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Good Things Happen When Journalists Respond

It looks like someone at The Washington Post learned a lesson from ombudsman Deborah Howell's battle with the blogosphere. Columnist Anne Applebaum's Wednesday column addressing the Danish cartoon controversy drew some objections from the conservative side of the blogosphere and also resulted in a rare and encouraging dialogue.

In the column, Applebaum wrote that the reaction to the story "has exposed a few less attractive political undercurrents in America." Among those she listed were the "hypocrisy of the cultural left" and the "hypocrisy of the right-wing blogosphere." It was, of course, the latter which drew the attention of those bloggers. Applebaum recalled the reaction to the erroneous Newsweek report that claimed a Koran had been flushed down a toilet by guards at the Guantanamo Navel Base where suspected terrorists were being held. That story, like the cartoons, sparked uprisings throughout the Muslim world. Here's Applebaum's complaint:

Although that controversy was every bit as manipulated as this one, self-styled U.S. "conservatives" blamed not cynical politicians and clerics but Newsweek for (accidentally) inciting violence in the Muslim world: "Newsweek lied, people died." Worse, much of the commentary implied that Newsweek was not only wrong to make a mistake (which it was) but also that the magazine was wrong to investigate the alleged misconduct of U.S. soldiers. Logically, the bloggers should now be attacking the Danish newspaper for (less accidentally) inciting violence in the Muslim world. Oddly enough, though, I've heard no cries of "Jyllands-Posten insulted, people died." The moral is: We defend press freedom if it means Danish cartoonists' right to caricature Muhammad; we don't defend press freedom if it means the mainstream media's right to investigate the U.S. government.
Well, Captain Ed over at Captain's Quarters, took offense:
Perhaps Applebaum has hung around American newsrooms too long to notice the difference, but editorial cartoons express opinion, while news reporting is supposed to deliver facts. Newsweek didn't publish a cartoon of a GI flushing a Qu'ran down a toilet. They reported as fact that American soldiers had done so, with the thinnest of sourcing and without attempting to corroborate the information. Newsweek didn't investigate at all -- they just took the word of a single source and put it in their magazine.
This is yet another of the tiresome examples of writers at the Post attempting to appear reasonable by finding some basis on which to attack all sides of a controversy. Applebaum's reach exceeds her grasp on this point, and she made up for it by trying to rewrite the Newsweek debacle by turning it into a debate on the First Amendment -- a conflict that never arose when Newsweek botched its reporting. It's just another form of pandering.
So far, we're witnessing the sort of one-sided conversations that excel in the blogosphere, where folks often prefer to simply talk past one another. But yesterday, Captain Ed engaged Applebaum and she responded, which was then promptly posted on the blog.Here's part of her response:
The Newsweek affair continues to bother me, because of the widespread assumption, perpetuated on the Right, that the magazine (with which I have no personal association) "lied" in order to smear American soldiers, and therefore deliberately endangered our troops. In fact, they repeated a story - about throwing a Koran in a toilet - which came from Guantanmo inmates, and erroneously claimed the story would be confirmed by an official investigation. That's very, very different from lying in a deliberate attempt to endanger Americans.
You can read Applebaum's full response here but suffice it to say Captain Ed was not fully satisfied with it, writing, "In my opinion, Applebaum still hasn't addressed the main part of my criticism, which was that she indicted the entire 'right-wing blogosphere' by claiming that we all said that it was wrong for the media to investigate government malfeasance."

Yet, as is the case so often when an actual discussion occurs, Captain Ed (who reached out) was more than willing to concede that he had gone overboard in his criticism of Applebaum (who responded):

Where I went overboard, though was accusing Anne of rewriting history, which was too hyperbolic and -- given her work on the Soviet gulag system earlier -- particularly provocative, and I regret it. I still disagree with much of what Anne wrote in this column, but I thank her for engaging me and CQ readers in an honest and professional debate, and encourage everyone to show their support by making a point of reading her columns ... in their entirety, of course.
Will wonders ever cease?