All of our wonderful debates here in blogosphere concerning issues of media bias, press culture, accountability, anonymous sources, et al. more or less amount to nothing, zilch, nada over putting an end to the reason that people are so up in arms over what happened to begin with: the riots and the subsequent deaths that resulted from them.
And to be quite frank, this retraction and the sort-of retraction that proceeded it means absolutely nothing as far as putting an end to what prompted the reason we're all talking about this to begin with.
At this point, we'd be extremely hard-pressed to convince Juan Cole that there isn't at least a plausible case (I believe those were the words he used) that the Koran desecration didn't occur. The commenters over at Daily Kos even more so, with a number of them adopting the view that Newsweek was pressured by the US government into issuing a retraction.
And if they can find such a conspiracy theory noteworthy, what do you think can be said for the Taliban propagandists as well as the Hizb-ut-Tahrir and MMA activists who have been spreading this crap around for the last 4 years and took full advantage of it when they had a reputable Western media outlet to bolster their party line. And as long as there is a case that can be made (and is being made right now as I speak - much of it by Americans) that the story was accurate and was only retracted under pressure from the US government, people who were once far less eager to buy into jihadi propaganda are now going to be far more likely to do so.
This is the ultimate result of all of this and there is not a damn thing that Newsweek or the US government can do about it. It goes back to something I noted when bin Laden and his Americian minion showed up on video quoting from Fahrenheight 9/11 and making references to everything from stolen elections in Florida in 2000 to the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts: some of the nuttier stuff that is repeated here that we kind of shrug off as crazy talk can have deadly consequences when it gets repeated overseas.
The bottom line, however, is that al-Qaeda scored a propaganda victory this time around. This ain't red or blue issue either and all the people who have (accurately) pointed out that al-Qaeda is using the war in Iraq or what happened at Abu Ghraib as a recruiting engine need to consider that much the same is true of this story. Let us all do what we can to make sure they don't score another one, yes?
UPDATE: A fuller analysis from Joe and Robin looks critically at Newsweek's practices, links to public surveys re: media bias and credibility, and explains how a lack of diversity in the modern media may have been an important contributor to this al-Qaeda victory: "Newsweek Shows Us Why Media Trust Is Plummeting."