How nervous is Newsweek?

After being vilified for its anonymously -- and erroneously -- sourced story on Koran abuse, the magazine goes all out in identifying its sources.

By Tim Grieve
Published June 3, 2005 12:25PM (EDT)

Although the journalism world is aglow this week with reminisces about the glory days of confidential sources, it was not so long ago that Newsweek was being vilified for its anonymously -- and, as it turns out, erroneously -- sourced "Periscope" item on the alleged mistreatment of the Koran by U.S. interrogators.

Newsweek's editors won't let that happen again. Check out this week's "Periscope" section. The lead item is a piece on speculation about the injuries that Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi may or may not be suffering. It's a little under 500 words long, but it sometimes seems that about half of those words are devoted either to identifying the sources to whom facts are attributed or explaining why those sources can't be identified.

Maybe it's all for the best, but it sure makes for slow reading.

U.S. intelligence officials are trying to figure out if Zarqawi is really hurt, "say five U.S. counterterrorism officials who asked not to be named because they are not supposed to discuss intelligence publicly." "Some of the same officials" dismissed claims that Zarqawi was seen bleeding heavily in May, "but two of these counterterrorism officials" now say the U.S. intel community is becoming less skeptical. "An intelligence-community official with access to relevant reports" offers his assessment. Rita Katz, "a terrorism expert who monitors extremist Web sites," offers hers. "Former CIA analyst Judith Yaphe, now with the National Defense University," weighs in. So too does "Lt. Col. Timothy S. Mundy, commanding officer of the U.S. Marines Third Battalion, based near the Syrian border."

"A counterterrorism official who had access to reports on the incident" says Zarqawi was almost captured in February. But he escaped, and his lieutenants continue to operate on his behalf. One of them is "a 28-year-old man whose name" -- and by now, you know the drill -- "the military asked NEWSWEEK not to publish for reasons of operational security."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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