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May 22, 2005



If you hadn’t noticed, this article is a close parallel (almost too close) to the Newsweek flap of a week or so ago. I thought it might be convenient to take it out of the context of the facts and put in the petree dish so we can look at some interesting aspects of it. The first thing I found interesting was how minor the allegation seemed to be at face. In light of all the horrible things that we know have taken place, flushing a Koran down the toilet seems minor. I suppose the retort to that is that desecration of the Koran is not so minor to some people, and that brings me to my second point. I am not very culturally literate (like many Americans I bet). I have Muslim friends, and I know about their dietary restrictions, but I really don’t know much about what is offensive to Muslims. To be honest (and this is not an ‘I hate America’ statement, just a fact), nearly everything I know about what is offensive to Muslims, I learned from reports that US military personnel had done the offensive things. The dogs, the nudity, the sexual things, the promiscuous women, the menstrual blood… Now all of this may have come up due to the liberal bias in the media, we are much more engaged with Muslims so there are more news pieces about them and our interaction with them… Still I have trouble arguing all these offences away, and it seems to me that targeting Muslims with what they find offensive is an interrogation technique we use. With that in mind, it seems natural to me that we would desecrate the Koran to break down prisoners, right along side wiping fake menstrual blood on them and depriving them of water to clean themselves with so they would be fit to pray. I guess that puts me on the list of ‘hate America’ liberals who find it hard to believe that the News Week report could be false. It just fits with our MO to well. Also, as I understand it, their unnamed source did not say that he was not sure the allegation existed at all, he was just not sure if it was the report he mentioned that he saw it in. It sounds like he saw it somewhere. One last point, the Pentagon has dismissed reports of Koran desecration by released detainees as unreliable because they are from released detainees. But these people were cleared of all wrongdoing (right?) and released. If an innocent person spends time as a detainee in our facility, does that alone eliminate their credibility?


Sweetchuck, another facet of the story is this: Newsweek has not only been criticized on the veracity of the story. The argument was, even if the story is true, it should not have been reported because of the (obvious?) repurcussions. Some unnamed partisan Blogs and Forums have called for Newsweek to be held liable for the deaths and injuries that occured during the demonstrations or that they be shut down completely because of the damage caused to the image of the US. This starts up the debate again: What are newspapers allowed to report during wartime? Is there and should there be a free press? What about freedom of speech? Should and can somebody be held accountable for the consequences of excercising the right to free speech (regardless of the truthfulness of the statements made)?

So many questions, and so few answers.


Is it possible that it's Marilyn Manson's fault?


Well, Newsweek quoted someone they shouldn't have because American Journalism is now an oxymoron.

They are idiots.

It makes me sick to see any liberal trying to defend Newsweek... as if they have been so great for liberalism.

It's because of the part they play and the way they play it that it makes the whole string of abuses beside the point of the debate, which then gets into them writing up quotes that are not substantiated. It's stupidity by the press.


Here is where I fall on this, for what it is worth. This does not necessarily seem like a case of liberal bias to me. It is a case of crappy journalism, but it is increasingly becoming what we expect from the mainstream media. This is the case, especially, when it comes to military reporting. This seems like a case where the allegation seemed to fit in the worldview of the reporters, it dovetailed with what they believe of our military, and since it fit with their beliefs, they ran with it. Kind of like how sweetchuck is willing to believe it, based on other instances of alleged abuse.

What really gets me about this story is that the mainstream media was so willing to believe something that paints America and our military in an unflattering light. When Muslims commit acts of terrorism, the media is quick to point out that not all Muslims are terrorists, only a minority of the fundamentalists. However, they are not willing to apply the same standards when it comes to the military, painting the organization as a whole with a broad brush, rather than highlighting the responsible individuals.


I think JD is close to nailing it here (don't let all the agreement go to your head!).
Pyrhho is right as well. It is crappy journalism. And it has led to further crappy journalism from other media sources. As far as I am aware (correct me if I am wrong) Newsweek have not retracted that the Koran was flushed, rather they have said that their 'source' is now usure whether or not s/he saw it in a particular forthcoming report - s/he still saw it -allegedly. Other media outlets (and weblogs) have swooped on this as if Newsweek have retracted the meat of the story.

Okay, that said. Newsweek should not have printed the story. Not because it was a time of war; this war isn't ever going to end so I hope this is never offered as a reason by a politician, if it is, then everybody pile on. No this should not have been printed because it was an inflammatory statement that was single sourced! Ask Andrew Gilligan whether it is a good idea to rely on single sourcing - ask the US and UK intelligence agencies.
Was it a legitimate story? yes, if there was corroborating evidence. And no if I were a journalist I would be hesitant about believing reports from released detainees. Especially if they have had a chance to talk to one another since. These men will have a grievance with the US military (rightfully so in many cases) for the act of incarceration itself and so one must be enormously careful. It depends on the circumstances.

However, I diverge from JD at the end. I cannot speak from recent US media experience except for the web, but I note that I do not think that the media is broad brushing the US military. It is clear to me that it is a few 'bad apples'; however I think there is a feeling that it goes further up the chain and that we still do not know the whole truth of it. Consequently, there is a consistent hounding of the military which can come across badly.
It depends what you believe:
Were the abusers acting on their own or from a limited command?
Was there an order from further up and/or blind eyes turned towards the incident?
If you believe the former you see the media hounding the military as an attack on all of them.

The uneveness of the treatment of muslim terrorist and US military is another issue that bugs me. JD has it right again, though I am not so sure of the cause. We live in a PC world, what has generated and laid down the rules for this world I am not sure and I am not sure that we can blame the media, but they do live in that world with us. In fact they are more accountable to its rules since they have a louder voice. There is an imbalance between whether it is acceptable to criticise one thing that is foreign to us and to criticise another that is part of our own 'world'. The scales need to tip back again otherwise there will be more kneejerk reactions and fools joining organisations such as the BNP.


Talking about cynical views, Kav. One thing when considering the news media is that they are not in the business to idealistically provide the populace with truthful and evenhanded news. They exist solely to sell a product: advertisements. That means, their ultimate goal is to get people to read or watch these ads. The news itself has become a vehicle to sell this product. Granted, some people want the appearance of truthfulness and evenhandedness in the news, since otherwise they refuse to consume the advertisments. But, in the end, telling the truth and being balanced is not a necessary requirement for a succesful news network.

So, if the repurcussions for NOT reporting something that is based on a single, possibly unreliable source (which then gets reported somewhere else) is larger than the repercussions for reporting something untrue, then this practice will continue. Why wouldn't it?


JD said:

When Muslims commit acts of terrorism, the media is quick to point out that not all Muslims are terrorists, only a minority of the fundamentalists. However, they are not willing to apply the same standards when it comes to the military, painting the organization as a whole with a broad brush, rather than highlighting the responsible individuals.

And rightly so. Every American, to a man or woman, is at least indirectly complicit in the actions of our military. The way the members of this organization comport themselves reflects on us all. We should hold them to a high standard of behavior and subject them to a fine degree of scrutiny.

Put another way, yes, Private England et al were responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, but we hold ourselves to a higher standard than that - those abuses should never have been allowed to take place. And (if I'm reading Taguba's report correctly) if protocol had been followed, the abuses would never have happened. In this case, the failure lays not only at the feet of the individuals responsible, but at their immediate supervisors, and maybe - just maybe - it indicates that something is lacking in our military police. This is not a condemnation of the military as much as a realization that we could do better - maybe we need to improve how the behavior of the interrogators is monitored? Maybe we need to provide some kind of emotional support for MPs? I dunno.

Anyway, the same can't be said for Muslim terrorists (or our enemies in general). What they do is horrible, and we should employ all right and necessary strategies to defend ourselves against them, but their actions do not impugn our national honor.

And also, this:

...a case where the allegation seemed to fit in the worldview of the reporters, it dovetailed with what they believe of our military, and since it fit with their beliefs, they ran with it. Kind of like how sweetchuck is willing to believe it, based on other instances of alleged abuse.

That's just Bayesian learning. Philosophically, there's nothing wrong with it, except that sometimes it doesn't work, and you shouldn't use it as a major basis for releasing news stories ;)


G-do - I am essentially an uneducated rube, being a red stater and having gone to a state school, so I have no idea what Bayesian learning is, but I will be looking it up today.

As far as the comparison goes, you are correct. We do expect, and hold our people to a higher standard. Despite all of the brouhaha over the abuse issues, it was my impression that the military properly investigated and prosecuted the offenders. However, clearly many were willing to jump on and claim that this reached the highest levels, Sec. Rumsfeld, President Bush, etc ... immediately.


JD, unfortunately, I question the ability of the Military to do proper internal investigations in matters this important and widespread (not saying that it was systemic or standard MO).

Just like I trust external investigations of police conduct more or external investigations of the UN Oil for Food scandal, I would also trust an external investigation of this abuse much more.


I am not suggesting that they be given a free pass. All I would suggest is that the media takes a position of assuming the veracity of allegations against our military. From a former military person, it seems like the mainstream media still views the military the way it did during Vietnam. Why does it seem that they assume the truth of the allegations, instead of allowing the internal processes to work, which they appear to do so?


JD: Ho ho ho. Your "uneducated rube" deference has made me jolly!

To learn more about Bayesian learning, consult the works of Hempel - he's a thick and boring writer, but he's the authority on this subject - and those of his contemporaries in the philosophy of science - Salmon, mainly, who is much more concise.


However, clearly many were willing to jump on and claim that this reached the highest levels, Sec. Rumsfeld, President Bush, etc ... immediately.

We are in agreement on that.


Bayesian learning: that's the process by which people learn not to eat spam, iirc.


G-do and pyrrho,

I have been reading about this Bayesian (*^%$@#^&)^ for the last hour, and what have I discovered? Some tool named Radford Neal likes to take otherwise really simple thoughts and turn them into mind numbingly boring, eye crossingly painful sentences that an ordinary red stater could not begin to comprehend. I saw the phrase "posterior output" keep popping up in the various articles I read, and quite frankly, I could not determine if that was a technical term, or the author's way of saying that the entire text was a pile of shit. At any rate, my previously addled brain is now completely on the fritz, and my head hurts so bad, I am going to have to slam my hand in a car door to take my mind off of the headache.

How freaking difficult would it be for some of those damn academic types to put something like the phrase "trial and error" somewhere in the first paragraph, page, chapter, volume ? Bastards. One and all.


A little skepticism of the press is in order when stories about successfully flushing anything larger than a few sheets of two-ply are given merit, especially in a Cuban prison camp. Try flushing the Bible around my house and I'll kindly ask you what in hell you're trying to do to my toilet. And where did you get that Bible? It is easy for many of us to believe that such abuses would take place insofar as the prolonged incarceration without due process of these people is in itself antithetical to what we believe constitutes justice, a form of abuse that far exceeds the fantastical sidestory involving the plumbing and the Koran.


what if the "toilet" is a bucket of shit or a hole in the ground?



Bayesian learning would lead you to the conclusion that ... drumroll ... Who the hell knows ?!?! lol.

My brain is still on the fritz from reading that tripe.


pyrrho, that would be barbaric.


That would be abuse! Torture! A violation of the Geneva Conventions! That would rank right up there with making somebody read about Bayesian learning!



Don't be silly, nothing is bad as reading about Bayesian learning.



sorry to be so crude, there's just a lot of types of "toilet".

A seat over a tub, etc, what kind of access to bathrooms do these guys have? I don't want to speculate as I just don't know.


I guess Pyrrho has a point; however I am somewhat amused to think that we might shortly descend into an argument over what constitutes a toilet and whether the word 'flush' is a red herring or evidence that it could not have happened (too big in a regular toilet and have you ever tried to flush a hole in the gound?)



well, Kav, I guess we're there. Yeah, I've flushed a hole in the ground... well, basically, many outhouse type bathrooms do have a flush that is just a trap door (and maybe some cleaning fluid).

Hey! what can I say, I've gone to the bathroom a lot of places... it comes up a lot. NO! Not more than normal! But... ug, the politics of bodily fluids is sensitive, arn't it?


I just read this. It appears as if Newsweek might be owed an apology.


Unless of course this is bad news also....


Any decent introduction to Bayesian Learning includes the following limerick:

There once was a theorist named Bayes
who mooned in peculiar ways.
He'd show his prior
to any admirer,
but to see his posterior, you pays!

Well, after you've been doing machine learning for a while, your sense of humor starts to go.

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