Patterico's Pontifications

9/18/2006

NEWSWEEK “Isikoffed” the Gonzales Memo

Filed under: Civil Liberties,General,Media Bias,Terrorism — Patterico @ 12:01 am



Since Christopher Hitchens is correcting old Dowdified quotes, I thought I’d correct one myself. This one, from a 2004 NEWSWEEK article, is a major Dowdification — in my view, every bit as egregious as Dowd’s original. What’s more, it’s still influencing lefties even today.

Worse, unlike Dowd’s alteration of a Bush quote, the NEWSWEEK story didn’t even use an ellipsis to indicate what was missing. By altering an Alberto Gonzales quote in this way, NEWSWEEK managed to make Gonzales and the Bush Administration appear unreasonably dismissive of the Geneva Convention.

The story was co-authored by Michael Isikoff — the reporter behind NEWSWEEK’s infamous Koran-in-the-toilet story that resulted in deadly riots in several Arab countries. Accordingly, I suggest that when a quote is altered without any hint that it has been changed, the quote should be described as having been “Isikoffed.”

Here are the details of how the Gonzales torture memo was “Isikoffed” by NEWSWEEK:

The quote is from a May 24, 2004 NEWSWEEK story by Isikoff, John Barry, and Michael Hirsh. Here is the quote, with the relevant portion in bold type:

By Jan. 25, 2002, according to a memo obtained by NEWSWEEK, it was clear that Bush had already decided that the Geneva Conventions did not apply at all, either to the Taliban or Al Qaeda. . . . “As you have said, the war against terrorism is a new kind of war,” Gonzales wrote to Bush. . . . Gonzales concluded in stark terms: “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.”

There is no ellipsis at the end of the last sentence. If you believe NEWSWEEK, the sentence ended there. The way NEWSWEEK quoted Gonzales, it sounded as though Gonzales thought Geneva Convention restrictions on coercive interrogations were “quaint.” Leftists across the nation went nuts.

Just one problem: NEWSWEEK altered the quote, chopping Gonzales’s final sentence in half. This alteration completely changed its meaning. What’s more, the NEWSWEEK quotation did nothing to indicate that the end of the sentence had been lopped off.

Let’s go to the source — Gonzales’s original memo. The following is Gonzales’s entire quote, taken straight from Page 2 of his memo. I have bolded the part that NEWSWEEK removed:

In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions requiring that captured enemy be afforded such things as commissary privileges, scrip (i.e., advances of monthly pay), athletic uniforms, and scientific instruments.”

Instead of including the bold material after the word “provisions,” the NEWSWEEK article simply sliced off the end of the sentence, and put a period after the word “provisions” — as if the sentence ended there. Not even an ellipsis remained to signify that the sentence had been truncated, and its meaning distorted beyond recognition.

As is clear when one reads Gonzales’s actual quote, Gonzales was talking about things that actually were quaint. As it happens, a New York Times magazine piece from yesterday described the warden of Guantánamo Bay struggling with the issue of how to apply the Geneva Conventions — and summarily rejecting the idea that he had any obligation to implement the antiquated provisions referred to in the Gonzales memo:

[Col. Mike Bumgarner, the warden of Guantánamo Bay] thought it obvious that many of the rights would never apply to Guantánamo detainees. No one was going to allow the distribution of “musical instruments” to suspected terrorists, as the 1940’s-era conventions stipulated for the captured soldiers of another army. No one was going to pay the detainees a stipend to spend at a base canteen.

Despite the fact that Gonzales was on target with his observation regarding the Convention’s “quaint” provisions, many lefty blogs linked the NEWSWEEK piece, and quoted the Dowdified version as evidence of the evil intent of the Bush Administration. TalkLeft, Kevin Drum, and Josh Marshall all reproduced the Isikoffed quote. The story was also linked by Duncan Black. Not one of these blogs noted the Dowdification — nor did any of the other major blogs that cited the story, as evidenced by a check of the Memeorandum entry for the NEWSWEEK story. The story is still repeated on lefty blogs. In May of this year, it was linked by Arianna Huffington — and it was even linked yesterday, by lefty HuffPo blogger Harry Shearer.

Indeed, to my knowledge, not a single blog on the Web noticed that the quote in the NEWSWEEK story had been Dowdified Isikoffed — until today.

It’s true that NEWSWEEK was not the only media outlet to distort Gonzales’s memo. Many media outlets and commentators ripped the word “quaint” out of context to make it sound like Gonzales thought the entirety of the Geneva Convention was “quaint.” In an ironic twist, Maureen Dowd herself did exactly this. In his outgoing piece titled 13 Things I Meant to Write About but Never Did, long-suffering New York Times ombudsman Dan Okrent complained:

Maureen Dowd was still writing that Alberto R. Gonzales “called the Geneva Conventions ‘quaint’ ” nearly two months after a correction in the news pages noted that Gonzales had specifically applied the term to Geneva provisions about commissary privileges, athletic uniforms and scientific instruments.

It’s bad enough that so many outlets used the word “quaint” out of context to smear Gonzales and his position. But to my knowledge, NEWSWEEK is the only outlet that purported to quote the relevant passage in its “entirety” — while chopping off the relevant context without any hint that it had ever existed.

The altered quote is obviously deliberate; Gonzales’s sentence was truncated for a reason. What’s more, Michael Isikoff, the co-author of the piece, is the reporter primarily responsible for the bogus “Koran in the toilet” story that resulted in deadly riots across the Arab world. You don’t get things this wrong this often unless there’s a reason. Fool me twice, won’t get fooled again.

I mean, even Maureen Dowd had the decency to use an ellipsis!

Gonzales wasn’t just Dowdified. What happened to him was worse: he was Isikoffed.

UPDATE: Thanks to Instapundit, National Review’s Media Blog, and others for the links. Please bookmark the main page and return often!

I note that Sidney Blumenthal linked the NEWSWEEK story just yesterday at Think Progress, saying that “then White House counsel and now attorney general Alberto Gonzales contemptuously referred to the Conventions as ‘quaint.'” The myth lives on!

37 Responses to “NEWSWEEK “Isikoffed” the Gonzales Memo”

  1. I saw Michael Isikoff on TV today. I can’t remember why.

    All I can say is this should hurt his credibility.

    Whether it does or not remains to be seen. Well, we can trust the mainstream media to report it, can’t we?

    Because Newsweek is so fair and balanced and the MSM so thorough.

    Christoph (9824e6)

  2. All I can say is this should hurt his credibility.

    It won’t. Outside of the right side of the blogosphere (and maybe talk radio) it won’t ever be mentioned.

    Sean M. (db71f3)

  3. Now Is The Time On Sprockets When We Link…

    Firstly: OVer the weekend I had some long rambles about PopeGate and what it means for Islam that I hope you will find to be worth your time. “Pope”, incidentally, is just a funny word–because one of those words that……

    JunkYardBlog (621918)

  4. Isikoff gets a pass on a lot of this because people remember his writing on Clinton and assume he is either neutral or a closet conservative. I know I tended to. I suspect he will still be granted more credit for neutrality than he deserves unless something big happens. One example is another attack on US soil.

    Mike K (416363)

  5. […] Isikoffed — He suggests that “when a quote is altered without any hint that it has been changed, the quote should be described as having been ‘Isikoffed.’” I agree. Read all about how this distortive technique, when it was applied to an Alberto Gonzalez memo by Mr. Isikoff, made the Bush Adminstration appear to be dismissive of detainee rights when no such thing was intended or implied. […]

    Bizzyblog » Patterico Suggests a New Word for the Dictionary (34f45e)

  6. Dowd is definitely worse than Isikoff. A dowdification effectively has a person saying something they didn’t say, while an Isikoffing merely fails to say as much about what they did say as they should have. This may sound like a distinction without a difference, but it’s not, as a careful side-by-side comparison of the two casess nicely illustrates:

    1. The dowdification that originally spawned the term had Dowd clipping the context to make it sound as though George Bush had said al Qaeda wasn’t a threat anymore. Put the context back in, and it becomes clear that Bush didn’t really say that.
    2. The isikoffization at issue here has Isikoff clipping the context to make it sound as though Alberto Gonzales had written that some (not all) of the provisions of the Geneva Conventions are rendered quaint. Put the context back in, and it becomes clear that yep, Gonzales really did say that.

    It certainly would have been helpful for Isikoff to have elaborated as to which provisions Gonzales had deemed quaint, or at least acknowledged that he had listed certain specific provisions rather than leaving that issue open. However, at least Isikoff left the word “some” in there, making it clear that Gonzales wasn’t trying to nullify the Geneva Conventions in their entirety. That’s more than I can say for ZNet, Kos and a gazillion of his commenters (post by Armando, signed by Kos and many others), U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Marjorie Cohn, the BBC, Church Folks for a More Leftist Better America, the Village Voice or, apparently, Dowd herself.

    Xrlq (f52b4f)

  7. The problem is that Isikoff and his co-authors lopped off all the provisions that most Americans would find “quaint,” leaving readers to suspect that Gonzales was referring to coercive interrogation. And it worked, as shown by the approving quotes from lefties quoted in the post.

    Misleading is misleading.

    Patterico (de0616)

  8. These media guys are like cats with 9 lives. Like bad pennies, they keep reappearing. (Did I use enough sayings here?) To me he will always be Michael (Koran flushed down the toilet) Isakoff. Therefore anything he says to say I immediately dismiss as unlikely to be accurate.

    Florence Schmieg (a1e126)

  9. […] It must have been willful, no? Even if you’re inclined to blame a copy editor for the missing ellipsis, the question remains: why was he using an ellipsis and not the full quote in the first place? […]

    Hot Air » Blog Archive » Newsweek’s Isikoff willfully misquoted Gonzales torture memo (d4224a)

  10. dowdified or isikoffed, ellipsis or none-ellipsis, yanked out of context…I like it!

    JJ (24f47b)

  11. well, they had a third of an elipses.

    spacemonkey (131e99)

  12. Misleading is misleading.

    I agree. I’m not defending Isikoff, merely that his sin consists of not telling the whole truth, while Dowd’s involves telling everything but the truth – even on this very issue, where she falsely claimed Gonzales had declared the conventions “quaint” in their entirety.

    Xrlq (562997)

  13. Isikoff screwed something else up? Surprising.

    To hell with him. He killed people. He killed innocent people with his Koran-flushing idiocy. When it comes to things that moron will have to answer for in the hereafter, a memo is at the bottom of the list.

    Too bad Alberto Gonzalez’s memo didn’t have to do with Clinton and Lewinsky, or Viewsweek would have spiked Isikoff’s story and saved what was left of his reputation.

    The Hound (d17514)

  14. […] Patterico has another one for Newsweek’s Koran-flusher, Mike Isikoff. In a May 24, 2004 Newsweek story, Isikoff edited away part of a quote from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales without leaving a hint that he had changed it. […]

    Rathergate.com » Mike Isikoff is a wretch (879659)

  15. […] Patterico has another one for Newsweek’s Koran-flusher, Mike Isikoff. In a May 24, 2004 Newsweek story, Isikoff edited away part of a quote from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales without leaving a hint that he had changed it. […]

    Mark A. Kilmer (the weblog) » Mike Isikoff is a wretch (b0dbcd)

  16. Well, in a (perhaps) defense of Isikoff, we’re not sure who truncated the quote. It conceivably could have been an editor who cut the complete quote off.

    As anyone who has ever had anything published knows, editors and copy editors can do strange things with one’s original copy.

    In either case – omission by Isikoff or commission by an editor – this was really cheap on the part of Newsweek.

    SMG

    SteveMG (913b25)

  17. Someone should enter “Isikoffed” into Wikipedia –also “Dowdified” if it hasn’t already been.

    Granddaddy Long Legs (dc6474)

  18. I agree that, especially when discussing controversial issues, context is everything. On that note, Isikoff’s commentary (which is essentially what it is at this point) loses all credibility.

    However, I think we’re still missing the big picture here; Gonzales had the gall to say that “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners…”.

    We are talking about torture here. Any comment to the effect of “we can now torture whomever we choose” is (or at least should be) terrifying to any Americans that values their civil liberties.

    Take what Gonzales said with a grain of salt.

    Leviticus (43095b)

  19. OMG!!!! We aren’t giving them athletic uniforms?

    No wonder they hate us so!

    Murdoc (cd7c21)

  20. This is really AR, but shouldn’t the memo read “scrip”, instead of “script”?  [Yup, it’s been fixed.  -X]

    Anyway, very good post, and a good reminder to never trust quotes in the MSM. Best to checkout the original transcripts online when possible.

    stace (80e1c6)

  21. […] Let me give you a hint on the problem, there was no period after provisions. Read on at Patterico’s. […]

    A Second Hand Conjecture » Isikoffed (f55714)

  22. Bill’s Bites — 2006.09.18…

    The webmaster’s blog-within-a-blog. Continuously updated and bumped, newest items at the top. Please click here to learn more about The Phoenix Project, then click here to see a selection of Old War Dogs merchandise. All sales proceeds go to support…

    Old War Dogs (72c8fd)

  23. […] Speaking of the press, Patterico discovers yet another alarming trend. […]

    The Anchoress » A round-up: Pope, Dopes and general prattle (1b383c)

  24. Regarding SMG’s point, agreed, the screw-up could have been made by an editor, not Isikoff.

    However, even if the blame cannot be laid at Isikoff’s doorstep, it is still his responsiblity to publicly correct the record and distance himself from the misrepresentation. If not… well, look what happened to Dan Rather.

    DubiousD (c71ef4)

  25. True or myth: That the Newsweek retraction of the bogus Koran story was not published in the Arabic-language Newsweek issues?

    J2 (5e3803)

  26. The full text of the Gonzales memo was included and discussed on my blog on January 5, 2005. Great work, anyway. It still needed to be said.

    [Yes, you and several other bloggers have done good work putting the memo in context and discussing the whole quote, and I salute you for that. If I add anything in this post — and I say *if — it’s that I caught the way this particular quote was Dowdified (or Isikoffed) in this article. I haven’t seen any other blog discuss this precise alteration. And I think this alteration in this article is significant, because this particular misquotation may well be the jumping-off point for the widespread myth that Gonzales called the entire Geneva Convention “quaint.” — Patterico]

    Mick Wright (c89409)

  27. […] The great Patterico has introduced a new term to describe quotes that have been altered without indication — such a quote has been “Isikoffed,” after NEWSWEEK reporter Michael Isikoff. Patterico’s point concerns the Gonzales memo on terrorists and the Geneva code. My only complaint comes here: Indeed, to my knowledge, not a single blog on the Web noticed that the quote in the NEWSWEEK story had been Dowdified Isikoffed — until today. […]

    FISHKITE » Blog Archive » Isikoffation (41253b)

  28. It’s discouraging to see the amount of distortion in the media with something as important as this war we are in. Today even the Orange County Register headline said “Pope apologizes to Muslims.” He didn’t and they got it right on inside pages. If you live by bumper stickers and headlines, you don’t know what the hell is going on. Thyen somebody like Isikoff/Newsweek does it deliberately.

    Mike K (6d4fc3)

  29. The description of the “torture” techniques published today is very illuminating. Sleep deprivation, loud music, standing for long times, cold temperature, open hand slaps on the abdomen…. This is what all the fuss is about? This is torture?? I guess I must be demented somewhow then. It is anything but to me. How silly can we get here? We are fighting for our lives for goodness sakes!

    Florence Schmieg (02cb5b)

  30. […] In my post about the “Isikoffed” NEWSWEEK story this morning, I cited Harry Shearer as one of the many folks who linked the story as evidence that Alberto Gonzales had called the Geneva Conventions “quaint.” Harry has updated his post to reflect my criticisms, and to make an observation of his own: FACT-CHECKING UPDATE: A commenter directed me to a website (better known in LA for its LA Times-bashing, which I admire) which fact-checks the Gonzale[s] quote referenced above. I used that version because, having half-remembered the quote, I Googled it, and this version popped up high in the results. But, in his zeal to absolve Gonzale[s] of calling the Geneva Conventions “quaint”–which he achieves–blogger Patterico ignores, as most of us have, the more damning part of the quoted text: […]

    Patterico’s Pontifications » Harry Shearer Responds to Patterico (421107)

  31. UrbanDictionary.com needs to have “to Isikoff” added to it; I hope they accept my submission.

    Michael Andreyakovich (c5ac8d)

  32. […] It must have been willful, no? Even if you’re inclined to blame a copy editor for the missing ellipsis, the question remains: why was he using an ellipsis and not the full quote in the first place? […]

    MyPhotoshop » Newsweek’s Isikoff willfully misquoted Gonzales torture memo (3e014e)

  33. Someone should enter “Isikoffed” into Wikipedia-–also “Dowdified” if it hasn’t already been.

    Wikipedia frowns on neologisms, especially fresh ones from the blogosphere. I created an article for “fauxtography” and it was deleted for that reason. When you look up fauxtography, it redirects you to “2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict photographs controversies.” Which is much easier to remember.

    dicentra (4dbb9e)

  34. […] Surely you remember that term. I invented it back in September, when I noted how Michael Isikoff had altered a quote from an Alberto Gonzales memo without noting the alteration in any way. I therefore proposed that when a quote is altered without any hint that it has been changed, the quote should be described as having been “Isikoffed.” […]

    Patterico’s Pontifications » Media Matters Isikoffs See Dubya (421107)

  35. […] There’s not even an ellipsis to mark the missing phrase. Has Saunders discovered Isikoffing? […]

    Patterico’s Pontifications » Texas Border Patrol Shooting Case: Comparing Debra Saunders’s Columns to the U.S. Attorney’s Fact Sheet (421107)


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