Accuracy in Media

Forty-two years to the day after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, an American Muslim was convicted of joining the terrorist organization Al Qaeda and plotting to assassinate President Bush. A lot of media attention was devoted to the former but not the latter. Could that be because the media loved Kennedy but hate Bush?

But is media hatred of Bush inspiring America’s enemies, including those who plotted to kill the President? The Washington Post recently reported that pro-terrorist Sunni Muslims in Iraq said they “love Cindy Sheehan” because of her anti-Bush and anti-war protests. They said they watch the protests on satellite television.

There is also plenty of opportunity to get motivated to hate Bush by reading Frank Rich columns in the New York Times. Rich has joined those critics of the Bush Administration who see a sinister “neo-con” conspiracy behind the invasion of Iraq. We’re not sure what Rich means by “neo-con,” but he has to know that to many people, especially in the Arab and Muslim world, this is code for Jewish.

Some of Rich’s animus may stem from the President’s own religious persuasion, or that of some of his followers. On October 3, 2004, for example, Rich wrote a column referring to Bush’s “self-deification” and “religious vanity.” The thrust of the column was that Bush has a dangerous religious agenda for the world and that his Christian conservative supporters are even more frightening.

Rich’s hatred of Bush has caused him to lose perspective. The real danger is coming from those who want to kill Christians and Jews and other “infidels.” One of them plotted to kill the President. Frank Rich should examine the consequences of his own rhetoric. He is poisoning the public debate.

It would be foolish to think this kind of invective has no effect on people, here and abroad. Sadly, the fact that it appears in the New York Times means that it is taken more seriously.

Such attacks on the President are usually dismissed as the politics of personal destruction but when the U.S. is engaged in a global war on terror, we believe that the media should take into account the effect their vicious personal attacks on the President may be having on unstable individuals, not only Bush-hating leftists but America-hating Muslims.

In this case, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, the potential assassin, was also convicted of conspiracy to provide material support and resources to al- Qaeda terrorists, conspiracy to commit air piracy and conspiracy to destroy aircraft. But the ramifications of this story got very little coverage in the media, and it was practically a one-day story at that.

The Plot

Ahmed Omar Abu Ali is a 24-year-old U.S. citizen, born to a Jordanian father and raised in the Northern Virginia suburbs near the nation’s capital. He was valedictorian of his high school class, at the Islamic Saudi Academy in Alexandria. He moved to Saudi Arabia to study Islam and met his co-conspirators. That is when the topic of assassination of President Bush came up.

According to the indictment, Abu Ali provided material support to the conspiracy by purchasing a laptop computer, a cell phone, and books. Also, he received training from al Qaeda in the use of weapons and document forgery. The indictment said he wanted to become a planner of terrorist acts like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was the mastermind of 9/11, and Mohamed Atta, the lead hijacker. Abu Ali was arrested in June of 2003, following terrorist attacks in Riyadh, which killed 34, including nine Americans.

According to his lawyers, Abu Ali was beaten and tortured over 40 days, and ordered to confess to certain crimes. Ultimately he did confess to planning acts of terror in the U.S. Originally, the plans were to bomb amusement parks and stadiums, and to assassinate a U.S. Senator or other public officials. But his al Qaeda co-conspirators suggested instead that they assassinate Bush. Abu Ali liked that idea. He gave a videotaped confession while in Saudi Arabia.

The unanimous decision by the jury to find Ali guilty on all counts was based largely on viewing the videotaped confession.

The Washington Times provided the most detailed account of this story. NBC was the first network to show footage of the taped confession. Abu Ali is shown saying in Arabic, with English transcription on the screen, that when asked to join the jihad against America, “I immediately accepted because of my hatred of the U.S. for what I felt was its support of Israel against the Palestinian people.”

Regarding the proposal to assassinate Bush, he said, “I preferred this idea since it was easier to carry out, since the U.S. President often appears in public places.” How would he do it?  “Through a suicide bomber, or a team of at least three snipers.”

Despite his claims during the trial that the Saudis beat him into confessing, the jurors didn’t believe him. They saw him pretending to cock a rifle and laugh. NBC consultant Roger Cressey, said “it was striking how relaxed he looked, almost carefree. This didn’t look like someone who had been tortured or was being pressured into giving this confession.”

Media Asleep

This was a big story. It demonstrated in dramatic terms the reality of the global war on terror. In his case, of course, he came under the influence of radical Islam and Al Qaeda. But one cannot help but think about the effect that savage personal attacks on Bush are having on the terrorist movement as well, not only through Al-Jazeera but U.S. media outlets. We think there’s no escaping the conclusion that the frenetic Bush-bashing is feeding the fires of the global jihad.   

But apparently in the judgment of many news directors and editors, this wasn’t nearly as important as, say, what happened to Natalee Holloway in Aruba. 

Could it be that daily coverage of this three-week trial might have created some sympathy for President Bush and some additional awareness of the leadership role he has taken in this global war that threatens America’s survival and his own?

PBS STILL SHOWING ITS BIAS

PBS’s weekly public affairs show NOW is no longer hosted by the controversial Bill Moyers, but it still has a left-wing tilt. Doing his part for the anti-war movement, new host David Brancaccio featured a one-sided segment on the issue of military recruitment in high schools. The strong implication was that the military was preying on lower income and minority students, and deceiving them as to what awaited them if they joined the military. 

It’s true that the military recruits young people. We have an all-volunteer military. No one is compelled to go. But the military has a long history of enriching the lives of people who sign up, whether for the National Guard, the reserves, or active duty service. Sadly, in making that sacrifice, some don’t come home alive. Some come home maimed.

Brancaccio stated that “In peacetime, parents might not think twice about army recruiters in a classroom. Traditionally, the military has been seen as a useful place to learn a skill or earn money for college. But today, even National Guard troops are being sent to Iraq in droves. Volunteering for the army can be a life and death decision. These recruiters are not dwelling on that part.”

The show cut to a recruiter telling a group of students that “inside the base, you can find a lot of things. They even have a Subway, Burger King, Movie theater, swimming pool.” The story gave the impression that kids are being duped or scammed into the military, with promises of cheeseburgers, movies on the big screen and a chance for a free college education.

Of course, most high school kids who make the decision to join a branch of the service have talked it over with parents or other adults they respect. It’s not like choosing Sprint over AT&T. And certainly if they have signed up since 9/11, they know there is a war going on and they have a chance of facing the enemy.

Phony Claims

In order to make the case that the military is engaged in false advertising, NOW interviewed Jimmy Massey, a former Marine who was honorably discharged after 12 years of service, including several as a recruiter. “Recruiting duty was a nightmare,” said Massey. He spoke of many young men, particularly in the poorer economic areas, who “look to the military for simple benefits.”

“Recruiting began to grate on Massey’s sense of fair play,” said Brancaccio. “As for his superiors, he says they didn’t care. It was all about meeting quotas.”

Massey went on to describe “frauding” as a means to meet recruitment quotas. That is when the young men would normally be ineligible because of medical conditions or past drug use, but the recruiters overlook it and “coach them to lie on their military entrance forms.” Massey said that 70 of the 75 people that he personally recruited had been the result of frauding.

No Credibility

One significant problem with this story is Massey himself, and his “sense of fair play.” Weeks before this show aired, Massey had been reported to be a serial fabricator. For more than a year, Massey had become a staple of the anti-war left, teaming up with Cindy Sheehan, giving speeches and interviews, and was written up in Vanity Fair and USA Today, among dozens of other newspaper, magazine and broadcast reports. His story was that he was one of a number of Marines who had shot and killed numerous civilians in Iraq, including children. His book, “Kill, Kill, Kill” was published in France, in French. And he testified to some of these atrocities under oath in Canada at an asylum hearing for an American deserter.

His charges went largely unanswered, except for some statements by Marine spokesmen, until a reporter for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Ron Harris, began looking into the charges. Harris had been embedded with Massey’s unit, and he, along with some of the other reporters, investigated Massey’s charges, and found many of his statements to be untrue. Harris’s article on November 5 claimed that Massey, when confronted with statements that challenged his uncorroborated statements, was backing off of his accusations.

Harris wrote, “Each of his claims is either demonstrably false or exaggerated, according to his fellow Marines, Massey’s own admissions, and the five journalists who were embedded with Massey’s unit, including a reporter and photographer from the Post-Dispatch and reporters from The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal.”

The PBS NOW story gave no hint of any controversy. They did put up a graphic on the screen under Massey that said you could learn more about him by going to their website. And for those that did, they would have found Harris’s article, and a transcript of a debate between Harris and Massey that took place on Democracy Now, Pacifica radio’s far-left show hosted by Amy Goodman.

Phony Facts

In addition to the problems with Massey, the underlying assertion of the story was highly dubious. Namely, that the poor and uneducated are carrying an undue burden in the War in Iraq. About 95% of the casualties in the war have been high-school graduates, while only 85% of all Americans are. Blacks and Latinos have each totaled about 11 percent of the deaths in Iraq, about the same as their representation in the general population, but in the case of blacks, less than the 18.6 % of the current troop level they comprise; while 70% of the deaths are white males, though they make up only about 30% of the total U.S. population. This story is further evidence that former Corporation for Public Broadcasting chairman Ken Tomlinson was right in his effort to analyze and attempt to balance the programming on PBS. Tomlinson had wanted to balance Moyers with a conservative program. Brancaccio deserves some balance, too. 

SHOULD THE U.S. BOMB AL-JAZEERA?

The Middle East Media Research Institute reports that Al-Jazeera TV staff members have demonstrated against President Bush, chanting, “Down with Fascist America” and “Bush is a criminal against humanity.” This was in response to a report about Bush’s alleged threat to bomb Al-Jazeera.

Alan Cowell of the New York Times said that “The Bush administration has frequently depicted Al-Jazeera’s broadcasts as showing anti-American bias.” The case against Al-Jazeera goes much deeper than that. It was banned in Iraq by the new Democratic government because it functions as a tool of enemy propaganda. It achieved notoriety for airing Osama bin Laden video statements attacking America.

In failing to expose Al-Jazeera as the terrorist mouthpiece it is, the Times mischaracterizes the nature of the criticism. This is done for the purpose of making Bush out to be a mad bomber. If the Times had any regard for the facts of the case, it would examine how the first managing director of Al-Jazeera was exposed as an agent of the Saddam Hussein regime, and how an Al-Jazeera correspondent in Afghanistan has been sentenced to seven years in prison in Spain for acting as an agent of Al Qaeda.

A Washington Post story by Kevin Sullivan and Walter Pincus reported, “Al-Jazeera has frequently aired recorded statements from al Qaeda figures. Bush administration officials have contended that through that type of broadcasting the network often serves as a conduit for terrorist propaganda.”

That “type of broadcasting.” What type is it? It is an outrage that any American journalist would regard Al-Jazeera as being a legitimate press organization.

The Terror Connection

Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, wrote a column back in 2003 noting that Al-Jazeera and another leading Arab channel, Al-Arabiya, “have made a fetish of broadcasting murderous attacks on Americans and their Iraqi and coalition allies, often accompanied by commentary or ‘news analysis’ that makes no effort to conceal that the speakers’ sympathies lie with the perpetrators.”

Gaffney, who had just visited Iraq to talk to officials there, said he had been informed that Al-Jazeera has been observed “arriving at the scene of a roadside bombing or other attack before it occurs. While the network has claimed that this was because it had been misinformed that the attack had already taken place and innocently wound up getting to the scene first, this strains credulity. At the very least, the attackers are waiting for the sympathetic Arab TV to show up before causing their carnage, knowing that it will feature prominently on subsequent broadcasts and be picked up by other networks around the world.”

Gaffney said, “It seems unlikely to be any coincidence, either, that crowds are often on hand as well. Increasingly, some on hand for the attacks erupt?as if on command?when the cameras are on, offering fervid denunciations of the United States, President Bush, so-called Iraqi collaborators in the occupation of an Arab country and similar, highly charged visuals.”

He added, “More to the point, elected Iraqi officials and U.S. commanders advised our delegation of retired senior military officers and civilian defense experts that there is evidence that Al-Jazeera is actually paying for such attacks. If confirmed, this would make the network and its associates enemy combatants and subject to appropriate responses.”

The latest video to be aired by Al-Jazeera shows 4 kidnapped western hostages under the control of terrorists in Iraq. Meanwhile, the Israeli army has arrested a Palestinian journalist who works for Al-Jazeera. The Israelis said that he was arrested for security reasons “because he possessed information the army needs.” That suggests he had knowledge of terrorist operations.

MEDIA CHARACTER ASSASSINATION

John Seigenthaler, founding editorial director of USA Today, wrote an article for the November 30 USA Today about  how he had struggled to have Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, correct a false claim that he was suspected of being involved in the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy. AIM has been trying for months to get USA Today to apologize for running a story smearing President Bush based on the same phony National Guard documents used by CBS last year.

If Seigenthaler thinks it is frustrating dealing with Wikipedia, he should deal with USA Today. On the paper’s editorial page, you see a tiny box headlined, “Commitment to accuracy,” a picture of “Reader Editor” Brent Jones, and a phone number and email address. It generates an automated response and nothing is done about your complaint. We have actually taken our complaint to the annual meeting of Gannett, parent of USA today, but editor Ken Paulson still refuses to apologize or reprimand anybody. The paper not only used the same documents that aired on CBS, but USA Today got them from the same discredited source, Bill Burkett, who says he lied about where he got them. 

The false Wikipedia entry said that Seigenthaler, a former assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, “was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John, and his brother, Bobby,” but that “Nothing was ever proven.” 

He said his son John Seigenthaler of NBC News had called later to say he found the same scurrilous text on Reference.com and Answers.com. Seigenthaler said that “At my request, executives of the three websites now have removed the false content about me. But they don’t know, and can’t find out, who wrote the toxic sentences.”

Seigenthaler calls this a highly personal story about character assassination. “It could be your story,” he said. Well, Bush’s character was assassinated by USA Today using phony documents. And the paper still refuses to apologize for it.

What You Can Do

Please send the enclosed cards or cards or letters of your own choosing to Frank Rich, Deborah Howell, and Rep. Murtha.




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