Accuracy in Media

Columnist Robert Novak reports deep concern over the shortfall in military recruiting. He wonders if the U.S. can find enough volunteers to stay the course in Iraq and win. It’s doubtful if we continue to suffer from a major media that look for any reason to make America look bad and almost constantly undermine the war effort. 

The conventional wisdom is that mothers are discouraging their children from going into the service. But why is that? You would have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to notice the media drumbeat of bad news about the war and the allegations of misconduct by our troops and their leaders.

The latest fad is uncritically reporting the claims of Guantanamo “detainees”―or suspected terrorists―as if they are the Gospel.

The May 26 Washington Post carries a front-page story by Dan Eggen and Josh White about new FBI documents showing that the “detainees” complained about the handling of the Koran and that there is an allegation of one being flushed down a toilet. For those who don’t read all the documents or don’t take the time to carefully examine the story, this sounds like a possible confirmation of the retracted Newsweek Koran-toilet story.

But the Post left out a bombshell. One FBI report states that an uprising occurred in July 2002 and “was started when one detainee claimed that a guard dropped a Koran. In actuality the detainee dropped the Koran and then blamed the guard. Many other detainees reacted to this claim and this initiated the uprising.”

This sounds very much like the account mentioned in the May 30 Newsweek. Michael Isikoff and Evan Thomas, having had some time to investigate the matter, report that Commander Sgt. John VanNatta, who served as the prison’s warden from October 2002 to the fall of 2003, referred to a documented case sometime in 2002 of an inmate dropping a Koran by a toilet. But the prisoners twisted this into the claim that U.S. military personnel had dropped or thrown the book near a toilet. According to Newsweek, that caused unrest that was quelled only when the inmate was taken cell to cell to explain to other prisoners what really happened.

Is this where the Koran-in-the-toilet story came from? If so, it’s tragic that Newsweek couldn’t have waited a week on its original Koran story until it had all the facts. Lives could have been saved. It turns out that the truth may be almost the exact opposite of what the publication originally reported.

The Post noted there was an account in August 2002 of a prisoner claiming guards had “flushed a Koran in the toilet” but that the Pentagon said he did not corroborate this claim when he was reinterviewed. Is this because the claim originated with the prisoner who lied about a similar incident? Whatever the source, this hearsay gets front-page coverage in the Post.

Post reporter Eggen told AIM that there are several claims about alleged mishandling of the Koran but some are alleged to be eyewitness accounts, while others are not. There is a difference between somebody saying they saw something and claiming they only heard about it. Still, they are all claims and should be treated that way. The only hard evidence that anybody is lying is found in the one report that the Post didn’t find newsworthy―that a prisoner had blamed the guards for something he did. This incident backs up the Pentagon charge that the prisoners are trained to lie about their treatment.

The ACLU, which released the FBI reports after obtaining them through the Freedom of Information Act, considers all of these unsubstantiated claims to be “evidence.” But why should the Post treat them the same way? And why should the paper ignore the one concrete example of a prisoner lying? Upon reflection, Eggen told AIM that he possibly should have included that example in his story.

The retracted Newsweek story is only the most blatant example of the journalistic tendency of running with anything that makes the U.S. look bad. “My husband is a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army who is serving in Afghanistan as an embedded adviser to the Afghan Army,” a woman wrote in to Newsweek. “His life has been a living hell since your story broke.” Somebody else wrote in to point out that the Newsweek story will produce “increased numbers of anti-American Islamic militants, more suicide bombings and the deaths of brave American men and women who are serving our country abroad.” Still another letter-writer said the Newsweek account “borders on treason.”

Is it any wonder, then, that it’s hard to attract new recruits into the U.S. military? Why join the Armed Forces when you not only have to fight the terrorists but the American media, which is doing their best to make our soldiers out to be human-rights abusers, torturers and killers? And when the public sees that the media engage in conduct that “borders on treason,” to quote that letter-writer, one might conclude that military volunteers could get themselves injured or killed for a lost cause. How can a nation win a war when its media seem so willing to provide aid and comfort to the enemy? 

It is illuminating that New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller objected when White House spokesman Scott McClellan asked that Newsweek do more to repair the damage caused by its story. “Are you asking them to write a story about how great the American military is; is that what you’re saying here?,” she asked. This question demonstrates the mind-set of the major media. They don’t want to be asked to do such a thing, and they certainly won’t do it voluntarily.

On the other hand, the terrorists, their lawyers or the self-described human-rights advocates can say almost anything, no matter how outrageous, and get covered. The ACLU’s latest blast at the Administration was carried not only on page one of the Post but on the right side of the paper, where the most important news is featured. But all of the anti-American charges are completely unsubstantiated. Didn’t the Post learn anything from the debacle of its sister publication Newsweek?

We would be na?ve not to think that the lawyers for some of these prisoners are in on the scam, and are updating their clients about their success in getting these lies planted in the major news media. One lawyer, the Soros foundation-funded Lynne Stewart, has already been convicted of aiding the Islamic terrorists when she insisted she was only providing “legal counsel” to her client. Why should we believe she is the only one?

Reporters also act as lapdogs for groups such as Amnesty International, which is getting widespread press coverage for claiming that Guantanamo is the “gulag of our time.” Such a statement is absurd on its face. Its head, William F. Schultz, calls top U.S. officials “architects of torture policy” when every investigation into the isolated cases of prisoner abuse has determined that there is no policy of torture coming from our top civilian and military leaders.

During an appearance on the Hugh Hewitt radio show, ABC News reporter Terry Moran acknowledged “a deep anti-military bias in the media” and said the media assume “that the military must be lying, and that American projection of power around the world must be wrong. I think that that is a hangover from Vietnam, and I think it’s very dangerous.” Moran also spoke of hatred for President Bush among some members of the White House press corps.

The media strongly contributed to the American defeat in Vietnam and we would be na?ve not to think that many in the media also want us to lose in Iraq. They know the way to accomplish this goal is to demoralize our side and thin the ranks of those willing to fight. The problem in U.S. military recruiting demonstrates the effectiveness of their insidious campaign. On the other hand, stories like the false one in Newsweek do wonders for recruiting more of the enemy.

We need more, not less, leadership from the White House in this critical matter of national security. Reporters such as Bumiller have to be exposed for what they are. Scott McClellan should not back down now. The stakes are too high. In fact, the stakes are so high that President Bush has to personally go on the offensive against the press. Americans will be cheering him if he does. 

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