Newsweek & Ivan Krylov

Thursday, May 19th, 2005 9:00 am by carter

Since Newsweek so meakly retracted the Koran down the toilet story, I began wondering how many days would pass before I read a commentator announce that the fact that the story is not true only obscures the real issue, which is that the rioters and flag-burners around the world are still justified in hating the US because of the disrespectful nature of Bush’s foreign policies.

Well, it didn’t take long. In yesterday’s NY Times appeared an article entitled White House Presses Newsweek in Wake of Koran Report. On Tuesday, at the daily White House press conference, Scott McClellan, White House press secretary, said that Newsweek should be responsible and assist in fixing the mess that publication had caused. Here is a transcript of the press conference.

In an attempt to embarrass the White House (surprise!), the NY Times spins the press conference to try to create the appearance that the White House is pressuring Newsweek, but as the full transcript makes clear, McClellan was doing no such thing.

Regarding my original point that the veracity of the Koran story is not the issue, here is a quote in the NY Times article from a Harvard faculty member:

“This is hardly the first time that the administration has sought to portray the American media as inadequately patriotic,” [ed. read the transcript and see if you can identify any hint of Scott McClellan portraying the media as unpatriotic] said Marvin Kalb, a senior fellow at the Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. “They [the White House] are addressing the mistake, and not the essence of the story. The essence of the story is that the United States has been rather indelicate, to put it mildly, in the way that they have treated prisoners of war.”

If I understand Professor Kalb, it doesn’t really matter that got a few of the details wrong (i.e. American soldiers never flushed the Koran down toilets) because the “essense” of the story is true. Damn the facts. Based on this (il)logic, Newsweek representatives should hold a press conference and ask for an apology from anyone who has criticized its handling of this story, because after all, the essence of its story is true. Again, damn the facts. This is maddening.

After reading this article, I was reminded of the professor at Claremont McKenna College in California who faked a hate crime against herself. When it was determined that the entire episode was a hoax, the university’s spin was that what was important was that the university community rallied together to denounce hate crimes, so I guess the essence of that story was true too (in fact, the essence of that story was more “true”; after all, the professor’s car was desecrated; she just did it herself).

Want another analogy? Here is a rough translation of a fable entitled “The Wolf and the Lamb” from Ivan Krylov, Russia’s most renowned fabulist:

One day a Lamb went down to the brook to get a drink. A Wolf saw him and wanted to quarrel with him so as to have a good excuse for eating him up. While the Lamb was drinking, he went and stood by the brook, a little farther up, and cried out:—

“See here, you Lamb! How do you dare to muddy the water that I am about to drink?”

“How can I muddy it?” said the Lamb. “You are higher up the stream than I am, and the water runs away from you, towards me.”

“Well, you called me names last summer,” said the Wolf, “and now I am going to punish you for it.”

“Last summer?” said the Lamb. “That was before I was born, and how could I call you names?”

“At any rate,” said the Wolf, “you are trying to make out that I am a fool; and I won’t stand that, from you or anybody else.” And with that he seized the Lamb and ate him up.

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