Accuracy in Media

“Pentagon Caught Spying” and “Pentagon Spies on Anti-War Groups” were typical headlines when the media reported on a Pentagon document about monitoring threats to U.S. military personnel and U.S. military installations. We were told that peaceful Quakers were among the targets, but the documents showed the Defense Department was mainly concerned about violent threats, “direct action,” and civil disobedience outside military offices and facilities. The misleading headlines were designed to scare the public into thinking that Joe McCarthy was on the loose, searching for Reds under the beds. It’s time for the American people to understand that the Reds are not under the beds. They are in the streets and on TV. And they are in bed with Al Qaeda.

The New York Times has now disclosed classified information about a U.S. program to monitor Al Qaeda on American soil. If President Bush had had this program in place before 9/11, the U.S. Government might have discovered that Al Qaeda had been planning the anthrax attacks and carried them out. That’s where the available evidence leads.

In a related matter, a real outrage and abuse of power―the persecution of former government scientist Steven Hatfill in the anthrax case―continues to be largely ignored by our media. In this case, however, the New York Times took a stand against civil liberties, working hand-in-glove with the federal government to destroy an innocent man’s reputation and career.   

Even the media should recognize that the 9/11 attacks demonstrated that America has real enemies. They are active here and abroad. The challenge is to identify and defeat the enemy without violating the constitutional rights of the rest of us.

Reporters, however, seem not to recognize the danger posed by the enemy and the need for the federal government, which is charged with national defense, to protect us. As we have documented in several AIM Reports, journalists consistently ignore evidence that prominent “anti-war” groups have ties to hostile regimes such as North Korea and the former Saddam Hussein dictatorship. I have personally covered these protests and have posted photos of the many communist and socialist groups which not only show up in the streets but actually organize these events. Almost without exception, however, spokesmen for these groups, such as the communist Workers World Party, surface in the media as being associated with supposedly harmless front groups like International ANSWER. Their influence was noted in a statement buried in a recent Washington Post story about how pro-terrorist Muslims in Iraq enjoy watching anti-war protests in America on satellite television. That gives them the motivation to hate and kill more Americans.

What America could use is a congressional committee to examine the domestic activities that cross the line into treason. Majority Leader Senator Bill Frist should take the lead and create a new Senate Internal Security Committee. This may be the only way to fully document foreign and terrorist involvement in anti-war activity and produce a report that stands any chance of getting the facts before the American people. Of course, it can be expected that the media will fight creation of such a committee on the grounds that conducting congressional investigations, holding hearings and producing reports will somehow threaten civil liberties.

Our media might be taken more seriously in making such a claim if they addressed a real-life example of someone whose civil liberties and privacy were violated by the government and the press. 

That someone is Hatfill, who was falsely accused by the government of being somehow involved in the post-9/11 anthrax murders. Actually, Hatfill was never formally accused or charged. He was simply labeled a “person of interest,” his life was made into a media circus, and the government and the media made life miserable for him, his associates and friends. He lost two jobs and his career was ruined. No evidence was ever produced against him because none ever existed. He became a scapegoat for the FBI’s failure to solve the case.

The New York Times played a critical role in getting the government to go after him.

Operating on the basis of a conspiracy theory apparently fed to him by a left-wing activist, Times columnist Nicholas Kristof conducted a high-profile campaign against Hatfill, encouraging the FBI to go after him because of questions about his resum? or background. At first, Kristof smeared Hatfill as a mysterious “Mr. Z” but everybody knew who and what he was writing about.

With his background in scientific and biowarfare research, Hatfill should have been playing a key role in the response to global terrorism but he came under attack and eventually had to sue the government and the Times (and other news organizations) to get his life and reputation back.

Fortunately, there is no federal media “shield law” in effect at the current time that can help the media protect the identity of their anonymous sources in government who orchestrated the Hatfill smear.

Except for occasional stories here and there about new developments in the legal case, our liberal media do not highlight what happened to Hatfill as a major abuse of government power. One reason for general media indifference may be that the Times, still considered by some a reputable paper, led the assault against him. It may also be the case that Hatfill isn’t the ACLU’s kind of client. He is a patriot who believes in fighting the war on terrorism. The ACLU and the media tend to go to the defense of those with a left-wing or anti-American bent. 

If our media want us to believe they truly support civil liberties, they should take a fresh look at the Hatfill case and press for its resolution. The proper response for the Times is to admit that Kristof was wrong and to apologize and settle the matter. That’s what an honest newspaper would do. It should also tell us what safeguards will be put into place to make sure the paper never assists in destroying the life of another innocent man.

As for the government, if Bush is sincere about assuring the public that his administration will not abuse governmental power, he should tell his administration to immediately settle the case. It has already dragged on far too long. It is a disgrace and black mark on this administration. 

The only way the Times and the government can begin to pay for their outrageous treatment of Hatfill is to pay millions of dollars in damages. Then Hatfill can use some of the money to advise others on how to hold the government and the media accountable.

More so than government, the press needs to learn a hard lesson about protecting civil liberties. But don’t look for a front-page story in the Times about that.

Ready to fight back against media bias?
Join us by donating to AIM today.


Comments are turned off for this article.