Just months after Dan Rather and CBS brought shame and disgrace to the entire American journalism profession with their phony National Guard expose of George W. Bush, Newsweek magazine has been exposed for declaring -- with nothing more than one anonymous source's gum-flapping -- that U.S. interrogators were flushing the Koran down the toilet to inflame detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
How many eerie parallels are there between the CBS scandal and the Newsweek scandal? Let us count the ways:
1. Both stories caused liberal media types to hunt for years to prove the urban legends dear to the hearts of the Bush-bashers. In the CBS case, reporters spent years pecking through George W. Bush's National Guard records, searching desperately for, and occasionally suggesting the existence of, smoking guns. They just knew he had somehow shirked his duties. In the Newsweek case, reporters had spent years chasing down the most shocking Guantanamo-interrogation stories they could find. Slate.com media critic Jack Shafer assembled a pile of poorly sourced Koran-in-the-john stories dating back to 1983, a regular urban legend of Islam coverage. The media just knew the U.S. military at Guantanamo were guilty of serious abuses.
2. Both stories relied on a single anonymous source. In CBS's case, he was "unimpeachable"; in Newsweek's, "reliable." In the case of CBS, that source was revealed to be Bill Burkett, a Texas-based Bush-hater with a lot more poison than evidence against Bush. In Newsweek's case, the magazine misled readers in their original story by saying "sources" claimed Koran-flushing would be in an official government report. Then, they claimed it was simply a "senior government official." Later, that "reliable" source couldn't vouch for the accuracy of his own statement.
3. Both outlets made comical claims about their professionalism in a time of crisis. Dan Rather claimed he would be the first to report the story of his own incompetence, and also claimed "Those who have criticized aspects of our story have never criticized the heart of it." Wrong. Newsweek called their reporting process "careful," and their laying out of the retracted story "transparent," which is a strange word to use when the unreliable source is still anonymous.