A Tragedy of Errors-Six Words That Roiled the World
Only the blogosphere "got" it. Check out http://silentrunning.tv/archives/005868.php to see step-by-step photographs of an attempt to flush a book down a toilet.
What makes this story so fascinating is that it embarrassed the libeler and the libelee, forcing both to go into crisis management mode. What's more, both blew a huge opportunity to make things right in the minds of the American public and the entire Arab world. Here is a look at how each of the two parties reacted.
The U.S. Army
At the time the Army was reeling from a series PR nightmares:
*The Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse and sex scandal that resulted in a few low-level non-coms and one inept female National Guard brigadier general taking the fall while the Regular Army top brass, all the way up to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, slithered out unscathed.
*The murder of two detainees by the Army in Afghanistan and an investigation into the deaths of 23 more.
*A sex scandal in March at Guantanamo, where two of the field grade Army officers were relieved of their command after being accused of sexual relations with a bevy of female civilian contractors and a female Navy lieutenant.
*The craven award of a Silver Star to Ranger Pat Tillman, who had thrown over a $3.5 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army and who supposedly died fighting "without regard for his personal safety," only to have it later revealed he was killed in a "friendly fire" accident.
Quite simply, when the Koran-down-the-toilet story broke, the Army was in a state of PR shell shock.
How the Army should have responded
A spokesperson should immediately have gone on the offensive and challenged Newsweek's reporters to show the nation the world exactly how a book could be flushed down a toilet. If the demonstration wer successful, the Army then would launch an immediate investigation. The spokesperson might have added that it would probably be a good idea that the book used in the demonstration not be a Koran.