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Newsweek Quran story prompts policy review

White House says magazine should help 'repair damage'


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Pedestrians walk past the Newsweek building in New York.
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Newsweek has now retracted its story about Quran desecration.

Newsweek backs off a story blamed for unrest in Muslim countries.

Anti-American protests erupt in Afghanistan.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Newsweek magazine said Tuesday it would review its sourcing policies and reporting methods a day after it retracted a May 9 story on alleged desecration of the Quran at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

U.S. officials have blamed the report -- which said American interrogators put copies of the Quran on toilets or in one case, flushed one down a toilet -- in part for sparking deadly anti-American riots in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world last week.

In its May 23 issue, Newsweek reported that its senior government source had backed away from his initial story, and Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker wrote that "we regret" that any part of the story was wrong. (Full story)

But the magazine did not completely disavow the story until Monday, after Bush administration officials called for a full retraction. (Full story)

On Tuesday, Dan Klaidman, Newsweek's Washington bureau chief, said the magazine was taking preventive action in the aftermath of the incident.

"We will continue to look at our processes, our reporting methods, questions about sourcing," Klaidman said. "We're going to go back and learn from the mistakes we made so that we don't repeat them."

"We will go back and look and see what we could have done better. And we'll discuss our sourcing policies and figure out how to proceed."

A White House spokesman said Tuesday the report hurt the U.S. image in the Muslim world and that the magazine should help repair that damage.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan stuck to that message in a briefing with reporters, although Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers said last week that the U.S. commander in Afghanistan had determined violence there "was not at all tied to the article."

"Clearly the report was used to incite violence by people who oppose us," McClellan said. "The protest may have been prestaged by those who oppose us ... but people lost their lives."

"This report caused serious damage to the image of the United States abroad," he said. "Newsweek said they got it wrong. ... Now we would encourage them to do all that they can."

The State Department, meanwhile, activated a busy network of diplomatic ties to mitigate any damage, spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Measures included translating a statement by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice into multiple languages for distribution and providing detailed instructions on how embassy and consulate personnel should discuss the issue.

"The article should never have appeared," he told reporters Tuesday, adding that it had "sad and regrettable implications overseas."

Boucher said the State Department "reacted quickly" when the story came out, sending out its first telegram last Wednesday and issuing a cable after Monday's retraction.

McCain: Story a setback

Earlier Tuesday, Sen. John McCain and other officials applauded the retraction, but suggested Newsweek must go further.

"I think we should know what it is that caused this and how it happened," the Arizona Republican said. "But I think we should all be aware, particularly the news media, of how volatile the situation is in some parts of the Middle East."

"I'm sure the story was exploited by religious extremists," McCain said. "But that doesn't change the fact that we have to have reliable and absolutely accurate stories."

McCain said the article had damaged U.S. efforts in the region but added, "there's been a lot of things that caused long-term, significant damage," including the abuse of detainees by Americans at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

"But we have a war of ideals and ideas, and that is to sell democracy and freedom and tolerance to the world and the stories like these set us back," McCain said.

But Myers told reporters Thursday that Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, determined the violence there was caused by the political situation on the ground rather than the article.

Asked about Myers' statement, McClellan said the report was used by anti-American elements to cause serious damage to the U.S. image.

He also suggested that Newsweek could "take steps to help repair the damage," adding that one way to do that would be to spread the word that "our military goes to great lengths to see that the holy Quran is respected."

He also denied he was trying to tell Newsweek what to do, insisting he was merely "encouraging them."

McClellan acknowledged there are still other ongoing investigations into other reports of religious intolerance -- including desecration of the Quran -- by interrogators at Guantanamo Bay.

But, he said, so far the Defense Department has found no evidence to substantiate other allegations.

Newsweek's article cited "sources" as saying a report from a military investigation into allegations of prisoner abuse revealed that interrogators, "in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Quran down a toilet."

But more than a week later, Pentagon officials called Newsweek to deny the story.

Newsweek went back to its original senior government source, who said he couldn't remember if the toilet allegations were in the particular report from the investigation. The magazine said that before publication it had run the story by two Pentagon officials, who neither denied nor confirmed the Quran allegations.

CNN's Dana Bash, Ed Henry, Barbara Starr and journalist Nick Meo contributed to this report.


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