A Tragedy of Errors-Six Words That Roiled the World
Worse, Desmond Butler of the AP reported on May 24 that Michael Isikoff was interviewed on "The Charlie Rose Show," where he said, "It's thrown us off our game for a little bit."
According to the AP account, Isikoff continued, "I think this will end up being a blip."
Sixteen deaths, 100 injuries and an Afghan cleric calling for Holy War against the United States--a blip?
Newsweek's integrity had been savaged. And incredibly, Isikoff was allowed to go on national television to compound the disaster.
How Newsweek should have responded
In my opinion, the moment the retraction was issued, Donald Graham, chairman and CEO of The Washington Post Company (Newsweek's owner), should have stepped before the cameras and talked about the great tradition of investigative journalism for which The Washington Post is famous--namely the Watergate Scandal. He should have called up the memory of his courageous mother, Katherine Graham, her hard-driving managing editor, Benjamin Bradlee, and the flawless reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein that toppled a president and won a Pulitzer Prize.
Graham should have stated that this monumental gaffe was not about the authenticity or numbers of anonymous sources, but about common sense. The idea that Newsweek reporters would state that a book could be flushed down a toilet was prima facie preposterous. Clearly their senses took leave of Isikoff and Barry, as well as Whitaker, the editor who permitted this story to run. Graham should have said it was therefore with great regret that the employment of Isikoff, Barry and Whitaker was being terminated immediately.
Only then would the nation and the world--and particularly the Arab Street--believe that Newsweek and the United States were seriously contrite about the massive affront to Islam.
Precedent exists for the swift axing of these journalists. As a result of "Rathergate," CBS fired "Sixty Minutes" producers and VPs Josh Howard, Mary Mapes, Mary Murphy and Betsy West, and TV icon Dan Rather was shipped out to pasture.