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Newsweek alters its anonymity policy

Mon., May 23, 2005, midnight

NEW YORK – Newsweek has adopted new policies for the use of anonymous sources a week after retracting a report that claimed investigators found evidence the Quran was desecrated by interrogators at the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay.

In a letter in today’s edition, Newsweek Chairman and Editor-in-Chief Richard Smith apologized for the report and said the magazine will raise standards for anonymous sourcing.

“We got an important story wrong, and honor requires us to admit our mistake and redouble our efforts to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again,” he wrote.

Two of the magazine’s top editors will be assigned sole responsibility for approving use of anonymous sources, and the magazine will stop using the phrase “sources said” to attribute information in stories, Smith said.

Newsweek retracted the May 9 report after officials at the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department criticized its publication and its use of an anonymous source.

The article said U.S. investigators found evidence that interrogators placed copies of Islam’s holy book in washrooms and flushed one down the toilet to get inmates to talk. The magazine’s report was blamed for violent protests in Afghanistan, where more than a dozen people died and scores were injured.

In a note to readers last week, Newsweek Editor Mark Whitaker said the information came from “a knowledgeable U.S. government source,” and before the magazine published the item writers Michael Isikoff and John Barry sought comment from two Defense Department officials. One declined to respond and the other challenged another part of the story but didn’t dispute the Quran allegation, Whitaker said. He said the original source later said he couldn’t be sure he read about the alleged Quran incident in the report Newsweek cited and that it might have been in another document.


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