Monday, May 16, 2005

How Do You Punish A Newsmagazine?

Certain stories hit the blogosphere with such force that they're impossible to avoid. Rathergate was one example. This week, the Big Blogs have Newsweek Magazine on the brain and in their sites (or sights, as the case may be).

To put it in a nutshell: on May 9th, the newsmagazine published a paragraph suggesting that American interrogators at Abu Gharib flushed the Koran down a toilet. There were riots all around the Arab world resulting in at least 16 deaths in Afghanistan. This week, the newsmagazine learned it couldn't confirm the truth of that paragraph.

Their reaction: a mild "ummm ... sorry?"

“We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst.”

With all due respect ... that's not good enough. Tarnishing conservative reputations is one thing, but creating a situation where people get killed ... that's going to demand a higher reckoning than suspending a few reporters without pay.

As Jayson Blair and Rathergate proved, journalistic accountability is still a problem that the MSM have yet to address. There is still a reluctance to hold reporters to the same level of accountability as the corporate executives they like to write about.

When an executive goes wrong, he or she is fired, and the company that hired him takes a hit in the bank account because the public loses trust in them. The same thing should happen here.

Michael Isikoff and John Barry can expect to get a pink slip, but it mustn't end there. A complete review of Newsweek's standards and practices is going to be needed, followed by corporate discipline against the editors who chose haste over accuracy.

But this shouldn't be foisted off as an isolated incident, not with riots happening and people dying. No, a higher price is called for.

The price? The death of Newsweek Magazine.

It's already losing readership and money, and this issue cannot help matters. If outrage is strong enough, advertisers could be encourage to pull their ads in favor of other magazines like Time or U.S. News, or perhaps another medium altogether. Newsweek could survive a few subscription cancellations or newstand refusals, but it cannot survive without advertising or the goodwill of its parent company. And this incident proves that it deserves neither.

The real sad part about all this? It still won't be enough ... because it won't bring those 16 people back.

UPDATE (23h25 16 May): Newsweek has issued a full retraction of that piece. Well, that puts the mag ahead of CBS News as far as media accountability is concerned, but I still think that some heads need rolling. We'll see.