Accuracy in Media

When he ran CNN, Rick Kaplan supervised a documentary that smeared American servicemen from the Vietnam War period. CNN apologized and Kaplan paid with his job. Now, he runs MSNBC, which is taking the lead in smearing the U.S. in what some America-haters have dubbed the “torture-gate scandal.”

The May 6 edition of the “Deborah Norville Tonight” show on MSNBC is apparently an indication of what Kaplan intends to do with the network. It was a travesty. Egyptian-born former New York Times “journalist” Youssef Ibrahim offered the opinion that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was guilty of “war crimes.” Rumsfeld, he said, will one day “be judged as a war criminal.”

Norville’s reaction was, “These are awfully harsh statements.” You bet they are. He also failed to produce any evidence for those charges. There’s no indication that Rumsfeld committed any crimes. He supervised the process of bringing the perpetrators to justice. The Pentagon issued press releases and held a press briefing on it. To compound this outrage, Norville asked what could be done, and Ibrahim replied, “This is happening under three years of a Bush administration by a coalition of neoconservative and evangelical Christians. These people have taken action after action that can only be interpreted as anti-Arab, anti-Muslim.”

Ibrahim apparently believes that Jews and Christians are out to get the peace-loving Arabs and Muslims. He neglected to mention that the invasion of Afghanistan was undertaken because of 9/11. And Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was invaded because it didn’t account for weapons of mass destruction and had ties to terrorist groups.

The segment with Ibrahim, who became a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations after his career at the Times, was “balanced” with Robin Wright of the Washington Post. Is this is what passes for “fair and balanced” on MSNBC?two liberals from the press? Does Kaplan see this as the key to ratings success? Peter Johnson of USA Today notes that, under Kaplan, CNN’s ratings dropped 23 percent.

But Norville, who also hosts the tabloid TV show Inside Edition, has praised Kaplan as the new boss of MSNBC. She thinks he’s innovative. They apparently think they will attract attention and ratings by making America look bad. This may work with an Arab audience. But it’s doubtful that many Americans will tune in. Yet, Television Week reports that Kaplan has pinned his hopes for a ratings boost on “the heat being generated in Iraq and in U.S. politics.”

Burning with invective against the Bush administration and even the media, Ibrahim went on to complain that CBS had “sat on” the prisoner-abuse photos for two weeks because of a request from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Richard B. Myers. “I don’t think the CBS of Walter Cronkite would have done anything like that,” he said.

Cronkite, of course, turned against victory in Vietnam, helping to set the stage for the American defeat there. So when Ibrahim accuses the U.S. media of not getting the abuse photos on the air fast enough, he’s implying that the media should accelerate calls for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

CBS delayed airing the photos because Myers was concerned that they would endanger American lives in Iraq and elsewhere. No one seriously disputes that media exploitation of the photos will do just that. But it wasn’t just Ibrahim who was provocative and inflammatory. Although he was on the show to provide Arab reaction to the photos, Norville herself read accusations from major Arab papers. One of them, she said, concerned, “The democracy of the American empire of evil and prostitution: mass rapes by U.S. occupation soldiers of Iraqi women under the threat of arms.”

Did Norville even consider pointing out that the Arab media are making false charges? Did she consider that she was adding to the hysteria by reading such propaganda on the air? She could have pointed out that none of what has been captured in the photos compares with what Saddam Hussein?or most Arab governments and Islamic terrorists?are guilty of.

The frenzied and hysterical day-to-day coverage of this “scandal” reflects a media desire for ratings and profits. It also reflects the anti-Bush agenda of many in the media. Kaplan, a former Bill Clinton associate and apologist, qualifies as a liberal partisan who will not be satisfied until Bush is out of the White House. He is apparently prepared to accept an American defeat in Iraq as part of the bargain.

Kaplan may wish to consider moving to the liberal radio network Air America, which has already lost three of its top executives after a disastrous debut. He couldn’t do much more damage there.

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