Warning: This post was published more than 11 years ago.
I keep old posts on the site because sometimes it's interesting to read old content. Not everything that is old is bad. Also, I think people might be interested to track how my views have changed over time: for example, how my strident teenage views have mellowed and matured!
But given the age of this post, please bear in mind:
- My views might have changed in the 11 years since I wrote this post.
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Many thanks for your understanding.
Anybody who follows the news will know that Newsweek recently made the slightly absurd claim that a soldier at Guantanamo Bay had flushed the Koran down the toilet. Clearly, they didn’t think through the physics of the situation, and evidently later had to retract the story. The official White House line was that Newsweek had done ‘lasting damage’ to the US image in the Muslim world. Given that the Pentagon have now released details of incidents at Guantanamo Bay where guards kicked, wrote obscenities in, and threw water and splashed urine on copies of the Koran, this frankly makes the White House look plainly and openly vindictive.
Before condemning Newsweek, the White House must surely have looked into the case to confirm it wasn’t true. And in the course of that investigation, these other incidents must surely have cropped up. And yet the White House has the audacity to condemn not the soldiers who have abused the Koran, and by association the Muslim world as a whole, but Newsweek. Even though the central message of the story – that the Koran was being mishandled – was effectively true. It’s not even that difficult to see that the ideas of covering something in urine and that of flushing it down the toilet are not that far removed from each other, and could easily become confused in translation.
The Newsweek story caused riots across the Muslim world, and thus indirectly led to the deaths of at least fifteen people in Afghanistan. Does the White House really believe that these people were protesting because of the particular details of the Newsweek story, or does it believe that the riots were caused by the US’s lack of respect for other cultures? Or does the White House no longer hold any true beliefs, other than belief in the supremacy of the US and US citizens?
Of course, this action is not a million miles removed from our own Andrew Gilligan incident, whereby he reported that the Dodgy Dossier had been ‘sexed up’. Effectively, it had. And yet, for tripping up on the details – in this case, misrepresenting the position of David Kelly – Gilligan and the Beeb were condemned. Yet the story was basically true.
Is it right that administrations should cover their embarrassments by ridiculing the relatively minor errors of others? The argument can be made that the media are forever condemning politicians for minor slips and lexical errors. But, in my mind at least, this does not mean that they can do the same to the media. Politicians, whether they like it or not, are quite rightly held to a higher standard. They have to prove to us that they are worthy of leading the country, and that they have the moral standing necessary to lead a country morally. To refuse to admit to a wider problem because of small errors in accusations – indeed, to ridicule the person who made those accusations – is neither moral nor open.
And to think, politicians wonder why the public don’t trust them.