I previously posted on Why I think this is a big deal, but that doesn’t seem to have satisfied many. So I’m following up.
In a nutshell, my position is that Newsweek shouldn’t have published the Koran-flushing story even if it was true. Wait. Make that EVEN IF IT WAS TRUE. They went ahead, and I think that makes them unpatriotic. For the purposes of this post, I’m not concerned about the validity of the Koran-flushing claims, either in the Newsweek story or from other sources. My beef is with the practice of knowingly publishing a story that, in all probability, will harm the interests of the United States.
I don’t want to rehash everything I said previously, so I encourage you to read my previous post (and even earlier ones on the subject, if you can stomach them) to most fully understand what I’m getting at.
Since earlier efforts don’t seem to have come across clearly, I’ll sum it up and use large, bold type to make sure:
If you think that publishing reports that will harm American people and interests is a good thing to do, I very strongly believe that you are unpatriotic.
And I don’t mean “lack of patriotism” when I say “unpatriotic”. I mean “the opposite of patriotic”. Anti-patriotic. The antithesis of American patriotism.
I’m not really sure what the misunderstanding is. I realize that some folks don’t know we’re at war, but I can’t help that. I realize that freedom of the press is a cherished liberty in America, but that doesn’t excuse reporting stories that undermine the mission of our soldiers.
I also realize that some Americans hate America. I’m not talking about those folks. Being American is more than being registered as a citizen of the USA, and I’ll excuse anti-American activity by them since they are, at best, patriots to some other cause besides America. Some are allies, some are neutral, and some are, quite frankly, enemies of America.
It’s important to keep in mind that the America I speak of isn’t a “Republican” or a “Conservative” America, though I generally find myself on those sides of issues. And I’m not trying to represent my case as “if you don’t support the invasion of Iraq you’re not American”. Clearly, you can be American and love America yet oppose the campaign in Iraq or even the wider war itself. I think you’re wrong if you do, but that’s a different discussion.
However, if you think that it is good policy to publish news stories that will not only harm American interests and threaten Americans but strengthen the cause of the enemy, that is something else entirely. It is crossing the line and aiding the enemies of this nation.
As I’ve stated several times, I am giving Newsweek the benefit of the doubt as far as intention goes. I don’t subscribe to the “Newsweek Lied, People Died” claim, even in jest. I don’t think Newsweek, at least as an organization, intentionally lied. I don’t think there’s any conspiracy. But I also don’t buy their “acting in good faith” claim. Good faith to their fervent anti-Bush subscribers, maybe. Certainly not in good faith to American efforts in the war or to Americans in general.
The biggest protest raised, of course, is that freedom of the press is threatened if these sorts of stories can’t be published. Which is not true.
I’m not calling for (though I realize that some are) any sort of censorship by the government or the military, here. I’m calling for self-censorship by Newsweek. The same sort of self-censorship that they exercise every single minute of every single day. The sort of self-censorship that helps them decide what to publish, and what the ramifications might be if they do (or do not) get the story out.
I realize that I’m asking a lot, but can’t a publication take “the greater good” into account when deciding whether or not to run a story without destroying the free press? They certainly do so when covering politics and social issues. They’re careful not to insult particular groups carelessly. They’re careful not to publish statistics that don’t support their particular causes. They’re careful to include only the facts (or sections of quotes) that advance the message they’re trying to get out. And, while many (like me) will rail on about how unfair the coverage is, I don’t think anyone truly believes that such actions threaten the existence of the free press.
So why is it that deciding not to publish news that will probably harm American efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere in this war would be the end of a cornerstone of American liberty?
A commenter on Daily Kos noted my article:
The right doesn’t care about the truth. Here is a typical example:
I don’t think Newsweek intentionally lied, but I NEVER said that I didn’t think they weren’t unpatriotic.
In fact, I finally believe 100% that they are totally unpatriotic.
If you read my first post on this subject, you’ll see that I originally meant to write that Newsweek absolutely should never have published that Koran flushing report EVEN IF TRUE.
Emphasis in the original.
It is NEVER unpatriotic for the press to tell the truth about what our government is doing. Indeed, it has a duty to do so.
First, it’s nice to see that my awful “I NEVER said that I didn’t think they weren’t unpatriotic” sentence will live on even though I later cleaned it up slightly. Secondly, the statement that “It is NEVER unpatriotic for the press to tell the truth about what our government is doing” is total bunk.
An obvious example of the fallacy of this is the D-Day invasion of Europe during World War 2. If a reporter managed to learn the date, time, and location of the invasion and published it, wouldn’t that have been unpatriotic? How about if reporters learned that we had broken German and Japanese codes? Would it have been the duty of the reporter to make the truth known about what our government was doing?
I guess I’m kind of hoping that we can all agree that publishing those stories would have been a bad and unpatriotic thing to do. The fact that today’s war is fought on smaller battlefields and that the sides are not so clearly delineated makes no difference. This story has already caused rioting. It will certainly drive some to take up arms against the infidels and convince others to support those that do. It will cost American lives. You can’t claim to “support the troops” and support the publication of this article.
Another popular defense of Newsweek is that stories of Koran desecration had been published previously. First of all, I don’t think those stories should have been published, either. But a major difference between those stories (as far as I know, anyway) and this one is that those were based on rumor and claims from former prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. And we know that al Qaeda operatives are instructed to claim such things.
This story was supposedly based upon a US government report. This wasn’t editorial. This wasn’t opinion.
This wasn’t “we shouldn’t desecrate holy Muslim things, as some have said we are”. This was “the US government is desecrating holy Muslin things right now”. Our enemies pounced on it and offered it as proof that America is evil. They then whipped their followers into a frenzy. If Newsweek runs a story about how an ex-detainee claims someone spit on the Koran, it isn’t the same. Some will get upset, no doubt, and I’m not even really sure that those stories should be published. But this is something different. Surely you can see this.
A commenter on my site wrote
Using the concept of patriotism, as measuring stick to guide what is published, is just as bad as the political correctness espoused by liberals. Only with the free expression of ideas can our country remain free.
“Political Correctness”, when you get down to it, is really just word games with rules that no one gets hurt or offended. And in many cases “P.C.” is exactly what’s called for. Publishing a story that causes extremists to incite violent riots and probably convinces Muslims to attack American soldiers or civilians isn’t quite the same thing as calling someone a “fireman” instead of a “fireperson”. And refraining from publishing this story doesn’t threaten the “free expression of ideas”. I’ll agree that the idea of desecrating the Koran isn’t nice and is probably a bad policy in all but the most extreme circumstances.
There. I expressed that idea freely. That won’t threaten the safety of American troops.
That brings us to the argument about how it’s not Newsweek’s fault that some people are willing to riot or kill over a holy book. While I’ll agree that such reactions are (to say the least) rather extreme, it’s not a surprise. We’ve been seeing this for decades. We know it can happen, and that it’s usually pretty ugly when it does. So often we’re warned about the sensitivities of other cultures. About how calling our cause a “crusade” is likely to stir up bad memories. About how a pair of panties on the head is worse than being beheaded or about how being wrapped in an Israeli flag is “torture”. Since 9/11 we’ve been bombarded with this non-stop. And now suddenly some folks are going “Whoa, there…rioting over something like that is just crazy. We can’t be held responsible for the nutcases of the world.” I wonder how many people in the first group are also members of the second.
Granted, there will always be those who are way beyond even the extremist. The sort that howl at the moon and go off because someone wore red socks with green shoes. Not much can be done about those types, but this certainly isn’t the Arab jihadist that we’ve become quite familiar with. While not exactly predictable, he is a “known known” and Newsweek should have known better.
Others insist the riots weren’t even caused by the Newsweek article. While I’ll allow that it depends on how you define “cause”, there’s no doubt that the Newsweek article was at least an excuse for those looking to make trouble. News items ran for days about the events in Afghanistan, yet it was only after people started piling on Newsweek for blowing the story that apologists started claiming that the riots weren’t even related to the story. In fact,
Islamic groups in Pakistan have called for international anti-US protest on May 27.
“Islamic groups will hold demonstrations on May 27 across the world to condemn the desecration of Holy Qur’an in the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay,” Qazi Hussain Ahmad, head of coalition of six politico-religious groups said on Sunday.
These guys seem to be pretty clear to me. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.
Have no doubt. American efforts in the war on terror, this Fourth World War, have suffered greatly due to this story. Roadside bombs will be planted. Suicide bombers will be recruited. Money and other support for terrorists and insurgents will be raised. The resolve of jihadists the world over will be steeled. As this story continues to spread through the low-tech world it will be believed, and everyone knows it. Americans, Iraqis, Afghans, and others working to build a new world will be targeted. Others, simply trying to make it through the day, will be caught in the crossfire.
Merriam-Webster defines “patriotism” as “love for or devotion to one’s country”.
Publishing stories that harm one’s country and its people is not a way to show your love or devotion.
Yes, you can love your country and oppose its government. But you can also oppose your country’s government without harming your country.
Some will continue to think that getting the truth out at all costs is more important. And I guess that’s your prerogative.
But don’t complain when I call you unpatriotic.
UPDATE: The commenter that mentioned me on Kos yesterday noticed me noticing him. And I noticed.
Anyway, he writes
It comes pretty close to a fundamental difference of opinion. Liberals believe in getting the truth out. Conservatives believe in hiding embarassing facts.
That’s a pretty broad brush, there. And not really true. I don’t really see armies of Liberal journalists digging into Democrat problems, I see them hiding embarrassing facts. If we’re going to use big brushes, let’s simply say that both Conservatives and Liberals attack the other side by getting out the truth and hide embarrassing facts about their own side by obfuscating it.
Anyway, he continues
He also makes an analogy to disclosing the D-Day invasion details. I don’t think the analogy flies. First off, invasion details involve information about future activities. The Newsweek story involves matters that were done. Second, D-Day information has direct practical information about military operations which can be used to deal with U.S. forces.
First of all, as I noted in the comments section, the D-Day analogy refers to the comment (by this writer, in fact) that “It is NEVER unpatriotic for the press to tell the truth about what our government is doing. Indeed, it has a duty to do so.” I wasn’t comparing the Koran-flushing story to spilling the beans about D-Day. I was refuting the “NEVER unpatriotic” claim about telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
That being said, spilling D-Day details after the invasion took place wouldn’t be so much of a problem, of course. And spilling Guantanamo Bay details won’t be such a problem after that war is over won’t be such a problem, either. The issue at hand, though, is that the war is still going on. No American soldiers could be harmed in August 1944 by the revelation that Normandy would be invaded in June 1944. American soldiers in 2005 can be harmed by the revelation that interrogators at Gitmo are desecrating the Koran.
As an interesting side note, a follow-up comment mentioned Monica Lewinsky. In 1998 (long before this site existed) I wrote an article called THIS JUST IN wherein I defended Newsweek’s decision not to go public with the Lewinsky story. I’ve wanted to re-publish all those old articles but haven’t got around to it. I actually started working on a post about that particular one after this Newsweek issue came up, but I’ve been too busy calling people “unpatriotic” to finish it. Now I’ve got to.