Linda Chavez

It has been a bad year for mainstream journalism. USA Today found one of its star reporters invented some of his stories. CBS got burned by its biggest name -- Dan Rather -- when he ran with an anti-Bush piece on "60 Minutes Wednesday" based on forged documents, right during the middle of the presidential campaign. Several newspapers have had to deal with reporters who plagiarized some of their articles. Now Newsweek has had to retract a false story about American guards desecrating the Koran that sparked anti-American rioting throughout the Muslim world, killing at least 17 people. And still the media scions seem not to have a clue why this keeps happening.

 Call it bias or just plain arrogance, but the media just don't get it. The latest example is the most disheartening, and not just because of the terrible loss of life. Fanatical Islamo-fascists are responsible for the bloodshed, not the journalists who were merely unwitting dupes. But that does not let those journalists off the hook or explain why they were so quick to assume the worst about the U.S. military's tactics in the War on Terror.

 Journalists are supposed to be skeptical, that's what keeps them digging rather than simply accepting the official line, whether it comes from government or corporate bureaucrats. Where journalists have gotten themselves in trouble over the last few decades is that their skepticism often extends only to American officials, the U.S. military and Republican politicians. Michael Isikoff, the Newsweek reporter who wrote the short item on alleged abuses at Guantanamo that appeared in the magazine's Periscope section, based his story on an unnamed government source. The usual journalistic rule is to get at least one additional confirmation before running with an anonymous allegation of this sort. Isikoff's excuse for not doing so is that he vetted the entire piece with another unnamed official, who apparently didn't raise objections to that specific part of the story. But when the Pentagon vigorously denounced the allegation as entirely false, Isikoff's "source" began having second thoughts and couldn't remember where he'd heard the story in the first place.

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .

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