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The privilege of the harlot

Posted by Helen Monday, May 16, 2005

No doubt we shall have readers asking what this posting has to do with the need to win the referendum on the Constitution. All I can say to them is: “Know thy enemy.”

Most of us know that famous jibe of Stanley Baldwin’s about journalists enjoying “the privilege of the harlot down the ages—power without responsibility”. Few harlots would have done anything as sickening as Newsweek did last week.

Calmly it produced a story without proper checking from an unknown “senior government official” that he “recalled” seeing somewhere that during interrogations in Guantanamo copies of the Koran were flushed down the toilet.

The outcome of this wonderful piece of “harlot’s privilege” was riots across several Muslim countries, 15 people killed and 100 injured in Afghanistan and an undermining of Pakistani President Musharraf’s careful policy of outmanoeuvring his fundamentalist opponents.

Newsweek’s journalists are barely repentant. After all, they displayed their anti-Bush credentials. Why should they care what the outcome was?

According to the BBC World Service website:

“In its latest edition, Newsweek's editor writes that its original source is not sure where he saw the assertion.

"We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the US soldiers caught in its midst," the editor, Mark Whitaker, writes.

In its new account, the magazine says that one of its reporters spoke to "his original source, the senior government official, who said that he clearly recalled reading investigative reports about mishandling the Koran, including a toilet incident".

"But the official, still speaking anonymously, could no longer be sure that these concerns had surfaced" in a forthcoming report by the US military, the magazine added.

Mr Whitaker told the Reuters news agency that he no longer knew whether the occurrence was genuine.

"As to whether anything like this happened, we just don't know," he said.”
Well, how nice. And all those problems will simply roll up into a little ball and go away.

Apparently not. Six Islamic parties in Pakistan have announced that they did not believe the retraction as it was
“…a crude attempt, both by the weekly magazine and the American authorities to defuse the anger of the Muslims across the world”.
Actually, as usual the anger is not across the world, most Muslims not wanting to get too involved in riots and shootings, but there are enough people around who are too pleased to use the story to stock up fury and undermine all attempts to build relatively free Islamic societies.

Did the unknown and lose-lipped senior government official think of that? Did the journalist who printed the story without carrying out elementary checks? Clearly not.

The US military in Afganistan said there will, nevertheless, be a thorough investigation of the allegations.

Dare one hope for a similar investigation in Newsweek?

Remember this next time you hear journalists fulminating about bloggers who do not spend thousands of pounds and many hours carefully checking out their stories.