I am absolutely irate about this. After much exclaiming and arm waving this morning as my SO headed out the door (agreeing with me in his cool French way, but grinning at my American exuberance) I sat down to post. But first I visited Buzzmachine, and, of course, Jeff Jarvis said it better than I could in "When a Story Gets in the Way of the Truth."
Given that none of those if's was true -- the informant did not have the balls, the event was not witnessed by a source, the event was not confirmed independently -- and given the knowledge that such a report could only be incendiary, then why report it except to play one of two games:
Show-off -- in which the journalist delights in knowing something no one else knows and wants to tell the world before everyone else does, even if it's not assuredly true.
Gotcha -- in which the reporter think he has exposed something somebody wanted to hide.
An incident such as this should force us to ask what the end result of journalism should be. Is it to expose anything we can expose? Is it to beat the other guy to tell you something you didn't know?
Or is it to tell the truth?
And if you don't know it to be true, is it reporting? If you rely on unnamed sources and unconfirmed reports, is it journalism?
To sum up journalism as "tell the truth" sounds so damned simplistic. But that is what journalism is about, isn't it? Or shouldn't it be?
I'm not saying that Newsweek lied. But they didn't know the truth before they said what they said. They put the gotcha scoop ahead of the truth and ahead of nothing less than the good of mankind.
The old saw says that with power comes responsibility. Well, responsibility also comes with influence. Newsweek failed. And their editor's lame non-apology doesn't begin to address the harm they have done.