As fallout continues from Newsweek’s retracted report about a Quran flushed down a toilet where Muslim terror suspects are held, a new online poll by users of America Online shows most feel the magazine’s story is worse than last year’s fabricated-documents fiasco by CBS News.

With more than 58,000 respondents in the unscientific survey, 60 percent of AOL users said Newsweek deserves more criticism than CBS, which used phony documents to put President Bush’s National Guard service in a negative light.

Though CBS News management originally stood by the authenticity of its documents, network anchor Dan Rather finally issued an on-air apology for the broadcast, claiming the network had been “misled.”

In the AOL poll, users were asked, “Which organization handled the post-report fallout better?” The answer was nearly split down the middle, with 51 percent saying CBS, and 49 percent saying Newsweek.

As far as Newsweek’s post-report response, a large majority – 63 percent – rated it “poor.” Sixteen percent called it “fair,” 12 percent said it was “good” and 10 percent believe it was “excellent.”

“This is just like the CBS scandal,” writes one poll participant in an associated messageboard. “The real question is why the Muslims didn’t get this upset by any of the previous stories telling of desecrations to the Quran. The rest of the media won’t look at that. They’ll feed on the flesh of wounded competition – and America will be less informed because of it.”

Michael Isikoff

Others took direct aim at Michael Isikoff, one of the Newsweek reporters who wrote the blurb about the Quran in the toilet, which sparked violent protests in the Mideast and Asia, leading to at least 15 deaths.

“Writing a story based on lies and innuendo and unproven ‘facts’ is not journalism and is not doing his job,” said Jennifer Combs of Silverton, Ore. “Inciting riots is criminal and he ought to be doing a nice long jail sentence along with his editors who allowed the story to go to press!”

Jeffery S. Richardson, an attorney in Tallahassee, Fla., wrote:

Congress needs to subpoena Mr. Isikoff, and if necessary, raid his offices and put him in the can until we find out his source. The First Amendment gives you the right to say what you will, but it does not relieve you of responsibility for what you say. Neither does the law provide a special ‘reporter’ protection from our common duty to provide testimony and evidence. This is a very important issue and we need to make haste in showing the Muslim world that we have investigated this matter fully. It is also important that Newsweek accept responsibility for [its] error in judgment and its predictable results, and make amends to those people that their error affected.

Others think the news magazine is getting a bad rap.

“Pointing the finger at Newsweek is like blaming the gas-gauge when the car runs out of gas,” wrote a poster from northern Florida. “Who is responsible and who can be confronted, are the ‘better questions.'”

“Newsweek may have erred causing increased Moslem ire,” writes Ron Field, “but what about this administration which erred or lied on [weapons of mass destruction] and which has resulted in an ongoing war that has resulted in the deaths of thousands?”

Isikoff, meanwhile, is vowing to continue digging into the controversy, telling Newsday, “We are continuing to investigate what remains a very murky situation. It’s not like us or them [the Pentagon] have gotten to the bottom of this.”

Referring to the violent protests, Isikoff said, “Things turned out horribly, but it was unforeseen. A very strange set of circumstances led to a very horrible chain of events. And we all feel terrible about it.”

But the veteran journalist, noted for his chronicling of former President Bill Clinton’s sexual affair with intern Monica Lewinsky, is also defending his reporting on the toilet story.

He told Newsday a top Pentagon official did not dispute the Quran charge when shown the story before publication.

“If it was wrong, why didn’t you [Pentagon officials] demand a correction right away?” Isikoff said. “… They didn’t say a word until 11 days after the piece ran, when rioting had begun.”

The AOL poll also asked its users: “Will this cause long-term damage to American-Islamic relations?”

With more than 132,000 people voting on that question, almost three out of four respondents – 73 percent – said yes.

With that in mind, the media-watchdog group Accuracy in Media is calling on the Washington Post Company, which owns Newsweek, to compensate the victims of the violence caused by its story and help pay to rebuild properties that were destroyed.

“This goodwill gesture would help show that the Newsweek correction, apology and retraction are sincere,” said AIM editor Cliff Kincaid.

AOL also asked to rate the Bush administration’s post-Newsweek report response.

Thirty-five percent voted “poor,” 24 percent said “good,” 23 percent called it “excellent” and 18 percent responded “fair.”

If you’d like to sound off on this issue, please take part in the WorldNetDaily poll.

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