- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 22, 2005

The fallout over the now-retracted Newsweekstory about American GIs desecrating the Koran continues to spread amid opportunities lost to put some badly needed issues into context with respect to the Muslim world, how the Bush administration has responded and how the press manages to mess things up.

As someone who is no stranger to controversial stories and political firestorms, I have enormous sympathy for Michael Isikoff, the lead reporteronthe Newsweek story. As a former editor I sympathize with the top editorial brass at the weekly newsmagazine.

That said, I do have to wonder what was in their minds when assembling the story. They should have known it would be an extremely offensive itemtomanyin Islam, and thus a comment from a leading Muslim should have been included to help put the issue into context along with a response from a senior Bush official. Relying on a single source also was plain stupid.

The Bush administration properly condemnedtheNewsweek story, albeit a bit late and only when riots and mob violence lit up sectors of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East and people were killed. But so too has the administration overplayed its outrage and in the process fallen into claptrap PCisms about never desecrating the Koran or bad-mouthing the followers of the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him).

Such pandering to some of the most conservative elements of Islam really should be an affront to the much larger number of faithful Muslims who also should be offended when Islamic radicals desecrate Christian and Jewish holy books, churches, and temples, not to mention kill fellow Muslims.

The reality of the current wave of violence, of course, is far more deeply rootedthanjustthe Newsweek story. It is the increasing feeding of anti-Americans by radical Islamists to many in the Muslim communities who feel as second-class citizens in Western eyes. Perhaps there is some truth both in terms of general attitudes and governmental policies, and no doubt it is frustrating. But to lash out with unequal standards of accountability is hypocritical.

Christianity centuries ago went through a bloody catharsis that resulted in the Reformation and its various permeations to the present day, where denominations are still trying to live side by side — peaceably for the most part, thank goodness — and amongst all peoples of faith.

Islam may be going through some of its own transformations today, and, sadly, too many Westerners fail to grasp such facts. Could it be that just as it was bigotry that lumped blacks into one category, it is bigotry among Westerners to lump Muslims into a single category, too? Maybe a tendency by some to say or justify wrongful actions by anyone simply by responding, “Well, you did it too!” creates false piety as well, a sin in anyone’s book.

That’s why the role of the press in such trying times is so critically needed to put into context hot topics, such as the many heated remarks made by leaders in the Muslim community and the over-the-top responses by some U.S. officials.

Thefailureof Newsweek to understandtheconsequences of its reporting canbeunderstoodmore clearly when one realizes that the press and sister media have done a poor job of balancing the choice of stories about alleged Americanmilitary foul-ups with examinations of the actions of Muslim leaders and clerics who have similar foul-ups.

Only Newsweek can tell us what was the news value of the now-retracted story vis—vissimilar “news”fromthe othersideofthe pond. Only through non-prejudicial reporting of so much unrest in our fragile world can all of us see things in perspective.

For us in the press, our job is made simpler when we hold up the mirror without bias upon all of those we cover. Otherwise, more lives will be lost when someone again shouts fire in a crowded theater.

Paul M. Rodriguez, the former managing editor of Insight Magazine, is currently a media consultant and freelance writer working on a bookprojectabout Afghanistan.

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