Thursday, May 19, 2005

Fake but Accurate, Redux

Newsweek has inverted Marx’s dictum that history repeats the first time as tragedy the second time as farce. When Dan Rather unleashed the blatantly phony National Guard memoes it was pure farce all the way.

Newsweek’s entry in the “Fake, but Accurate” category was a report about American interrogators flushing the Koran down a toilet. Note: not throwing a Koran in a toilet (an allegation made by several former detainees and clung to like a liferaft by The Nation), but flushing it down the toilet.

Putting aside the fact that this story was (by Newsweek’s admission) run with one source (and one non-denial), and putting aside the fact that the one source almost immediately backtracked and claimed he couldn’t be sure he saw that in the report, we are still left with the absolute absurdity of believing that a book could be flushed down a toilet. My fancy low flow toilet has a hard enough time disposing of the water in the bowl. I think back to the wonder toilets of yesteryear and still can’t imagine that they could dispose of a book.

For the editors at Newsweek, however, this was like the Amirault case of the 1990s where charges that a couple running a day care had tied children to trees and raped them, impaled them with swords, and taken them under the house to a magic cave where children were killed. The story was on its face absurd, but that didn’t stop a jury from convicting the Amiraults. Newsweek’s story is also absurd (although more plausible accounts could possibly be true), but fell in line with the belief system of liberal editors (who at first offered a “fake but accurate” defense before retracting the story outright.)

What makes this episode tragedy rather than farce is the fact that fanatics in the middle east used the story as a justification for a killing spree that has left about 20 dead. When Dan Rather gets the boot and his program gets cancelled following his shoddy journalism, a few laughs can be had. But when dozens end up dead, no one can laugh about it.

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