Accuracy in Media

On June 3, Pentagon Spokesman Mr. Lawrence DiRita announced the amazing results: “In 31,000 documents covering 28,000 interrogations and countless thousands of interactions with detainees, having issued 1,600 Korans, Southcom found 5 incidents of apparent mishandling by guards or interrogators and 15 incidents of mishandling and outright desecration by detainees.” Did you hear that? The suspected terrorists mishandling the Koran more often than U.S. personnel.

This turns the Newsweek Koran-in-the-toilet story on its head. The real story is that the Muslim inmates at Guantanamo did more harm to their holy book than the U.S. guards or interrogators.

Of course, that’s not the way these findings have been portrayed in the media.

According to American Forces Press Service, General Richard B. Myers said that checking out the phony Newsweek story required DoD to sort through more than 1.6 million documents and long hours of studying and verifying the facts. The news agency added that, “But the damage to American prestige had been done by the time U.S. officials could conclude there were isolated cases of Koran abuse-none of which involved flushing the Muslim holy book down a commode.”

It is interesting to note that, on the same day that DiRita issued his statement, the American forces Press Service carried a story about Gallup Poll findings on public respect for American institutions. The story noted that seventy-four percent of those surveyed in Gallup’s 2005 confidence poll said they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the military. By contrast, the story noted, public trust in television news and newspapers reached an all-time low this year, with only 28 percent expressing high confidence in them. Gallup noted that, “Television news receives its lowest ratings in trends dating to 1993.”

We submit one reason for this disparity is that our media too often denigrate the service of our military. The public recognizes the value of our military and resent the media for not doing so. ABC News reporter Terry Moran has said that the White House press corps is characterized by a deep anti-military bias.

We didn’t see any front-page stories about Moran’s comments or the Gallup Poll in our major newspapers.

The disgust many in our military have for our media was expressed in a copy of an email message we received from an active-duty soldier.

What had enraged him were the comments of Newspaper Guild President Linda Foley about the U.S. military targeted journalists for death in Iraq.

“I am appalled by the cavalier nature in which you made a very pointed accusation that our military are ‘targeting’ and ‘killing’ journalists,” he said.

He added, “Thankfully, unlike very similar comments made by Mr. Eason Jordan (which to this day are being withheld for release by the World Economic Forum), yours, Ms. Foley, are available on a website for all to hear and evaluate.  Your words and the context in which the words were said cannot be easily retracted or refuted.

“Now Ms. Foley, this is not a right vs. left issue.  What you say publicly before an audience has significant meaning.  Your comments have the potential of adversely affecting the morale and welfare of our military personnel and emboldening the enemy we are currently combating in the Global War on Terror.

“As President of The Newspaper Guild?you represent a very significant organization for the media industry.  Your words have clout and influence among the journalists, editors, corporate owners, and of course, the tens of thousands of union members your organization supports.  Together, these forces shape the understanding and opinion of the general public, both domestically and abroad.

“You have a duty to the American public and to the members of the military to produce concrete, verifiable evidence which details your accusations in full.  Absent any action on your part, I for one will view you and your comments as a hostile attempt to dishonor the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces who are serving their country in dangerous regions abroad, including Iraq and Afghanistan?

“Lastly, Ms. Foley, I want you to know that I, as a military member, am keenly interested in how the news media report the news.  As an American citizen, I want to know the truth.  I put my life on the line to support the ‘freedom of speech and freedom of the press’ rights granted us by our forefathers.  If and when members of the military do wrong, then the American public have a right to know, and those responsible for wrongdoing should be held accountable.

“I also believe the media must be held to this same type of accountability, otherwise the credibility of your institution will (and already has) suffer.  The public will no longer ‘buy’ your products, nor your reporting.  We want news…factual, truthful, open and verifiable reporting without bias or activism.

“Suffice it to say, I personally have a growing disdain for the media…not all mind you, just those individual institutions and personalities that have been discredited for publishing/broadcasting outright fabrications and those reports which were later discovered to be falsehoods…actions which have caused great harm to reputation and credibility of the news media.  I am an ardent supporter of the ethics code adopted by the Society of Professional Journalists.

“Again, Ms. Foley, now is the time to account for your comments with substantiated proof; otherwise, retract your statements!!!

“It is TIME to uphold the principles of Truth, Integrity, and Media Ethics to which others in your industry have regrettably failed to adhere.”

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