The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Korangate: reliance on the enemy
One puzzling aspect is the exact form of the verification sought by Isikoff and Barry (piece yesterday).
We have a Newshour interview with Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker, who said
We went to the extraordinary lengths of actually showing the entire story to a separate high level Pentagon official. They disputed other aspects of the story but not dispute that.
After we published the story, we were not challenged on any aspect of it for 11 days...by the Pentagon.
It's not clear, though, what the precise form of the discussion with the separate official took. Was he merely asked to comment on the text, or was he asked to verify that
And what efforts were made by Newsweek to satisfy themselves that the separate official had made sufficient enquiries within the military to justify reliance on anything he said. Or didn't say.
If Isikoff had asked for explicit confirmation and received a non-committal answer, that would have been something. He might even have run the piece with the No comment leaving it up to reader to judge.
On the other hand, his editors - who, after all, had the sole responsibility for deciding whether the piece should run or not - might have decided to spike it .
Which leads one to wonder, where was the fire? The report would come out in due course; the allegations mentioned were extremely brief and (so far as I'm aware) contained nothing particularly new.
The impression one has of the piece is of a teaser for a report that Newsweek itself was about to publish. Why should so slight a piece have had extraordinary lengths invested in it?
With the Killian memos, the imperative to cut corners to get the scoop was understandable: if the memos had been verified as genuine, it would have been a marquee story for 60 Minutes. One important enough to take a bit of risk to reel in.
But the Isikoff piece, on its face, was something close to gossip. Is there more to it than meets the eye? Some kind of coded message to the Pentagon? (The danger of tinfoilism is self-evident .)
As Tom Rosentiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism is quoted as saying,
It's not up to a news organization to let its source substantiate the news for them.
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