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Is Isikoff a pervert?

Posted by Richard on May 18, 2005

Jay Rosen superbly summarizes just what constitutes news to Newsweek:

Newsweek, which I will call S1 for our first level source, and for which we have names (Michael Isikoff, Mark Whitaker, John Barry) said that it had sources (S2) without names, who in turn said that other sources (S3) also without names, working as investigators for the government, have learned enough from their sources (S4), likewise unnamed, to conclude in a forthcoming report for U.S. Southern Command (finally, a name!) that unnamed interrogators (S5) dumped the Qur’an into toilets to make a point with prisoners (S6) who are Muslims but also not named.

But it gets even shakier when you inquire into what Rosen calls the S2 sources:

Source Level 2 are the unnamed sources in the government… These sources now appear unreliable, and won’t confirm. It appears that one of them was not really a source for the allegation but a Pentagon official who was shown the report and didn’t disconfirm it. From the New York Times account by Katharine Seelye:

In addition, the reporters, Michael Isikoff, a veteran investigative reporter, and John Barry, a national security correspondent, showed a draft of the article to the source and to a senior Pentagon official asking if it was correct. The source corrected one aspect of the article, which focused on the Southern Command’s internal report on prisoner abuse.

"But he was silent about the rest of the item," Newsweek reported.

OK, let’s apply the Newsweek standard. Assume that an anonymous reader emails me with a juicy news item. My reader says that his girlfriend saw Michael Isikoff expose himself at lunch today at the big fountain in front of Newsweek’s New York offices.

As a responsible journalist, I want confirmation. So I ask Newsweek’s Washington Bureau Chief Dan Klaidman to take a look at my news article and comment. Klaidman replies, "I don’t believe a word of it. For one thing, there’s no fountain in front of our New York offices."

Klaidman has corrected one aspect of the article. But he was silent about the rest of the item. I can conclude that my anonymous source’s story has been confirmed and go public with the story of Isikoff’s act of perversion.

If it turns out to be false, I can blame Newsweek for not correcting me in time.

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