Alert the media. We finally found someone to blame for anti-Americanism around the world, especially in Muslim countries.

It’s not who you’d think. Not Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez – who, while White House counsel, wrote the policy that says “anything goes” for Muslim prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib. Not Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Condi Rice or George Tenet – who cooked up intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s stockpiles of biological and nuclear weapons. Not even President Bush – who used their phony intelligence to take this nation to war.

No, ladies and gentlemen, the culprit responsible for all the hatred toward the United States is none other than Newsweek magazine. And, says the Bush administration, Newsweek must be made to pay. This has to be the biggest lie told in the White House since Bill Clinton declared: “I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”

Not that Newsweek is without blame. The weekly news mag did make a serious mistake by relying on one source only in reporting that American soldiers had flushed a copy of the Quran down the toilet to insult Muslim prisoners of war. Newsweek editors have apologized and issued a retraction.

Which should be the end of the story. But conservative extremists won’t let it rest. Right-wing hate mongers on talk radio blame Newsweek for anti-American riots in Afghanistan that killed 17 people, accuse Newsweek of making up the story, insist no such insult of the Quran ever happened and suggest that, even it if did, Newsweek should not have reported it. Positively orgasmic over the possibility of another Dan Rather, they wave the Newsweek story as one more proof of the media’s “liberal bias.”

Nonsense. These idiots have been drinking too much Kool-Aid. They are wrong on every count. For starters, there’s no sign of “liberal bias.” Newsweek’s article was written by investigative digger Michael Isikoff, who just happens to be the best in the business. Seven years ago, conservatives wanted to give him a Pulitzer Prize for reporting the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

This time, too, Isikoff had every reason to believe he had a big scoop. Several other journals, citing inmate complaints, had already published similar stories. But a top Pentagon source, proven reliable in the past, told Isikoff that accounts of desecration of the Quran were actually included in the final report of an official military investigation. A second Pentagon officer, shown the draft Newsweek article, did not deny the charge. Only later, after publication, did the original source change his tune – perhaps under pressure from the White House.

Nor is there any evidence that riots in Afghanistan were caused by Newsweek. True, some protesters waved Arabic-language translations of the article. But while the riots were still taking place, both Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the top commander in Afghanistan, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers denied any Newsweek connection. Protests, they said, were sparked by economic conditions and hostility to the continued presence of American troops in Afghanistan. Nobody blamed Newsweek until the White House jumped in, almost 10 days later.

At this point, since the Pentagon refuses to release its investigative report, nobody knows for sure whether the Quran flushing ever took place. Are prison toilets really that efficient? However, after the shocking photos from Abu Ghraib – and after testimony of guards’ piling naked prisoners on top of one another, smearing them with menstrual blood and forcing them to simulate sex acts – it would be naive to think that American troops would never treat the Quran with disrespect.

In fact, any damage the Newsweek article might have caused in the Arab world is small potatoes compared to the widespread hostility caused by decades of America’s one-sided policy in the Middle East, our support for Arab dictators, the abusive treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and by the war in Iraq itself.

In the end, the whole Newsweek flap is a lesson in personal responsibility. Newsweek relied on questionable intelligence to write a magazine article. George W. Bush relied on faulty intelligence to start a war that cost $200 billion so far and has taken the lives of over 1,600 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis.

Here’s the difference: Newsweek didn’t know its intelligence was faulty. Newsweek accepted responsibility. And Newsweek apologized. We’re still waiting on President Bush to do the same.

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