publishing a story so obviously inflammatory without being sure of the facts goes way beyond any bounds of good sense or good journalism. If you are going to write a story that will enrage a billion or so people, you should at least have the sense to verify its accuracy first.

Anyone who has read this blog very long knows that I am a rabid supporter of freedom of speech. However, even I realize that freedom of speech is not freedom to cause damage, injury, and death. The cliched example is shouting "Fire" in a crowded theater. This story is the equivalent of that. Not the "moral" equivalent, but the literal equivalent.

Freedom of speech carries with it the personal responsibility of the speaker for his or her statements. Blaming the misinformation on an anonymous "source" is not acceptable. The journalist is responsible for presenting accurate facts. Negligence and not exercising due diligence have ramifications. There are consequences. Isikoff and Barry were negligent in not verifying their statements and are personally responsible for the consequences. Not just the immediate consequences, either. The shockwaves from this incident will continue to reverberate for a long time. How many American lives will we have to pay with for these men's indiscretion? How many new terrorists have been recruited over the past week? How much will the violence against our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan increase? Charge these costs, too, to the accounts of Michael Isikoff and John Barry.

Newsweek has printed a retraction. This piece is a mealy-mouthed evasion of responsibility that leaves me even more enraged. In it, Editor Mark Whitaker says that "We were as alarmed as anyone to hear of the violence". He then goes on a little later in the piece to try to lay the blame on "extremists and unhappiness over the economy".

Mr. Whitaker, it has been a lot of years since I learned the difference between shit and Shinola. You cannot expect me or any other even slightly reasonable person to believe that you did not know what was going to happen when you published this story. You told Muslims all over the world that American soldiers AS A MATTER OF ROUTINE desecrated their holy book and mocked the religion that shapes their lives and thoughts. Any moron who can put three words together into a coherent sentence could see this coming. Violence? Death? Destruction? Well, DUH!

So what will happen now? Isikoff, Barry, and Whitaker will hide behind two screens. First is the defense, already in place and being actively pursued, that they were misled by their source. That's not good enough. When a story is going to cause such obvious damage, then it is the responsibility of the journalists involved to be sure of their facts. This is not just malicious gossip about a movie star's infidelities. This is serious. This affects the stability of a major part of the world's population. This affects people's lives. This defense is inadequate to say the least.

Secondly, they will use the First Amendment as their shield. I believe I have already made my position on that clear.

The upshot is that Isikoff and Barry will get away with incitement to riot and 17 counts of involuntary manslaughter (so far). Not only is that not fair or just, but that fact by itself will escalate the violence and death sprouting from this mountain of dung, and that stinks.

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