A Tragedy of Errors-Six Words That Roiled the World
It has been a big year (so far) for public relations catastrophes and crisis management. But no story can compare with Newsweek's huge gaffe when investigative reporters Michael Isikoff and John Barry wrote the following in the Periscope column in the May 9, 2005, Newsweek:
Among the previously unreported cases, sources tell NEWSWEEK: interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur'an down a toilet and led a detainee around with a collar and dog leash.
These six words--"flushed a Qur'an down a toilet" --traversed the globe, reportedly caused riots in the Arab world where 16 people were killed and more than 100 injured. Those six words also wrecked the integrity of a once-distinguished weekly newsmagazine and turned two ace investigative reporters into a pair of scoop-crazed goofballs. And none of this should have happened.
What is so mind boggling is that no one in the media or federal government caught the fact that the story was fatally and obviously flawed from the beginning.
It is ipso facto physically impossible to flush a book down a toilet!
The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof shit detector. This is the writer's radar and all great writers have had it.
A book can be tossed into a toilet. A book can be dropped down a porta-potty or an outhouse "one-holer." But the Newsweek people are wordsmiths, and the operative word here was "flush." A book cannot be flushed down a toilet whole. Further, it cannot be done page-by-page. Book paper is hard and thick so as to be opaque when printed on both sides. Crumple a couple of book pages and try to flush them, and your toilet would be stopped up for days.
It is not expected that the Army would be in possession of a Hemingway detector. But a shutdown of all the detectors at Newsweek--and indeed the entire mainstream media establishment around the world--was breathtaking.