Accuracy in Media

Remember the false Newsweek Koran-in-the-toilet story? Now the magazine has been forced to eat crow again-in another story involving a toilet, or what was thought to be a toilet.

The magazine’s January 9, 2006, issue published a correction about referring to Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham accepting a “chamber pot” or toilet. It turns out that the “19th-century Louis Philippe commode” that Cunningham accepted among his illegal gifts was a “commode” but not a toilet. The Louis Philippe Commode was actually a chest of drawers.  A chamber pot was used as a form of toilet in the old days.

Newsweek got it wrong, despite the fact that Daniel Engber of had gotten it right back in a December 2 article.

In a December 7 story about the case and the gifts, the Los Angeles Times also got it right, noting in an article by Tony Perry that “Journalists pawing through the items learned something. The 19th century French commode, listed in the plea agreement, is not a toilet but rather a chest of drawers.”

But that’s not all. Newsweek also reports this correction: “In ‘the real price of propaganda’ (Dec. 12, 2005), Jonathan Alter cites reporting by author James Bamford in Rolling Stone that suggested the Rendon Group set up interviews for Judith Miller with sources who disseminated false information. There is no evidence that the Rendon Group did so.”

Here’s what Alter reported: “According to an article by James Bamford in last week’s Rolling Stone, Rendon invented the ‘Iraqi National Congress’ and put Judith Miller and other reporters in touch with their bum sources on WMD.”

Not only is there no evidence for Alter’s charge, that is not what the Rolling Stone article actually said. The article said Miller was contacted by the Iraqi National Congress, not the Rendon Group, about a story. Bamford claimed Miller’s front-page story, “which hit the stands on December 20th, 2001 was exactly the kind of exposure Rendon had been hired to provide.” Notice the weasel words-“exactly the kind of.” That stops short of an actual charge of Rendon group involvement. Clever. But not as clever-or false-as Alter.

The Rendon Group responded: “This is false. The Rendon Group does not produce or disseminate false information and has no connection at all with Judith Miller’s work.”

So Bamford’s “suggestion” was wrong, and Alter’s story, based on that suggestion, was wrong, too.

My suggestion: throw Newsweek down the commode.  Unlike the Koran, it may actually be possible to flush Newsweek-or the appropriate articles-down a toilet.

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