Readers sound off on Newsweek's retracted story, Bill Moyers' take on the media, and whether anyone cares if the New York Times charges for its online content.

Published May 19, 2005 8:00AM (EDT)

[Read "Newsweek Isn't the Problem," by Joan Walsh.]

Please let the administration's and State Department's Mendacity Festival in the wake of the Newsweek "incident" be the final straw for most Americans.

Are we to believe that the continuing occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq by our administration's shock and awe machines that spread nothing but death and destruction in their wakes, that the documented and continuing torture and murder of those countries' citizens, and that the vilifying of the Quran all over America have less of an impact than a 15-word (probably factual) blurb in Newsweek?

Anyone who has accessed a foreign or non-mainstream news source since 2002 knows that abuse of the Quran by American interrogators has been thoroughly and irrefutably documented, but that's not even the story.

Anyone who's paid attention to any news source since 9/11 knows that President Bush has signed a mandate that makes torture a part of American foreign policy and that American agents worldwide have been pursuing that policy with great vigor.

Now we're supposed to believe in the utter urgency of cleaning up the Newsweek mess so that we can improve our international image? If this embarrassingly transparent hoax isn't a final wakeup call for America's citizens, then nothing is going to be.

-- Steve Hesske

When this story broke I predicted that the liberals would rush to Newsweek's defense and conservatives would go on the attack. It wasn't the Bush administration that sank Dan Rather. It was an overly zealous, ethically challenged group of people at CBS who thought they were right to publish a story without substantiation. The same is true of Newsweek. There is a pattern throughout the media of journalists thinking it's quite OK to publish stories without proper vetting. The Newsweek debacle should usher in a return to ethical reporting. I think Salon should do this instead of attacking the administration and justifying Newsweek's sleaziness.

-- Kathleen Cavanaugh

I am in agreement with Salon when it says the Quran desecration story, retraction or not, was not difficult to accept given numerous reports of a similar nature. But isn't the cause-and-effect relationship being cited between the article and the violent riots in Afghanistan also pretty easy to believe based on past experience? It behooves us, in my opinion, to remember a certain incident 15 years or so back, involving a certain Indian author and his iconoclastic book about a certain Middle Eastern "religion of peace." Ring any bells? Riots in Pakistan and England, an apartment complex bombed in Turkey? Something that rhymes with "fanatic curses"? One translator murdered in Japan, one shot in Norway, one stabbed in Italy? "The Satanic Verses," remember? It's a treat to read, but that won't get Mr. Rushdie a ticket on Canadian Airlines.

In other words, it is not a real stretch for me to imagine much of the Muslim world exploding into violence over the report in Newsweek.

Pakistan, which has rejected Newsweek's retraction, banned the July 28, 2003, issue of the magazine simply because it mentioned a German scholar's theory that the Quran was originally written in Syro-Aramaic rather than Arabic. That may give some indication of how primed for overreaction many Islamic fundamentalists are. If the article-riot connection is a frame job, then the "victim" appears to have done everything in its power to look guilty.

-- Name withheld by request

The problem is that the Quran is a book and not a small one. (Product dimensions: 6.8 x 7.0 x 9.5 inches; shipping weight: 9.9 pounds.) Certainly it would not be possible to flush this down any normal toilet. If a prison toilet could take this, you could put most of a dead body down it and I don't think anyone designs a prison that way.

Tearing it up isn't going to help much. Those who have raised children are surely aware that any paper other than the standard tissue manufactured for that purpose has a strong tendency to stop them up.

While it appears entirely possible that the Quran has been used as a way to torture superstitious people, anyone should have realized immediately that this report was what should be flushed.

-- Manya Marshall

[Read "A Democracy Can Die of Too Many Lies," by Bill Moyers.]

I wanted to thank you for publishing Bill Moyers' speech. I was not even aware that his show was removed for what is obviously a political vendetta. It is scary and sad that this country is allowing this type of thing to happen to a great journalist like Bill Moyers. I watched "Now" frequently, and I found the show to be a great counterbalance to all the filler and blatant propaganda in regular news shows. Bill Moyers is in the great tradition of journalists like Murrow and Cronkite, and he deserves better than what he is getting. I hope he is serious when he says this may get him to fight harder to stay in the journalistic business. The public needs him.

I hope George Orwell's predictions about an uninformed and brainwashed society stays in the realm of fiction, but, as Moyers points out, it is looking as though that may not be possible if even public television is overrun by the tsunami of the right wing.

-- Justin Friend

Anytime I hear Mr. Moyers speak about honesty and integrity, I flip out. This is the man who created mud slinging in modern politics. This is the man who was behind the 1964 anti-Goldwater nuclear explosion countdown ad, arguably the most infamous political ad in American history. The man has never, ever had any credibility with me, especially when it comes to the "truth" and the media.

-- Gordon Calhoun

Geez Louise. Ken Tomlinson wants more "balance" in public broadcasting. For years my biggest beef with NPR has been that they confuse "balance" with objectivity, fairness and the search for truth. Scarcely a week goes by that I'm not moved to think that if somebody gets on "Morning Edition" and speaks in favor of justice, they won't air the remarks till they find someone to stick up for injustice, so they can be "balanced."

-- Linda Maloney

[Read "Pundits for Money (and News for Free)," by Farhad Manjoo.]

Regarding the pay-for-pundit thing at the NYT: I couldn't care less.

The only one I'd miss is Paul Krugman. Otherwise, you mean I get to ignore Thomas Friedman and David Brooks for the rest of my life, and their weaselly, reasonable-seeming attempts to muddy every debate and sap the will of liberals and moderates will suddenly only be read by a small elite? To me that's like a birthday present. The Times will have to realize that A) anyone can be a pundit nowadays and there's nothing special about theirs, and B) there are lots of other places on the Web to get news.

Bye, Gray Lady. This is the payback for bending over backward for Dubya.

-- John Roberson

In the fall of 1998, with a banner headline in the same point size they used for the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Kennedy assassination, the New York Times announced Bill Clinton had admitted an affair with Monica Lewinsky. Two weeks later, the news that Ken Starr had assisted Paula Jones' lawyers before his appointment as special prosecutor, and had failed to inform Attorney General Reno of this stupefying conflict of interest, was buried deep within section A.

I canceled my subscription in anger, have never forgiven them for their treatment of Bill Clinton, and have never given them another dime. But like a lot of pissed-off former subscribers I still check the Op-Ed page online in the morning before work.

The day the Times starts charging for editorials is the day I throw them a final finger of farewell.

-- Steve Barker

No, I'm not going to enjoy forking over 50 bucks. But Paul Krugman's work alone is worth way more than that.

Moreover, I see it as an opportunity for informed readers, especially harsh critics of the Times, to gain more influence over how the paper is run.

When I pay my $50, I'm also buying the ability to have my complaints heard. (Think Bumiller.)

-- Joe Caucci

When the New York Times started forcing its readers to register in order to view content online, thousands of fake accounts sprung up and were shared across the Web, so that people didn't have to give their personal information to the paper.

The same thing will happen with this pay-for-opinions scheme -- one person will share their subscription name with thousands. I wonder if that was part of their "model map" of possibilities.

-- Bree Richards

I think there is another reason that the Times is doing this, and I am surprised it hasn't been suggested by others yet. The Times is tired of fighting all of the right-wing criticism of the its editorial "liberal bias." So, the Times figures that by reducing free access to its columnists, much of the right's focus and criticism will go away. But it won't help; no matter what the Times does, the conservatives will still be just as critical.

-- Phillip Davies

My first reaction to the news that nytimes.com was going to start charging for some content was that it is nice to see an "all you can eat" option for the archives. Most newspapers, the Times included, have ludicrously tried charging by the article (discounting for multiple advance purchases).

I don't know if folks will pay for the punditry in numbers sufficient to please Punch Sulzberger. But the far more interesting experiment is in monetizing the archives.

I can't count the number of times, over the years, that I have wanted a copy of an old article from various newspapers and have done without because I didn't want to pay a couple of dollars each time. It adds up, and I also prefer to keep credit card transactions over the Web to a minimum.

I can imagine, however, being willing to pay a reasonable annual fee for unlimited access to the Times archives and/or that of other papers in localities in which I might have some historical interest. I haven't decided if $50 is too much for the Times, or thought about what I might be willing to pay if a more local paper might invest in digitizing the vast amount of history that might now be only available on microfilm at libraries ... but I'd consider it.

Like many people, I now get most of my news online. It has been years since I subscribed to the printed version of a newspaper. I'd probably be willing to pay for a local paper again if one provided the additional referential value of searchable history. I wouldn't pay newsstand price, but I'd pay.

As for the pundits -- no, I wouldn't pay a dime for the lot of them.

-- Jeff Schultz

By Salon Staff

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