CyberAlert -- 11/02/2001 -- ABC & CNN Took the Taliban Tour
ABC & CNN Took the Taliban Tour; Both Relayed Anecdotes About Civilians Killed; Brokaw Affirmed Necessity of Military Response
1) ABC and CNN aired pieces from their reporters whom the Taliban brought to a destroyed village. "If this was a Taliban or Al-Qaeda base, there were no signs amid the rubble," ABC's Dan Harris insisted. CNN's Nic Robertson agreed: "The Taliban say this was a civilian village, and certainly, when we looked around it, there was a lot of evidence that civilians had lived there. There were boxes of soap powder, children's shoes, women's clothing..."
2) Matching ABC, CNN on Wednesday night also ran a piece recounting civilian deaths in an area of Kandahar and how a Taliban military leader claimed only 15 soldiers had been killed so far by U.S. bombing. Nic Robertson highlighted poignant loss: "Close by in the rubble of his cousin's tailoring store, 11-year-old Farid recites the names of three relatives he says died when a bomb destroyed it."
3) To get the Taliban tour ABC and CNN needed a "fixer" and, the New York Times reported: "Reporters on the scene and news executives in the United States said that winning entry to the tour depended on being a news outlet that the Afghan rulers wanted to use to convey their message."
4) Tom Brokaw asserted on the Late Show that the press, the Clinton administration, Republicans in Congress, think tanks and a public "more worried about P. Diddy and J. Lo" than a terrorist attack, all failed to foresee terrorism. He also affirmed the necessity of a military response: "I think that there is only one answer...and that is some form of real retribution and justice -- and you do that militarily."
>>> Stories on the retraction by ABC
News President David Westin of his earlier comment that journalists should
have no opinion on whether the Pentagon was a "legitimate"
target for the terrorists. The two most complete news stories I've seen:
ABC on Thursday night and CNN on Thursday afternoon delivered pieces, from their reporters inside Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, on a village destroyed by U.S. bombing. ABC's Dan Harris, on World News Tonight, asserted that "it appears around fifty people died here" while CNN's Nic Robertson relayed how the Taliban claimed 92 civilians were killed.
"If this was a Taliban or Al-Qaeda base, there were no signs amid the rubble, only remnants of household life and pieces of exploded bombs," Harris insisted over matching video. Harris noted that the Pentagon "called it a Taliban encampment with many Al-Qaeda collaborators," but then he made clear he found the Pentagon no more credible than the Taliban: "No matter what the truth is, the Taliban are clearly making this attack one of the highlights of our visit."
In a piece aired live by videophone on CNN at about 2:10pm EST on Thursday, CNN's Robertson offered no video of the destruction as he, doing a stand-up with a dark background, conveyed the same findings as had Harris: "The Taliban say this was a civilian village, and certainly, when we looked around it, there was a lot of evidence that civilians had lived there. There were boxes of soap powder, children's shoes, women's clothing, a lot of domestic accouterments."
Peter Jennings set up the November 1 story: "Now to Afghanistan itself where correspondent Dan Harris has been reporting from Taliban-controlled territory, and that's still much of the country, including in and around the city of Kandahar. Today, what happened in one village, and why it may have happened."
Dan Harris explained in a taped report filed
by videophone, as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "This
morning, our Taliban guides took us deep into the desert, an hour north of
Kandahar, to see what one called 'the real face of the U.S. army.'
[video of rubble of mud buildings] Chokar Karez, a village dismantled in a
bombardment ten days ago. An attack witnessed by a local shepherd.
'Nobody was able to escape,' he said. 'They were all trapped.'
It's tough to get an exact number but, based on interviews with people
who live in the area, it appears around fifty people died here. If this
was a Taliban or Al-Qaeda base, there were no signs amid the rubble, only
remnants of household life [video of purple cloth and medallion on a
string] and pieces of exploded bombs [man holding up pieces of metal].
CNN's Robertson checked in live at about
2:10pm EST on November 1 after the same Taliban tour, but he offered no
video as he just stood and talked throughout his piece:
On Wednesday night, like ABC as detailed in the November 1 CyberAlert, CNN also ran a piece from Nic Robertson recounting civilian deaths in an area of Kandahar and how a Taliban military leader claimed only 15 soldiers had been killed so far by U.S. bombing, a fraction of the number of civilians the Taliban allege have been killed.
On the October 31 World News Tonight, Dan Harris had relayed: "They say this house, a medical clinic, was hit this morning killing 15, injuring more than twenty. The chief doctor says the U.S. is targeting civilians. He now wants to fight the Americans. Many of the reporters on the tour were skeptical. There was no way to confirm the number of casualties we were given and we weren't taken to a hospital to see the injured." For more about the story: http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2001/cyb20011101.asp#1
CNN followed a similar path in a piece from Nic Robertson aired later that night during CNN's 10pm EST hour anchored by Aaron Brown and repeated at 1am EST, though at least CNN preceded Robertson by having Brown remind viewers that what "Robertson and other escorted journalists saw today in Kandahar was what the Taliban wanted them to see."
Robertson passed along the pain of victims: "Outside his recently bombed house, Haji Abdul Quayyum (sp?) says he doesn't know why it was destroyed and refutes the idea there is a military base nearby. His friend Naseer Ahmed (sp?) explains why many Afghans are now unified. 'It's not the issue of Osama bin Laden. They have not hit any Arabs,' he says. 'You can see with your own eyes. They hit civilians.'"
Robertson began his report via videophone, which included video matching the scenes he described: "Guns and grins, our Taliban escort prepares for the day. The heavily armed fighters provided for our protection, the Taliban say, for a tour of bomb sites that puts military facilities off-limits. Downtown there was anger. Abdul Hadi (sp?) vents his rage about lost friends. Close by in the rubble of his cousin's tailoring store, 11-year-old Farid (sp?) recites the names of three relatives he says died when a bomb destroyed it."
After brief audio of the child, Robertson added: "Whether or not they claim to have lost loved-ones, all here appear to unite in their condemnation of America. Jan Mohammad (sp?), a rickshaw driver, says America should not fight the poor people. 'If they're going to fight bin Laden, they should fight him, not us.' Across the road and reduced to rubble, too, Taliban ministry buildings, bombed people here say minutes before the tailor's store."
As Robertson stood on camera to show both a
destroyed building and right next to it an unscathed building, he
elaborated: "Likely an intended target, these destroyed offices of
the feared religious police serve to highlight how a downtown target can
be hit by a precision missile. But what the Taliban really want us to see
here is just how much collateral damage there is and how many civilians
have been injured.
That ended Robertson's piece. Back in New York City, anchor Aaron Brown asserted: "Again, and not to beat this to death, Nic's movements around Kandahar are controlled by the Taliban. The reports are not censored, but obviously what he sees is influenced by the Taliban themselves."
So why air video of such a distorted look at events behind enemy lines? And why are casualties in a war newsworthy?
Of the U.S. networks, only reporters for ABC and CNN were invited by the Taliban for their tour of U.S.-caused atrocities. The Taliban had a purpose behind who they selected. "Reporters on the scene and news executives in the United States," the New York Times reported on Thursday, "said that winning entry to the tour depended on being a news outlet that the Afghan rulers wanted to use to convey their message."
New York Times reporter Bill Carter added, however, that it was "also the result of having the right connections -- or in the parlance of foreign correspondents, the right 'fixer.'"
Jim Romenesko's MediaNews (http://www.poynter.org/medianews/) highlighted the November 1 New York Times explanation of which networks got access. An excerpt from Bill Carter's story:
....In terms of connections, CNN along with ABC News and the BBC enjoy significant advantages, the reporters and executives said. All have associations with Pakistanis who have cultivated exceptional relationships with Taliban authorities.
"The Afghans attach a great deal of importance to personal contact," said Eason Jordan, the president of news coverage for CNN.
CNN's connection in Pakistan, which Mr. Jordan declined to name, serves as a producer. ABC News and the BBC used a highly regarded radio journalist in Pakistan.
That fixers would be paid by a news organization is common and ethical, all the reporters and executives said, because they are crucial to getting close to battle. On the other hand, even though their words were not censored, the reporters were given access to only certain areas.
The network correspondents, including Nic Robertson for CNN and Dan Harris for ABC News, entered Kandahar along with 24 other people, mostly television crews, about 13 of whom were Pakistanis. Others included representatives of The Associated Press and Reuters.
All those admitted paid fees of $30 to the Afghan Embassy for visas for the tour, the normal fee for visa requests, and a far cry from fee requests of $2,000 to $5,000 that two other news organizations said they were asked to pay to gain entry to the tour. They refused....
NBC was not contacted to participate, a senior executive said. Fox said it was told it would have to pay an exorbitant fee to participate, but reporters familiar with the scene in Pakistan said the request might have come from an aspiring fixer looking for a payday.
Andrew Heyward, the president of CBS News, said his network had applied to go on the tour. "But when the list was published, we weren't on it."...
END of Excerpt
To read the entire story, those registered with the New York Times online can go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/01/international/asia/01FIX.html
Tom Brokaw asserted on the Late Show on Thursday night that everyone shares the blame for failing to foresee the terrorist attack -- the press, the Clinton administration, Republicans in Congress, think tanks and a public "living through dot-com fever" which was "more worried about P. Diddy and J. Lo" than a terrorist attack.
Brokaw also affirmed to David Letterman that a military response is required. After listing what harm the terrorists have inflicted, he declared: "I think that there is only one answer to that and that is some form of real retribution and justice -- and you do that militarily."
During his appearance on the November 1 show,
Letterman asked the NBC Nightly News anchor why there wasn't a greater
U.S. response after the attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa. Brokaw
Later, after Brokaw warned that the U.S.
military response could generate another generation of terrorists,
Letterman wondered if there is a "better way" to respond
"other than militarily." Brokaw dismissed any alternative:
That answer earned Brokaw loud and lengthy applause from the Ed Sullivan Theater audience, as it deserved to. -- Brent Baker