Magazine article The Christian Century

Double Vision: The Story on Interrogators Desecrating the Qur'an Quickly Became a Story about the Practice of Journalism

Magazine article The Christian Century

Double Vision: The Story on Interrogators Desecrating the Qur'an Quickly Became a Story about the Practice of Journalism

Article excerpt

WHEN PHOTOGRAPHS of Saddam Hussein in his underwear were printed in the New York Post and the London Sun, President Bush told the Associated Press: "I don't think a photo inspires murderers. These people are motivated by a vision of the world that is backward and barbaric." Then he added, "I think the insurgency is inspired by their desire to stop the march of freedom."

Before the next news cycle began, the White House rushed to clean up the president's candid remarks, express regret about publication of the pictures, and promise an investigation. The new reaction replaced the "backward and barbaric" version, which disappeared from subsequent news stories. Unfortunately, the ideology of this administration does not go away. The president's remarks echoed an earlier observation--he would punish the enemy by launching a "crusade," a term highly provocative to Muslims, who equate Crusades with Western colonial domination.

In March the White House decided it was time to improve its overseas image and named Karen Hughes as director of public diplomacy at the State Department. Her mandate, when she assumes the job later this summer, will be to "promote U.S. values and improve America's image abroad." Hughes has no foreign-policy background and no discernible experience in Islamic matters. But never mind--she is Bush's long-time political strategist and close friend.

On learning of the appointment, Business Week columnist David Kiley issued this caution: "One of the reasons America and George Bush's image is so damaged abroad is that the Administration's policy and rhetoric is so devoid of truth and historical perspective."

It was clear that the lack of historical perspective stood in the way of a proper response to the media flap that surfaced when Newsweek claimed that one of its sources had seen an army report indicating that U.S. interrogators had desecrated a copy of the Qu'ran at the prison detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After that story led to rioting throughout the Islamic world, Newsweek's source changed his mind and said he was not sure where he had seen the report. He still maintained that he had seen it--only the place was uncertain in his mind. Newsweek acknowledged the error and offered a retraction.

Overnight the Qu'ran desecration story became a story about journalism: it was about us; never mind the damage done to others, to them. As Human Rights Watch concluded, the Newsweek retraction story "has overshadowed the fact that religious humiliation of detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere has been widespread. …

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