Neugebauer leads Newsweek charge

Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) joined a growing chorus of angry lawmakers yesterday in criticizing Newsweek magazine for its controversial article that triggered deadly anti-American protests in the Middle East last week.

The second-term congressman from Lubbock introduced a resolution calling for the American news media to be more responsible and accurate, while declaring that “most Americans don’t have a great deal of faith in what the media reports.”

In addition to criticizing the media for “inaccurate” and “irresponsible” reporting, Neugebauer’s measure expresses concern about the culture of the media that “encourages journalists to get the story first rather than ensure that reports are accurate.”

Josh Noland, a spokesman for Neugebauer, said his boss will urge the leadership to bring his bill to the floor quickly with bipartisan support.

Neugebauer’s resolution comes as several members have made angry floor statements criticizing Newsweek for its now discredited report on the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The magazine retracted the story Monday.

The May 9 article reported that American interrogators had flushed a Koran down a toilet, citing an anonymous “senior government source.” Riots in Afghanistan and other parts of the Muslim world erupted as the story was disseminated, resulting in the deaths of 17 people.

Rep. Robert Ney (R-Ohio), co-chair of the Afghan Caucus, was among those who condemned the Newsweek report. “My constituents are furious and beside themselves,” he told The Hill.

Ney called on Newsweek to apologize to U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan, the people of that country and the families of those who lost their lives in the riots.

“This false report from Newsweek has done incredible damage to our country, to say nothing of the many lives lost,” said Ney, who plans to co-sponsor Neugebauer’s bill. “I am absolutely bewildered how this came about.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), the other co-chair of the Afghan Caucus, also called for an apology from Newsweek.

“Telling the truth by media at all times, painful or not, is important, and an apology is owed, and I hope it will occur very shortly,” Jackson-Lee said in a floor speech.

A spokesperson for House Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio) said she also may sign on to the resolution. Pryce issued a press release Monday condemning the article and urged members to cancel their office Newsweek subscriptions. Ney indicated that he had already canceled his subscription.

Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), who also planned to sign on to the resolution, said, “The damage to the U.S. image, all that our troops are fighting for, has been done. In the Islamic cultures, it fed into their suspicions. … We had our own people whipping up the anti-U.S. forces against our own country. … It’s very unfortunate.”

Ken Weine, communications director for Newsweek in New York, declined to comment.

The White House and the Department of Defense also continued their criticism of the magazine and the media.

At yesterday’s press briefing, White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters that the United States had contacted embassies around the Arab world to make U.S. policies and values clear.

“Newsweek has said that they got it wrong, that they should diligently work to repair the damage that was done, particularly in the region,” he said.

However, reporters challenged McClellan on Tuesday when he suggested that other media organizations have used anonymous sources “in order to general negative attacks” on the administration. They noted that administration officials frequently brief reporters under ground rules that they can only be identified as a single anonymous source.

McClellan said the administration has taken steps to “move away from the … long-used practice of the background briefings.”

However, two Democrats came to Newsweek’s defense. In a letter to McClellan, Rep. John Conyers (Mich.) accused the administration of exploiting the Newsweek article “for partisan political gain.”

Conyers said that blaming Newsweek for the riots “stands in stark contrast to the assessment” of senior military officials who said the riots could not be tied to the magazine.

Rep. Pete Stark (Calif.), in a floor speech, said Newsweek “made a big mistake,” but he also accused administration officials of focusing on “public-relations tactics to divert attention from their own incompetence and fabrications rather than focusing their energies on creating a plan to get our troops out of Iraq.”