CyberAlert -- 11/28/2001 -- Worrying About Civil Rights
Worrying About Civil Rights; Taliban "Law and Order"; They Are "Terrorists" to the WSJ; U.S. War Not "Just"; Letterman on Osama
1) Reporting on John Ashcroft's announcement about the number of persons being held in the post-September 11 investigations, ABC's Peter Jennings emphasized how "some of the charges are for very minor violations." NBC's Tom Brokaw stressed questions about "whether the Bush administration is violating civil rights."
2) The upside of the Taliban. CBS's Allen Pizzey: "Considering that tribal warfare and its attended looting and lawlessness helped propel the Taliban to power five years ago, who is to dispute that some Afghans may consider their law and order form of Islam a better alternative?"
3) A refreshing message from the top editor of the Wall Street Journal. Paul Steiger declared: "Unlike some news organizations, we don't worry that some people might view terrorists as freedom fighters; we call them terrorists." When reporting on civilian casualties in Afghanistan, Steiger promised: "We...make clear the difference between these unsought deaths and the calculated targeting of civilians, as in the Sept. 11 attacks."
4) Boston Globe columnist James Carroll argued in a November 27 column that "the broad American consensus that Bush's war is 'just' represents a shallow assessment of that war." Carroll complained: "This 'overwhelming' exercise of American power has been a crude reinforcement of the worst impulse of human history."
>>> Elaborating Clarification. In excerpting an article in the latest Weekly Standard by Fred Barnes, the November 27 CyberAlert noted the piece "was ostensibly a review of two books, including one that looks quite intriguing, 'Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distorts the News,' by Bernard Goldberg." That book does look especially intriguing from my viewpoint since it provides an insider look at liberal media bias, the focus of the MRC's attentions. However, I did not mean to slight the other book reviewed by Barnes, "It Ain't Necessarily So: How Media Make and Unmake the Scientific Picture of Reality," by David Murray, Joel Schwartz, and S. Robert Lichter, published Rowman & Littlefield. (Twenty years ago Lichter was a professor of mine at George Washington University.) Barnes wrote that its thesis "is that the press can't cover scientific and medical issues without going off the deep end." <<<
Reporting Tuesday night on Attorney General John Ashcroft's announcement about the number of persons being held in the post-September 11 investigations, ABC's Peter Jennings emphasized how "some of the charges are for very minor violations." NBC anchor Tom Brokaw stressed how "Ashcroft faced some tough questions today about the domestic war on terror, specifically whether the Bush administration is violating civil rights." NBC reporter Pete Williams soon added that most are being held "for violating immigration laws, the kind of offenses that in the past were not vigorously enforced."
But wasn't that laxity part of what enabled the terrorist attacks to occur? Williams didn't pursue that angle.
Jennings introduced the November 27 World News Tonight story: "In Washington today for the first time in three weeks the Attorney General gave some details about how many people the government is holding in connection with the September 11th attacks. John Ashcroft said that as of now 603 people are in custody, 548 of those are charged with violating immigration laws, some of the charges are for very minor violations. And for the first time, Mr. Ashcroft says the U.S. is holding members of al-Qaeda."
Over on the NBC Nightly News, Brokaw emphasized civil rights concerns over the success in blocking additional terrorist attacks: "Back in Washington, the U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft faced some tough questions today about the domestic war on terror, specifically whether the Bush administration is violating civil rights by arresting and locking up hundreds of people in its investigation into the September 11th attacks."
Pete Williams began his report, as transcribed
by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "Giving the fullest accounting yet of
the nationwide dragnet, the Justice Department today disclosed numbers
suggesting that between a third and a half of those rounded up have since
been released. That still leaves about 600 in federal custody, most for
violating immigration laws, the kind of offenses that in the past were not
vigorously enforced. But the Attorney General declined to provide any
names of those held or say how many are actually terrorist suspects,
saying that would tip off bin Laden's network about how well the
investigation here is going."
So why then that focus on civil rights by NBC News?
And did you notice that both Jennings and Brokaw referred to "the September 11th attacks" -- no mention of the term "terrorist."
More on the up side of the Taliban, bringing law and order to Afghanistan. Two weeks after CNN's Kamal Hyder asserted that "as Kandahar is bombed and there is no electricity and streets remain open and vacant, the Taliban still keep a semblance of law and order," CBS's Allen Pizzey delivered a similar message. On this past weekend's Sunday Morning, he proposed: "Considering that tribal warfare and its attended looting and lawlessness helped propel the Taliban to power five years ago, who is to dispute that some Afghans may consider their law and order form of Islam a better alternative?"
MRC analyst Brian Boyd noticed the assessment in a piece from Pizzey recounting his trip to Spinbaldek, Afghanistan for a press conference with an English-speaking Taliban spokesman named "Agga," at least that's how his name was pronounced.
Pizzey suggested in his November 25 story:
"And while to some Westernized he may look like the classic Islamic
zealot, Agga wasn't without an impish side."
Given the celebrating in the liberated areas, a definite emphasis should be put on "some."
Back on CNN's NewsNight on November 13, reporter Kamal Hyder told anchor Aaron Brown that the "dreaded vices and virtues ministry" had banned music and harassed men for having beards which were too short as they "unleashed a reign of terror on the cities of Afghanistan. Obviously, therefore, when these people are gone from Kandahar city there will be a sigh of relief as far as the people are concerned, but at the same time, it would be unfair to say that the Taliban did not succeed in certain things. The law and order for example, even today as Kandahar is bombed and there is no electricity and streets remain open and vacant, the Taliban still keep a semblance of law and order."
A refreshing and reassuring message from the top editor of the Wall Street Journal. With a Reuters official saying the wire service won't refer to September 11 as "terrorism" since "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter," and with the BBC World Service following the same policy, it was nice to read that Wall Street Journal Managing Editor Paul Steiger recently asserted that "unlike some news organizations, we don't worry that some people might view terrorists as freedom fighters; we call them terrorists."
And with ABC News, led by a President who was initially unsure whether the Pentagon was a "legitimate" terrorist target while his network relayed Taliban claims about civilian casualties, it was pleasing to read that Steiger promised: "When we report on the damage to civilians and civilian structures from American bombing, we try to include the context of the civilians killed and threatened by the targeted forces, and the purpose of the U.S. attack. We also make clear the difference between these unsought deaths and the calculated targeting of civilians, as in the Sept. 11 attacks."
Jim Romenesko's MediaNews (http://www.poynter.org/medianews/) on Tuesday highlighted a Wall Street Journal Online posting of Steiger's comments "adapted from a speech to the Knight Bagehot foundation." The Journal did not offer a date for the speech.
....Osama bin Laden remains a would-be Hitler, one who has enormous continuing potential for evil. His facility with the techniques of modern media and modern money-movement make him an ideal demagogue for our age, just as Hitler was for his. A bin Laden death in a battle to avoid capture obviously would bring his story to an end. But Hitler's story suggests that bin Laden cannot be allowed to escape and that, if caught, he must be kept from resuming his deadly career.
I understand that invoking the ultimate bogeyman of the last hundred years may seem a little extreme. Yet to me the linkage is chillingly apt. As the editor of the Journal's news coverage, I imagine how I would have wanted us to cover Hitler 77 years ago, knowing then what we know now about his effect on the world.
Bin Laden, like Hitler, has sought to mobilize victimhood into hate and hatred into power. He revels in the murder of innocents. He wants to create a theocratic dictatorship with himself at its head, starting on the Arabian peninsula and moving who knows where after that. Should he ever succeed, at his disposal would be a frightening mix of oil and money, nuclear and biological weapons, and millions of human beings -- restless, in many cases stateless, seething with frustration and resentment....
So, while it's true that Islam does not entail terrorism, that most Muslims abhor the mass murders of Sept. 11, something else is also true. A portion of those same Muslims, particularly in the Middle East, can't resist a twinge of satisfaction that Americans can no longer swagger around the world feeling omnipotent and invulnerable. Some Muslims empathize with bin Laden's crafty rhetorical jabs at Israel. Still others may feel afraid to oppose him publicly.
Hence, millions of Muslims around the world, under scenarios that are not difficult to envision, could fall in behind a bin Laden banner. It won't happen this year, when U.S. military power appears on the verge of routing him from his Afghan sanctuary. Yet it might well, in the future, if he is again allowed the freedom to ply his ugly trade.
The gravity of the bin Laden threat, and the importance of the battle against it, have me searching for exactly the right stance to strike in The Wall Street Journal's reporting about it, much as someone in my position might have done three-quarters of a century ago with Hitler. Is this a time to put aside our commitment to accuracy and fairness, and become propagandists in the struggle against evil?
No. The Journal's news pages shouldn't be cheerleaders for the war against bin Laden. The paper shouldn't shrink from reporting the challenges we face and any setbacks our forces may encounter. We will aggressively seek to learn -- and, when newsworthy, publish -- more than U.S. officials want us to know. But our pages shouldn't give even inadvertent help to the sources of terror, either by serving as a passive springboard for their propaganda or by helping them signal each other.
Unlike some news organizations, we don't worry that some people might view terrorists as freedom fighters; we call them terrorists. When we report on the damage to civilians and civilian structures from American bombing, we try to include the context of the civilians killed and threatened by the targeted forces, and the purpose of the U.S. attack. We also make clear the difference between these unsought deaths and the calculated targeting of civilians, as in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Similarly, we have reported extensively on the public pronouncements of bin Laden and his comrades, because our readers are interested in the basis of his ideology and the nature of his appeal. But we haven't been publishing, on our Web site or in our paper, the full text of these messages, so as to make any coded signaling more difficult.
Like other news organizations, we may have to decide to withhold or delay the publication of something we have learned, if publishing would endanger American forces. Of course, we will never publish anything we know to be inaccurate. Our permanent compact with readers forbids that.
We in the U.S. are just getting used to the fact that we are in a war that is likely to be long, and may well last after bin Laden himself has been neutralized. I believe that America as a nation -- and, more broadly, America as part of a free global culture -- will prevail. In the Journal's news columns, we have a part to play, not as propagandists, not as jingoists, but as seekers and purveyors of truth -- truth that will help people make better decisions about their own lives and he lives they touch. Even in war, that will remain our mission.
END of Excerpt
An excellent guide for all of the media to follow.
To read the entire commentary, go to:
No such moral clarity about bin Laden as evil from Boston Globe columnist James Carroll, who argued in a November 27 column that "the broad American consensus that Bush's war is 'just' represents a shallow assessment of that war."
In the column caught by James Taranto's
"Best of the Web"
The column was titled, "This war is not just." An excerpt:
In recent days, sage editorial writers, religious leaders, politicians, liberal pundits, and admired columnists have joined in the Donald Rumsfeld-Condoleezza Rice chorus praising the American war in Afghanistan as 'just.'...
Not so fast. The broad American consensus that Bush's war is 'just' represents a shallow assessment of that war, a shallowness that results from three things.
First, ignorance. The United States government has revealed very little of what has happened in the war zone. Journalists impeded by restricted access and blind patriotism have uncovered even less. How many of those outside the military establishment who have blithely deemed this war 'just' know what it actually involves?...
The crucial judgment about a war's 'proportionality,' central to any conclusion about its being 'just,' simply cannot be made on the basis of information available at present. And how is this war 'just' if the so far unprovoked war it is bleeding into -- against Iraq -- is unjust?
Second, narrow context. The celebrated results that have so far followed from the American war -- collapse of the Taliban, liberation of women -- are welcome indeed, but they are relatively peripheral outcomes, unrelated to the stated American war aim of defeating terrorism.
And these outcomes pale in significance when the conflict is seen in the context of a larger question: Does this intervention break, or at least impede, the cycle of violence in which terrorism is only the latest turn? Or, by affirming the inevitability of violence, does this war prepare the ground for the next one? By unleashing such massive firepower, do we make potential enemies even more likely to try to match it with the very weapons of mass destruction we so dread? Alas, the answer is clear.
This 'overwhelming' exercise of American power has been a crude reinforcement of the worst impulse of human history -- but this is the nuclear age, and that impulse simply must be checked. This old style American war is unwise in the extreme, and if other nations -- Pakistan, India, Israel, Russia? -- begin to play according to the rules of 'dead or alive,' will this American model still seem 'just'?
Third, wrongly defined use of force. This war is not 'just' because it was not necessary. It may be the only kind of force the behemoth Pentagon knows to exercise, but that doesn't make it 'just' either. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 could have been defined not as acts of war, but as crimes. That was the first mistake, one critics like me flagged as it was happening....
Early in the war, the highest US officials, including the president and vice president, encouraged the idea that the anthrax attacks were originating with the bin Laden network. The understandable paranoia that consequently gripped the public imagination -- an enemy that could shut down Congress! -- was a crucial aspect of what led both press and politicians to accept the idea that a massive war against an evil enemy would be both necessary and moral.
Now, the operating assumption is that the anthrax cases, unrelated to bin Laden, are domestic crimes, not acts of war. But for a crucial moment, they effectively played the role in this war that the Gulf of Tonkin 'assault' played in the Vietnam War, as sources of a war hysteria that 'united' the nation around a mistake. In such a context, the more doubt is labeled disloyal, the more it grows. The more this war is deemed 'just,' the more it seems wrong.
END of Excerpt
I think the nation, except Carroll, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal and a few other leftists, was united before the Anthrax envelopes were delivered.
To read Carroll's column in full, go to:
From the November 26 Late Show with David Letterman, as announced by Rudy Giuliani, the "Top Ten Things I Will Miss About Being Mayor." Copyright 2001 by Worldwide Pants, Inc.
10. If I feel like sleeping in, I call a city-wide snow emergency
And from the November 27 Late Show with David Letterman, the "Top Ten Ways Osama bin Laden Can Improve His Image."
10. There's no way he can improve his image. He's a murdering, soul-less asshole.
That was it. Up came the music to end the Top Ten segment and the audience in the Ed Sullivan Theater offered sustained applause. -- Brent Baker