Margaret Carlson Gets It

From Holden:

“It” being the Newsweek flap.

The retraction should have come quicker, but the administration should slow its attempt to shift blame for the deadly protests to a weekly publication. They’ve yet to explain why two Defense Department officials passed up the chance to correct the source’s assertion when the magazine took the unusual step of submitting the report prior to publication. The reporter took silence as confirmation.

Wrong in retrospect? Sure. Silence is always ambiguous. But the Pentagon has managed to dodge the inconvenient question of why it didn’t raise a red flag when given the opportunity or at least warn Newsweek of the potentially grave consequences of publishing.

The administration is also ignoring the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard B. Myers, who cited a senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan saying that the protests were “not at all tied to the article.”

That didn’t stop the White House from insisting the opposite. “The report had real consequences,” spokesman Scott McClellan said. “People have lost their lives.” On May 17, when Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita was specifically asked if, in light of General Myers’s statement, he still believed that “people died because of this erroneous report,” he said, “I do, I absolutely do.”

It’s understandable that the administration might want to flush Newsweek down the toilet and spread the blame for its mistakes. But how can anyone believe that one errant story about prisoner mistreatment is equivalent to the actual mistreatment of prisoners? How cathartic it must be to have something other than those famous photos from Abu Ghraib to blame for rampant anti-Americanism? How comforting, after Ahmad Chalabi, to have someone other than the CIA or White House publicly burned by a bad source.


In the Valerie Plame case, a high White House aide blew a CIA agent’s cover to punish her husband for undercutting the White House claim that Saddam Hussein tried to buy uranium “yellowcake,” used to make nuclear bombs. The president said how much he wanted to get to the bottom of it. All he had to do was walk down the hall and pose a direct question to a very small circle of aides. He didn’t, so two reporters are about to go to jail for protecting the thug who jeopardized the lives of Plame’s contacts abroad.

Again, the administration refuses to look inward. No one excuses Newsweek. But in its long adventure in the Arab world, the administration has hatched few strategies as hollow as holding a magazine responsible for its own failings.