CyberAlert -- 11/01/2001 -- Kite Flying in Kandahar
"U.S. Is Targeting Civilians"; Kite Flying in Kandahar; CNN's Reminder; Why Westin Missed; Bush Not Booed as Jennings Predicted
1) "We saw a young boy flying a kite," ABC's Dan Harris marveled from Taliban-controlled Kandahar. He conceded they brought him in to make "their case that indiscriminate U.S. bombing has killed hundreds of civilians." While he noted that "many reporters were skeptical" of the Taliban claims, he showed the video they wanted of damage and asserted: "The chief doctor says the U.S. is targeting civilians."
2) After a report from inside Afghanistan, CNN's Judy Woodruff reminded viewers "that the United States is fighting this war in response to a terrorist attack that killed close to 5,000 innocent people in the United States." Her comment followed a new policy set by CNN chief Walter Isaacson who wants to "make sure we're not used as a propaganda platform."
3) ABC News President David Westin made his remarks which he retracted on Wednesday, about the Pentagon as a "legitimate' target, before dozens of journalism students. So why did it take CyberAlert to first report them? Maybe because he was the most right-wing person in the room. Check out the left-wing agenda of the questions: Run Bib Laden videos unedited, don't terms like "America Fights Back" betray "a lack of objectivity?" and whatever happened to that Florida recount project?
4) The Yankee Stadium crowd delivered sustained cheering when President Bush came out Tuesday night to throw the first ball at game three of the World Series, but ABC's Peter Jennings on Wednesday night failed to correct his faulty prediction from the night before that Bush would probably be booed. Yet he found time to report on Bush and arsenic in the water.
"We expected a completely joyless, rigid society," ABC's Dan Harris told Peter Jennings via videophone from Taliban-controlled Kandahar before marveling at how "today, in fact, we saw a young boy flying a kite."
In stories aired on both Wednesday's World News Tonight and Good Morning America, Harris conceded over video of destroyed buildings, that the Taliban brought him in because, as he admitted on GMA, "they have one single, unerring goal which is to show that civilian casualties are mounting that the U.S. is responsible for. They hope, of course, that undermines support in the West and among Muslim countries that have allied themselves with the West." On World News Tonight, he referred to "their case that indiscriminate U.S. bombing has killed hundreds of civilians." While he also noted that "many reporters were skeptical" of the Taliban claims, he nonetheless asserted: "The chief doctor says the U.S. is targeting civilians."
Referring to a top military official, Harris passed along how "he said the air strikes had unified the Taliban and that only 15 of his men had been killed."
Asked by Peter Jennings if "they in any way tried to guide your news coverage?", Harris assured him: "Nobody is checking our scripts. Nobody is standing here as I do this discussion with you."
Given ABC's focus on past Taliban claims about civilian casualties, that's no surprise. But it should give ABC News pause. For a rundown of examples of ABC giving credibility to Taliban claims, see the October 31 CyberAlert. Scroll down to the list: http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2001/cyb20011031.asp#1
On the October 31 World News Tonight, over
video of destroyed buildings, Harris checked in via videophone from
Harris moved on to an appearance for the reporters from the Taliban's Foreign Minister who was rumored to have defected, followed by a top military official who, Harris passed along, "said the air strikes had unified the Taliban and that only 15 of his men had been killed. He and his soldiers came to this local Madrassa, or religious school, for the interview. They said conducting it at the military headquarters would have made us targets for air strikes. They were probably right. These are people the U.S. wants eliminated."
Jennings then asked Harris about life in Kandahar. Harris replied that the religious police had been "shut down." Harris observed: "We expected a completely joyless, rigid society. But today in fact we saw a young boy flying a kite. In any other nation in the world that would be an ordinary site, but previously kite-flying had been outlawed by the Taliban. We saw women walking unescorted. Previously that had been outlawed."
Jennings next asked: "You are there in
Kandahar at the invitation of the Taliban, under the protection of the
Taliban. Have they in any way tried to guide your news coverage?"
They don't have to. ABC News to doing just what they want.
Earlier, Harris provided a similar report for
Good Morning America: "They invited us in, we think, because they've
woken up to the PR value of having Western journalists here in this
country. They have one single, unerring goal which is to show that
civilian casualties are mounting that the U.S. is responsible for. They
hope, of course, that undermines support in the West and among Muslim
countries that have allied themselves with the West in this strike against
Like ABC, CNN also has a reporter inside Afghanistan invited in by the Taliban. But unlike ABC, CNN management has made sure video of bomb damage and claims about civilian casualties are matched with reminders by CNN anchors about the deadly terrorist attacks which led to the U.S. military action.
At about 4:45 pm EST on Tuesday, for instance, following a dispatch from Nic Robertson inside Afghanistan, anchor Judy Woodruff noted: "We want to say as we will often be saying now from now on when we show you these reports from inside Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, that the United States is fighting this war in response to a terrorist attack that killed close to 5,000 innocent people in the United States. All that to keep in perspective."
Woodruff's remark follows a new CNN edict set by CNN Chairman Walter Isaacson which the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz reported in an October 31 story. An excerpt:
The chairman of CNN has ordered his staff to balance images of civilian devastation in Afghan cities with reminders that the Taliban harbors murderous terrorists, saying it "seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan."
In a memo to his international correspondents, Walter Isaacson said: "As we get good reports from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, we must redouble our efforts to make sure we do not seem to be simply reporting from their vantage or perspective. We must talk about how the Taliban are using civilian shields and how the Taliban have harbored the terrorists responsible for killing close to 5,000 innocent people."...
"I want to make sure we're not used as a propaganda platform," Isaacson said in an interview yesterday.
"We're entering a period in which there's a lot more reporting and video from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan," he said. "You want to make sure people understand that when they see civilian suffering there, it's in the context of a terrorist attack that caused enormous suffering in the United States."...
Jim Murphy, executive producer of the "CBS Evening News," said of the CNN instructions: "I wouldn't order anybody to do anything like that. Our reporters are smart enough to know it always has to be put in context."...
Murphy said he doesn't believe "the danger is extremely high that showing what we know, and covering what the other side purports, is really going to change the mood of the nation. We know a terrible thing happened, it will take time to deal with and mistakes will be made along the way. That's war."
NBC News Vice President Bill Wheatley took a similar tack, saying: "I'd give the American public more credit, frankly. I'm not sure it makes sense to say every single time you see any pictures from Afghanistan, 'This is as a result of September 11th.' No one's made any secret of that."
But Fox News Vice President John Moody said the CNN directive is "not at all a bad thing" because "Americans need to remember what started this....I think people need a certain amount of context or they obsess on the last 15 minutes of history. A lot of Americans did die."...
Isaacson's memo said the network, in covering Afghan casualties, should not "forget it is that country's leaders who are responsible for the situation Afghanistan is now in."...
In a second memo, Rick Davis, CNN's head of standards and practices, said it "may be hard for the correspondent in these dangerous areas to make the points clearly," so he suggested language for the anchors:
"'We must keep in mind, after seeing reports like this from Taliban-controlled areas, that these U.S. military actions are in response to a terrorist attack that killed close to 5,000 innocent people in the U.S.' or, 'We must keep in mind, after seeing reports like this, that the Taliban regime in Afghanistan continues to harbor terrorists who have praised the September 11 attacks that killed close to 5,000 innocent people in the U.S.,' or 'The Pentagon has repeatedly stressed that it is trying to minimize civilian casualties in Afghanistan, even as the Taliban regime continues to harbor terrorists who are connected to the September 11 attacks that claimed thousands of innocent lives in the U.S.'...
But aren't viewers who don't live in caves well aware of the Sept. 11 backdrop?
"People do already know it," Isaacson said yesterday. "We go to Ground Zero all the time. We cover the memorial services. We cover people's lives that have been touched. I just want to make sure we keep a sense of balance."
To read the entirety of the Kurtz article, go to: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A14435-2001Oct30.html
A laudable goal espoused by Isaacson and one from which ABC News could benefit.
As James Taranto, however, observed in his "Best of the Web" column for OpinionJournal.com: "It tells us something truly appalling about America's media culture that it should even be necessary, at a time when the country is fighting a just war against an enemy that has killed thousands of civilians on our soil, for an American news executive to tell his reporters not to favor the enemy in their coverage."
But at least CNN realizes there is a problem.
So why did it take CyberAlert, six days after he made his remarks to a room full of journalism students, to first reveal how ABC News President David Westin had refused to take a position on whether or not the Pentagon was a "legitimate" target? A review of the questions those Columbia University students posed to him would suggest it's because the future journalists are well to the left and, therefore, saw nothing wrong with what he said.
As you probably already know from Wednesday's CyberAlert Extra, the New York Post, DrudgeReport.com, FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume or numerous newspaper stories today, on Wednesday Westin apologized and said "I was wrong" for remarks which were first put into play by the October 29 CyberAlert. Wednesday's New York Post, crediting the MRC, ran an editorial criticizing Westin which alerted the New York media world to his belief. The heat was turned up a notch when Matt Drudge featured Westin's comments on his DrudgeReport.com site which, in turn, prompted Rush Limbaugh to spend much of his show discussing Westin's attitude.
For a rundown of Westin's October 23 comments and his October 31 retraction statement, see the October 31 CyberAlert Extra: http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2001/cyb20011031_extra.asp
Westin gave his now infamous answer in response to a question posed at a Tuesday, October 23 forum at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism where that evening he addressed students about balancing the First Amendment and the nation's war interests. Four days later, on Saturday night October 27, C-SPAN played the hour-long session. And then on Monday, October 29, CyberAlert reported one of his answers.
But while the New York Post editorial writers immediately found it newsworthy, no one in the room at the time did. The left-wing tone of the questions suggests a reason why. At the very least, the journalism students agreed with Westin and probably found him too conservative given that many of their inquiries were based on the assumption that he was letting ABC News be too accommodating of the U.S. government.
Just check out some of the questions posed, as taken down by MRC analyst Patrick Gregory, starting with the very first one which got Westin into trouble:
-- "When describing America, you said 'we win wars', what did you mean by that? You also said that a small group of fanatics attacked us, do you really believe that? And do you believe that the Pentagon was a legitimate military target even if the missile was not?"
-- "Following up on the topic of the interplay between government and what's reported about the government in the press, would you comment on the decision by the Times, the Washington Post, CNN and the Wall Street Journal to continue to not publish the results of their research that they put a seven figure budget into in months of research, with respect to the Florida elections? Would you do that at ABC?"
-- "You talked about the free exchange of ideas and journalism obviously is always seeking to get both sides of a story. Would ABC News seek out another interview with Osama Bin Laden in this right now?" [Answer: yes]
-- "You just mentioned that you trust the American people to, given all the information, figure things out. Why then edit the Osama Bin Laden videotapes one, according to government, because the government asked you to, and two, does any, do you or do you believe the other network executives honestly believe that with all of the means of communications out there that Bin Laden is sending coded messages through videotapes sent to ABC News?"
-- "But in the Bin Laden videos that come through Al Jazeera, those are things, those are, if you, had you translated those and presented them in their entirety to the American people, you would be giving them all of the information that's out there."
-- "I was wondering what you thought about the tag lines a lot of news media have been using like 'America's New War' or 'America Strikes Back' or 'America Fights Back,' and I was wondering if you thought that was kind of a lack of objectivity on their part?"
-- "You've used the word 'enemy' several times, and I'm curious from a European point of view whether you consider yourself American first, or journalist first, in terms of how you cover the story and what your policy is?... Does that mean that you consider the U.S. media as not obligated to get on our side as World War II journalists clearly were, the side of the U.S. policy?"
-- "Before the September 11th attacks we had a panel up here of distinguished investigative journalists. And their biggest concern, or one of their biggest concerns, was actually corporate control of the media, and constriction of the media. The networks behavior on, say tobacco being one of the most striking examples of that, and I think that those stories were clearly in the public interest and I believe turned out to be true. So, the question is, you know, how much of the networks as businesses become the story, and how do you balance your responsibility to your shareholders versus that to the public at large?"
With these men and women just now entering the journalism profession, it looks like CyberAlert is guaranteed many more years of liberal bias to document, expose and correct.
The Yankee Stadium crowd delivered sustained applause and cheering when President Bush came out onto the field Tuesday night to throw the first ball at game three of the World Series, but ABC's Peter Jennings on Wednesday night failed to correct his faulty prediction from the night before that Bush would probably be booed.
Jennings wrapped up the October 30 World News
Tonight, just over an hour before Bush walked to the pitcher's mound, by
trying to warn the nation about why the locals might boo:
But a good sign which didn't come through for Jennings and yet on Wednesday's World News Tonight he didn't update viewers. He did, however, find time for this short item: "The Bush administration says it will now use the Clinton administration standards for arsenic in the drinking water. The White House has been delaying the adoption of these new standards until they could review them, but they got a lot of bad publicity for delaying."
Bad publicity from the networks.
And if Yankee fans won't boo Bush, who probably would? I'd put my money on Columbia University journalism students. -- Brent Baker