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Media: Irresponsible, stupid, or calculating?

Who is really responsible for the dead and injured that resulted from the riots after the Newsweek story was published?

When Newsweek Magazine last week rushed to publish an unsubstantiated report from an unnamed source that as an apparent interrogation tactic to get Muslim prisoners to talk at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a copy of the Quran was thrown in and flushed down a toilet— they opened the religious floodgates of hell, fueling anti-U.S. sentiments across the Middle East that erupted in violent riots in which 20 or more people were killed.

Now Newsweek gave the journalistic equivalent to “we're sorry,” i.e., they have retracted the story, this as being a journalist “is never really having to say you're sorry.”  Were this story about a cruise missile that hit a mosque, even though armed terrorists were hiding inside with tons of weapons, elements of the media would have crucified the military for its actions and held it up for months as the actions of an uncaring, unregulated force. But when it's a journalist's missteps, we hear nothing.  Newsweek, like the gangsters of old, has hunkered down and gone to the mattresses, waiting out the firestorm that they themselves have created.

Will Newsweek send reporters to pay their respects at the funerals of those killed in the riots that resulted from their scandalous story? Probably not.  Will they pay retribution to the families of the dead? Again probably not.  They are above such things, they are journalists who are accountable to no one but themselves, and they seldom hold themselves accountable unless caught with their hands in the cookie jar, or in their case on a story they had to know was fake. Exit Dan Rather stage left.

What was the rush to publish?  Did they fear someone else, some other media outlet would beat them to the unsupported, undocumented, and unwitnessed story?  Why not wait another week, find another source, get the irrefutable Abu Ghraib-type of photographs to flaunt in our faces and use them to fan the fires of hate between Muslims and Christians across the world?

They didn't wait because they just didn't care.

My experience: When the media gets it wrong
Who in the public arena has not been the victim of a story that was perhaps unsupported or unauthenticated and published anyway by some media outlet? During the D.C. sniper case I appeared on television to provide an opinion on the case, an overview of the facts of the investigation as I knew them from media reports. This was investigative speculation versus psychological profiling as I defined it.  When it was over though, one newspaper went after talking heads on television, as well as law enforcement. They saw blood in the water and went after law enforcement because they had missed the killers and their car on numerous occasions. I got lumped in with those talking heads that had suggested the sniper(s) were two skinny white kids, or a lone angry white male, notwithstanding that I had indicated, as another newspaper ultimately printed, that it was two people, one with a former military background, one older, one younger, and they were not in a white van and may not even be white themselves. 

When I wrote the five or so reporters who contributed to the erroneous story associating me with the other "experts," not one of the reporters who placed their name on the byline had the guts or the journalistic integrity to respond.  They hid like cowards and the innocent would suffer with the guilty. There are people in the media who could care less. Story filed, move on to the next. Reputation tainted, who cares?

The media has been rife with their own insider scandals including a reporter with USA Today and the much reported story of a New York Times writer. Both of them simply made up their stories. There was also Rathergate and the attempt to get President Bush via faked letters that some blogger in a bathrobe quickly saw through.

But how could anyone with half a brain not see that publishing an unsupported story about flushing a copy of the Quran down a commode might cause some controversy and strife that could harm U.S. interests, hurt our war effort, endanger U.S. and international lives, and probably get people killed? This goes beyond the irresponsible to either being unbelievably stupid or intentionally cold and calculatingly, and the media has really bright people working within it.

Haters were given a reason to hate
As a former Military Intelligence Agent and FBI Agent, I believe that post 9/11 government interrogators in places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay have done things and employed tactics that have been counter-productive. Their tactics have tended, unfortunately, to re-enforce the anti-US.. propaganda the detainees had been fed rather than showing them that Americans are people with faith, moral values, and integrity. As I had written in a previous column concerning torture, if you treat people wrong, that’s what they ultimately think of you and that’s what they want to do back to you.  This is not the way to win the hearts and minds of the detainees, and I know that they will tell their stories to future generations who will hate us because of what we did, or what we were accused of doing in these troubled times.

Now the ultimate question: Who is really responsible for the dead and injured that resulted from the riots after the Newsweek story was published? No, not reporter who brought the story to Newsweek and supported it with one unidentified source; and no, not Newsweek itself, as much as I'd like to lay it at their feet. No, it was the rioters themselves; individuals who look around every day for new reasons to hate the USA.  The people who actually did the killing and who were part of the riots did so intentionally because that's what they do best—they hate. 

What if it had been a Christian Bible burned in some radical Islamism campfire in some remote desert campsite, or in a downtown Atlanta parking lot?  Would the Baptists in Georgia have rioted and murdered anyone from the Middle East who happened to be working in a local convenience store or a high rise office building? Probably not. Hate is engrained in many people and it spends its time looking for an appropriate outlet to express itself.  All Newsweek did was to provide the reason for the weekly expression of hate, and 20 people died because of it.

Clint Van Zandt is an MSNBC analyst. He is the founder and president of Inc. Van Zandt and his associates also developed , a Website dedicated "to develop, evaluate, and disseminate information to help prepare and inform individuals concerning personal and family security issues." During his 25-year career in the FBI, Van Zandt was a supervisor in the FBI's internationally renowned Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. He was also the FBI's Chief Hostage Negotiator and was the leader of the analytical team tasked with identifying the "Unabomber."