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Can You Un-Retract a Story?

What is the opposite of retracting a story? Re-inserting a story? Reaffirming a story? Retracting a retraction? What would happen if Newsweek retracted its retraction?

By Joel Achenbach  |  May 25, 2005; 5:36 PM ET
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I recall that it took months before the allegations of torture at Abu Graib reported by the Red Cross made it into the mainstream media. Is it more embarrasing to be right and back down or be wrong and admit it?

Posted by: Chris | May 25, 2005 5:50 PM | Report abuse

We always knew there was some bit of evidence there. Newsweek pulled the story because they felt the pressure from the top. No matter what their stance on this latest development, Newsweek is out of this issue.

Can you imagine if CBS ran anything on Bush's military record? Even if someone unearthed documents proving they were right, I doubt they'd get into the story.

Posted by: DC Fan | May 25, 2005 5:51 PM | Report abuse

Check your sources and grow a spine when the intimidation rolls around.

Posted by: Jayson | May 25, 2005 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Once again, we are victims of media reporting, White House spin, media spin on the media reporting due to the White House spin, and .... public dizziness is achieved! (what the administration is counting on!)

Let's just plain report again. Maybe then people will pay attention to actual issues.

Posted by: nausea | May 25, 2005 6:38 PM | Report abuse

GLOAT: to look at or think about with great or excessive satisfaction.

Ode to Scott McClellan:
I can't get no satisfaction, I can't get no satisfaction
'Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
I can't get no, I can't get no

When I'm drivin' in my car, and the man come on the radio (TV? Newsweek?)
He's tellin' me more and more about some useless information
Supposed to fire my imagination,
Well jus' so happens it turns out to be true!

Posted by: Lone Star Happy | May 26, 2005 8:51 AM | Report abuse

Newsweek made a mistake in reporting that sources (plural) had said that the Koran-in-the-toilet incident had been confirmed and would be in an upcoming government report. There was only one source. That source later wavered.

While there are now more reports of detainees saying captors did many things to them, including Koran-related stuff, none of these are yet confirmed.

But folks should still notice that it was the White House that led people to think that Newsweek's item on the Koran led to death in Afghanistan, a point of view not shared by the Afghan president or by the head of the joint chiefs of staff.

In short, Newsweek made a serious mistake. But the White House seized upon it to make it into something more than it actually was.

In the end, it becomes hard to keep one's eye on the ball. To one side, the retracted Newsweek item is evidence that no such incident ever happened at all. To the other side, more reports of detainees saying such things happened serve as a de facto confirmation that they did.

In fact, there is evidence that such things may well have happened. But to date there is no confirmation.

Posted by: Bilbo | May 26, 2005 11:09 AM | Report abuse

No, I guess you can't undo what you've written. Retractions are silly - but apologies - and new policies are about the best we can hope for.

For the record, I haven't retracted my subscription to Newsweek yet. Has anyone?

Posted by: kelp | May 26, 2005 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Hey, are you the same "Kelp" from yesterday? If so, it's nice to see you're still here. (A little puzzling perhaps, but nice.)

Posted by: Achenfan | May 26, 2005 12:10 PM | Report abuse

This is totally off-topic, but Joel DOES talk about science, and he HAS been talking about here goes:

Someone at work said today that, "It's a scientific fact that black people can't swim well because their bones are more dense than white people's." This makes no sense to me for a couple reasons:

1) Lean people are denser than chubby people, and everyone know's that professional swimmers are very lean just by looking at them.

2) EVERYONE sinks when they're learning to swim, and in my experience floating is one of the hardest things to teach, so it's not a disadvantage at the beginner level.

3) People who tend to sink are faster swimmers for physical reasons that I don't want to get into. But the more of your body that is submerged, the faster you will go (trust me).

So I think the general lack of professional/olympic black swimmers in the US has more to socioeconomic factors, and I think the bone thing is a myth. Anyone have hard evidence on this?

Posted by: jw | May 26, 2005 1:41 PM | Report abuse

It's a myth. Good lord. And just as well: Bone density is supposedly improved with exercise, so if high bone density had anything to do with swimming skill, then the more one swam, the worse one would become at it.
Having dense bones is a GOOD thing. (There's a reason women try to avoid osteoporosis.)
I once heard that fat people made good swimmers because fat floats.

Posted by: Achenfan | May 26, 2005 2:29 PM | Report abuse

The more of your body that is above the water, the less that can be used to provide thrust. While gliding horizontally, proper swimming for will have most of your body under the water where it can help push, rather than in the air where it can't do anything. Smimming quickly isn't really about floating at all, it's more about gliding hydrodynamically, like an airplane wing.

Thanks, for the affermation about the myth, the logic just never made sense to me. But has there been any sports medicine research on busting it? Or is it that is so beneath consideration for anyone intelligent?

Posted by: jw | May 26, 2005 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Sorry jw -- I was kind of kidding about the floating fat theory.
I must say, you've got my head swimming. The allegation of racial differences in swimming ability raises so many questions, none of which I have the answer to right now: Are there in fact significant racial differences in bone density? If so, would these differences really have a substantial impact on how much of a swimmer's body is above versus below the water? Where do things like muscle mass come in? And how significant a factor is this above water versus below water thing anyway? What about things like speed, stroke, flexibility, and fitness level? Seems to me it would be almost impossible to find a big enough sample of people with various bone densities, swimming abilities, and racial backgrounds to adequately test the hypothesis that "black people can't swim well because their bones are more dense than white people's." (Maybe the person who told you this meant that black people can't swim AS well, although they may still swim well?) Not to mention coming up with a definition of "black" -- are we talking about Africans? Jamaicans? People from Fiji? All of the above? Each subdivision of "black" may in turn have a different bone density. Oh boy . . .
(For the record, I'm a white person who doesn't swim very well at all. And I know very little about swimming, so I really don't know what I'm talking about.)

Posted by: Achenfan | May 26, 2005 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Isikoff, the Newsweek reporter, was on Charlie Rose on Monday. Isikoff said the single source could no longer confirm that the "flushing of Koran" would be in the SouthCom report. The source didn't retract that he read that item in government reports.

According to Editor&Publisher, McClellan now nearly denies that he said Newsweek cause the riots.

Now a lot of people on the right are floating this theory that Al Qaada members are trained to lie about Koran desecration. humm ...

Posted by: hh | May 26, 2005 4:52 PM | Report abuse

You raise good points as to how difficult it would be to de/legitimize the claims about African-Americans being, racially, poor swimmers. The way the argument started was that someone said that none of the blacks in their basic training could swim-sunk right to the bottom, and someone else said that it's because as a race, blacks have denser bones. Maybe, maybe not. But my argument was that ANYONE who hasn't learned to swim generally sinks straight to the bottom. It's an obvious fact that when watching swimming during the Olympics, you don't see a lot of black swimmers on the US team, compared to, say track and field. I tried to Google this, and of course just came up with a lot of white-supremicist sites.

My theory is that just because of economic distribusion, there are a lot of African-Americans that don't really get a chance to swim on a regular basis except in the neighborhood public pool. My H.S. didn't have a pool and didn't have a swim team, and although I didn't grow up in the city, I doubt a lot of urban public schools spend money on competitive swimming facilities. Which means most of the students there never even get a chance to swim competitively. (I realize these are huge generalizations, but my guess is that statistically they would hold up). So, bone density, physiology, and whatever don't have anything to do with it. It's just that not as many black kids learn how to swim, period, because of where they grow up and the schools they attend. Tracks, however, are cheap. And running is free. So track and field tends to be more popular than swimming for the type of athelete that is good at that sort of thing (cardiovascular endourance-type activities).

On a side note, is there a gentle way to tell the people you work with that they're ingnorant bigots? No, probably not...ok, this off-subject topic is officially closed, although maybe Joel will see it and make another inflamatory blog entry ;)

Posted by: jw | May 26, 2005 6:20 PM | Report abuse

I leave town for a day and you folks come up with this cockamamie topic?? (Wait, is "cockamamie" a bad word? Don't want to violate the Meyer Principles.) I think I will use my vast blogging-tool powers to close this thread.

Posted by: Achenbach | May 27, 2005 8:44 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, I don't know many people, white or black, who WOULDN'T sink straight to the bottom if they hadn't actually been taught to swim, or hadn't at least spent some time in the water. (Dogs can usually swim straight off the bat -- you just throw them in the water and off they go -- but not humans.) Weird that your co-workers would latch onto the bone density thing while ignoring the much simpler explanation. It would be so much easier to conduct a study on racial differences in the proportion of people who can't swim when they haven't been taught to swim than to do the bone-density study. Actually, I believe there HAVE been studies on racial differences in bone density, but these were conducted to address more pressing questions, e.g., differences in rates of hip fracture between black and white elderly women. (I'm guessing that an old lady with brittle, porous bones, i.e., low bone density, wouldn't be a very good swimmer.) As you said, if you Google studies of bone density's impact on swimming ability, you'll come up with a bunch of white supremacist sites. And I'm pretty sure they're not quoting any scientific studies; it's all conjecture. So, short answer: Next time your coworkers tell you that "the blacks in their basic training sank right to the bottom," ask them if these individuals had ever been taught to swim or if they had ever been swimming before, and then ask them the same question about the white participants.

Posted by: Achenfan | May 27, 2005 9:00 AM | Report abuse

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