Will ‘Newsweek’ Retraction Hurt Overall Press Credibility?

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(AP) Newsweek’s retraction of a story saying a copy of the Koran was flushed down a toilet at a prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has placed U.S. media in the center of a new storm and questioned its credibility.

On Monday, the magazine retracted the article that alleged abuse of Islam’s holy book at Guantanamo Bay, which sparked anti-U.S. protests in Islamic countries.

Protests in Afghanistan sparked by the article left 14 people dead.

“Based on what we know now, we are retracting our original story that an internal military investigation had uncovered Koran abuse at Guantanamo Bay,” the magazine said in a one-sentence statement from editor Mark Whitaker.

The retraction came a day after Newsweek acknowledged parts of the article, which appeared in the May 9 edition, may not be accurate, and followed harsh criticism of the newsweekly by U.S. officials.

The episode marked the latest in a series of scandals that have dogged the U.S. media, beginning with an uproar caused by former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair, who fabricated quotes and other elements for his articles, and continuing with a similar controversy at USA Today by reporter Jack Kelley.

These two episodes were soon followed by the case of former CBS News anchor Dan Rather, who used documents of dubious authenticity to question President Bush’s Vietnam-era National Guard Service.

And then came revelations that the Bush administration had paid several radio commentators to promote its initiatives.

Media experts said the case of Newsweek was not comparable to the others but can explain why the public is losing trust in the American media. Meanwhile, circulation of print media is going down.

Howard Kurtz, Washington Post columnist and host of the CNN program “Reliable Sources,” told the network, “I do think we have to make a distinction between a Jayson Blair or a Jack Kelley who intentionally fabricate material and Newsweek relying on a source that it says has been reliable over the years and publishing something they believed to be truth, but clearly didn’t do enough checking, didn’t [weigh] carefully enough the consequences of publishing such an explosive charge.”

“But that distinction is going to be lost for a lot of people who today are very angry at Newsweek,” Kurtz said.

“It’s symptomatic of the way that the media, and the large media institutions in particular, tend to use official and anonymous sources uncritically,” said Robert Boynton, director of the magazine program at New York University.

“So that rather than [acting as] judges and people who discriminate in trying to figure out what’s truth, they act as conduits for high level people.

“A story like this isn’t really the result of bad reporting. It’s the result of uncritical covering of the information they were handed,” he told AFP.

He said that such slips could erode trust in U.S. media.

“If you hear all the major news organizations were uncritically announcing that there were WMD [weapons of mass destruction prior to the Iraq war] and that events like this with the Koran were not true, it’s not difficult to imagine that the credibility of the media would fall.”

The Pew Research Center recently released findings that 45 percent of Americans believe little or nothing they read in daily newspapers.

In the past six months, U.S. newspaper circulation has dropped 1.9 percent on weekdays and 2.5 percent on Sundays, the largest drop for newspapers in more than a decade, the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported on May 2.

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