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CyberAlert -- 11/02/2001 -- ABC & CNN Took the Taliban Tour

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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:
-- New York Daily News story by Richard Huff:
http://www.nydailynews.com/2001-11-01/New_York_Now/Television/a-130503.asp
-- Associated Press piece by David Bauder:
http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/ap/20011031/en/attacks_abc_1.html
For a rundown of what he said and a RealPlayer video clip of it, along with his subsequent "I was wrong" statement, go to:
http://www.mediaresearch.org/cyberalerts/2001/cyb20011031_extra.asp <<<

1

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].
"In a neighboring village, the brother of one victim walked through fresh graves yelling out the names of the dead. [video of man walking amongst piles of rocks] 'Only God knows why they attacked us,' he said. One possible explanation for this apparent attack: On the night it happened, according to eyewitnesses, a series of cars from the city of Kandahar arrived here full of guests. Today the Pentagon said it did hit the village and hit it on purpose. They called it a Taliban encampment with many Al-Qaeda collaborators. No matter what the truth is, the Taliban are clearly making this attack one of the highlights of our visit.
"After the trip to Chokar Karez, we had a chance to deviate from the Taliban's agenda with a foray into downtown Kandahar. What we saw was a city that was neither abandoned nor in a state of panic. Stocked stores, afternoon traffic [bikes and one car], and curiosity about an American visitor. We had been out of the car for about thirty seconds when we were surrounded by people who wanted to shake hands, talk, or just stare. Dan Harris, ABC News, Kandahar."

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:
"Today they took us to a village about 60 kilometers north of Kandahar. Now, this village, they said, 92 people died. Civilians they say. 16 people were injured. We were taken there and we, we talked with local people. A local official, a village mullah told us that on the night the bombing, he said a convoy had come from the city Kandahar, full of people on that convoy who were afraid of the bombing in Kandahar and had taken refuge in that village. Another resident of a local village said that he too had known that a large group of people had come from Kandahar. He said their village had been so busy that night, the village of Chokar Karez, had been so busy that people were sleeping outside. 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, clocks smashed on the floor, radios. There were some 15 houses there, we were told.
"But what was also very clear to us was that all the houses had been destroyed. There was a lot of fragments there of -- missiles, and of bombs, a lot of shrapnel around. But all the buildings had pretty much been destroyed. And certainly the feeling, in the local community, is that that convoy of cars that had come out from Kandahar to that village, for that night, could have contributed to the fact that the village was attacked -- because all the people we talked to there said they had no other idea of why the village could have been attacked. They said there were no military encampments or any such thing in the local area.
"But certainly, we were not able to verify the number of dead or what happened that night. And the accounts were that the, that the village bombed by not only aircraft but also by helicopter. That's what survivors told us. So, very, very difficult to verify those accounts. But certainly the village did appear to have been pretty much completely demolished by some sort of bombing."

2

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.
"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.'
"And so the tour continues to other sites. Along the way, however, a burnt-out armored personnel carrier sits close to houses. Downtown a U.N. de-mining vehicle camouflaged with mud cruises around with a new owner at the wheel. And out of town in the mountains, more military hardware, dispersed for safe keeping.
"One of the Taliban top military commanders, however, claims only 15 soldiers have been killed in the four provinces he leads and that morale is good.
Akhtar Mohammad Usmani, Kandahar regional commander, through translator: "We are not demoralized. In fact, the morale has been very strong. And after the American air strikes, we have become much more united and stronger. We believe in jihad and we want to become martyrs and we will fight until the last man."
Robertson continued: "Tough talk echoed by the Taliban foreign minister, who used a rare television appearance to quell rumors of splits in the Taliban.
Wakil Ahmed Mutawakel, Taliban Foreign Minister, through translator: "The Mujahedeed people of Afghanistan are passing through a very critical time. That's because Afghan people have been brutalized by big powers."

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?

3

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

4

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 contended:
"I think there was a failure on the part of everyone, including the press. I think it was a failure on the part Clinton administration, first of all, but I also believe that the Republicans in Congress didn't raise their hands and say 'wait a minute, what are we doing about this?' The think tanks in Washington, a number of them have said terrorism is a big problem, but they didn't make it their number one issue in many instances. We would broadcast or publish reports of terrorist incidents and we would also talk about there would be a congressional hearing about it, but the country was living through dot-com fever and good times and Page Six and more worried about P. Diddy and J. Lo than they were about a terrorist attack."

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:
"No, I think you had to do it militarily. They came to this country and killed 5,000 people and attacked the two greatest symbols of capitalism that we have in New York City, wounded the soul of New York and then went after the Pentagon and hit one of the great institutions in American life, threw us into a great psychological shock in America, disrupted our economy, caused the country to live in fear. And 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."

That answer earned Brokaw loud and lengthy applause from the Ed Sullivan Theater audience, as it deserved to. -- Brent Baker


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