Caught In Errors on Afghanistan, Newsweek Passes Off Major Story as Mere 'Analysis'

Imagine you're a leading news magazine. You've published a major story claiming that Afghanistan is a brewing disaster in which Al-Qaeda can once again roam with impunity. So bad is the situation, say you, that for purposes of your article you've dubbed the country "Jihadistan."

Now comes the Pentagon, and in painstaking, point-by-point fashion, refutes so many of your article's assertions as to call its overall validity into question. How do you respond?

A. In a rigorous, systematic manner, you contest the Pentagon's arguments and prove that you were correct in the first place.

Or - if you're unable to do that because the Pentagon was indeed right;

B. You correct your original article, or offer the DoD a reasonable amount of space in your pages to make its case.

This of course is not a hypothetical. As I had written here, Newsweek did indeed publish in its international edition of October 2nd a major, 2200-word, story entitled The Rise of Jihadistan, painting a grim, back-to-square-one, portrait of Aghanistan as a largely safe haven for Al-Qaeda.

And the Pentagon did indeed respond with a detailed, point-by-point debunking of the Newsweek story. Here is just one example:

NEWSWEEK CLAIM: "Five years after the Afghan invasion, the Taliban are fighting back hard, carving out a sanctuary where they -- and Al Qaeda's leaders -- can operate freely. Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups now have a place from which to hatch the next 9/11."

PENTAGON RESPONSE: This assertion is contradicted within the same article by Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, Commander, Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan. He points out that al-Qaeda or its successors have nothing like the liberty that allowed them to plot September 11 in the open. He states, "They have no safe haven inside Afghanistan that if we find it, we will not strike against them." It is one thing for al-Qaeda remnants to operate within Afghanistan's borders while being vigorously pursued and attacked by Afghan, NATO, and Coalition forces -- as is happening now. It is quite another thing for a terrorist organization to have an entire nation where they can plan, train, and launch attacks with impunity -- as Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda did in Afghanistan before September 11. There is simply no comparison between the situation in Afghanistan when 9-11 was "hatched" to the situation today.

OK, back to Newsweek's response. Did they go for 'A,' or 'B'? As you might have guessed, Newsweek chose 'C': neither of the above.

As per a letter of October 11th from Newsweek to the Pentgon that this NewsBuster has obtained, a suddenly demure Newsweek now claims that its blockbuster article, presented as objective fact, was merely its "analysis" of the situation in Afghanistan. Newsweek doesn't even attempt to take on the Pentagon's systematic dismantling of its article. Nor will Newsweek agree to a correction or to making available any significant space to lay out the Pentagon case. Instead, while observing that the Pentagon is "free and welcome" to disagree with it [thanks!], Newsweek offers to publish a "concisely" written letter. Consider that by "concise" Newsweek likely means at most 200 words, whereas just this NB item itself extends to over 620 .

So here we have a mainstay of the MSM that - when confronted with a serious challenge to its reporting on a matter of crucial national interest - attempts to downplay a major piece as mere "analysis." And rather than either replying seriously to the Pentagon's systematic refutation, or covering those arguments in its own pages, offers the Pentagon no more than the barest opportunity to respond.

Is this evidence of a news organization with a burning desire to get to the truth, or another lamentable example of drive-by journalism?

Finkelstein lives in the liberal haven of Ithaca, NY. Webcasts and podcasts of Mark's award-winning TV show 'Right Angle' are available here. Contact Mark at mark@gunhill.net

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.