NEW YORK — One of the two Newsweek journalists behind the retracted article alleging that U.S. interrogators desecrated the Quran at Guantanamo Bay said he dropped the ball by not properly corroborating his anonymous source.
Michael Isikoff, addressing the furor in an interview broadcast Monday night on “The Charlie Rose Show,” said he regretted the possibility that his article, which has been blamed for violent protests in Muslim countries, may have spurred riots.
“It was terrible what happened,” he told Rose. “Even if it was just a little bit that we contributed to the violence that went on over there, that was awful, terrible.”
He said that the reporters had provided the article in full to a senior Defense Department official. The official asked for a change of wording on a separate issue, but said nothing about the details concerning the Quran.
He and co-author, John Barry, had provided his article for review as a precaution, he said, but had erred by not getting positive corroboration on each point in the article by the Pentagon official.
Isikoff said that he thought the error had harmed the magazine. “I think it has clearly done some temporary damage,” he said. “It’s thrown us off our game for a little bit,” he said. “I think this will end up being a blip.”
Newsweek, which is owned by The Washington Post Co., retracted the May 9 report after officials at the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department criticized its publication and its use of an anonymous source.
The article said U.S. investigators had found evidence that U.S. interrogators placed copies of Islam’s holy book in washrooms and had flushed one down the toilet to get inmates to talk.
The account has been blamed for protests in Afghanistan, where more than a dozen people died and scores were injured in rioting earlier this month, and demonstrations elsewhere in the Muslim world.
Isikoff told Rose that after the article came out, he heard no reaction from anyone, until someone from Newsweek informed him about the rioting. “Nobody in the United States had said a word about it. Nobody picked up on it, nobody asked any questions about it, nobody followed up on it,” he said.
In its edition published Monday, Newsweek outlined new policies for the use of anonymous sources. Isikoff said that changes will include a push to get more material from sources put on the record.
“I got to tell you, as somebody who has reported for a long time on the intelligence and law enforcement field, that’s going to be tough,” he told Rose. “Some of the best stories that I’ve gotten, that others have written about this administration, about the previous administration, you have to rely on anonymous sources.”
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