During the last four years rumour, innuendo and character assassination have defined North American journalism regarding the Middle East. Any official White House or Pentagon pronouncement—no matter how ludicrous, specious or unsubstantiated—is reported as if it had a basis in fact.

The state of journalism is so debased that, in the White House press briefing room, respected veteran reporter Helen Thomas was banished to the back row for asking an intelligent question, and a phony reporter (“Jeff Gannon”) who pandered to Bush’s official mouthpiece was treated with respect, until he was exposed.

Reporters, with a few notable exceptions, have degenerated into palace press stenographers—too craven or incurious to challenge threadbare propaganda. As a result, countless stories about “terrorist cells,” “ al-Qa‘ida” “WMDs” and the like, based on unnamed sources or outright fabrication, are dutifully regurgitated.

Even now when we have definitive proof that the invasion of Iraq was premeditated, for example, the media still has offered no public apologies for professional laziness, much less demanded that Bush and his cabal of zionist puppetmasters be impeached and tried for crimes against humanity.

This fact must be borne in mind when trying to make sense of Newsweek’s conspicuously overwrought series of “apologies” for its May 9 report that described how U.S. interrogators at the Guantánamo Bay Concentration Camp flushed a copy of the Qur’an down a toilet.

1) On May 16, editor Mark Whitaker wrote the following simple statement: “Based on what we know now, we are retracting our original story that an internal military investigation had uncovered Qur’an abuse at Guantánamo Bay.”

2) On May 23 he went further in a 409-word mea culpa, which accompanied an exhaustive introspective piece about how the magazine “got its facts wrong”

3) On May 30, chairman and editor-in-chief Richard M. Smith wrote his own apology, which was even more self-flagellating and obsequious than Whitaker’s. Here’s an excerpt:

“In the light of the Pentagon’s denials and our source’s changing position on the allegation, the only responsible course was to say that we no longer stand by our story.… Let me assure both our readers and our staffers that Newsweek remains every bit as committed to honest, independent and accurate reporting as we always have been. In this case, however, we got an important story wrong, and honor requires us to admit our mistake and redouble our efforts to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.”

Smith went on to recite a series of corrective measures Newsweek will adopt, such as raising the standards for using anonymous sources, and banning the phrase “sources said” from the magazine. But none of this sanctimonious blubbering had anything to do with “honest, independent and accurate reporting.”

If Newsweek did make an error, then Whitaker’s one-sentence retraction was sufficient, but I submit that Newsweek did not make an error. It simply reported a fact that the Bushites did not want reported. The series of “apologies” amount to penance for exposing pervasive anti-Muslim bigotry.

Michael Isikoff, one of the two reporters who wrote the May 9 piece, said initial reaction was non-existent: “Nobody in the United States had said a word about it. Nobody picked up on it. Nobody asked any questions about it. Nobody followed up on it.” Moreover, he and co-author John Barry had run the full article past two senior Pentagon officials. One gave no response and the other asked for a change of wording on an unrelated issue.

Only after the May 9 story sparked anti-American riots in Afghanistan and Pakistan did the Bushites start soiling their undersilks and persecute Newsweek. On May 17, White House spokesman Scott McClellan referred to the “serious consequences” and “lasting damage” to the U.S. image that the story caused, as if that were Newsweek’s problem.

As demands to repudiate the story mounted, so did the depth of Newsweek’s capitulation. Accuracy was not the issue—U.S. foreign policy was—which meant that an apology was insufficient. The story had to be impugned and the magazine had to be disgraced. Political expediency demanded nothing less.

Whitaker and Brown now claim that the “historically reliable source” retracted his statement; Isikoff and Barry were politely hung out to dry; and Isikoff himself said he and Barry erred by not having a Pentagon official corroborate each point in the article. The fact that Newsweek allows the Pentagon to vet stories is more disturbing than any reporter’s oversight, but editorial independence doesn’t seem to be a concern.

Nevertheless, this intimidation offensive had a weakness—copious corroborating evidence showing that U.S. interrogators desecrate the Qur’an as a matter of course.

• In Washington, D.C., 65 lawsuits have been filed on behalf of nearly 180 detainees attesting to such acts. Another lawsuit filed in January on behalf of 12 Kuwaiti detainees claims that American soldiers tore up the Qur’an and threw pages into toilets.

• In 2002 and 2003 the International Committee of the Red Cross documented credible evidence from multiple sources attesting to desecration. and submitted confidential reports about it to the Pentagon.

• Abdul Rahim, a 40-year-old Afghan who spent three years at Guantánamo Bay, said routine desecration of the Qur’an prompted a hunger strike and forced a U.S. officer to apologize.

To all of this, Newsweek and the Pentagon engage in the worst hypocrisy: “The Pentagon had investigated other desecration charges by detainees and found them ‘not credible,’” wrote Whitaker on May 23. It was “an accident,” said Pentagon flak Bryan Whitman. Because these reports have never been corroborated, they are merely “allegations." Of course, the Pentagon would never lie or tell the media anything that wasn’t true.

Questions of journalistic ethics come into play only when stories critical of the Bushites are involved. Thomas Jefferson famously called the free press “the oxygen that nourishes democracy and civil society.”

One could say the palace press is the pollution that chokes democracy and civil society. The U.S. is suffocating.

(For more evidence of Qur’an desecration, go to http://raw story.com/exclusives/Newsweek_koran_report_ 516.htm)