Accuracy in Media

By Scott Malensek

The 9/11 Commission report tells us in detail that the terrorist attacks on America on 9/11 were set in motion in December 1998. They report that interrogations of the plot’s mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, demonstrate that the plot was set in motion in “late 98 early 99” at a meeting in Khandahar, Afghanistan. This also happens to be the time period that Iraq came under bombardment by the United States. The timing is no accident.

The commission reported that the only time Osama bin Laden was in Khandahar during the time period of “late 98 early 99” was between December 18 and December 24, 1998, after he gave an interview to ABC News in which he declared that “To seek to possess the weapons that could counter those of the infidels is a religious duty. If I have indeed acquired these weapons, then this is an obligation I carried out and I thank God for enabling us to do that. And if I seek to acquire these weapons I am carrying out a duty. It would be a sin for Muslims not to try to possess the weapons that would prevent the infidels from inflicting harm on Muslims.”

The Timing

Reports from multiple sources indicate that immediately after his press conference and interview, bin Laden left Khandahar and he didn’t reappear until February 1999 when another capture/kill attempt was debated and missed. 

Why was the 9/11 plot set in motion at that time? Bin Laden had been bombing Americans at hotels and embassies with increasingly large attacks since 1992. Khalid Sheik Mohammed’s plan of hijacking planes and flying them into buildings had been developed before 1995 and known to bin Laden since 1996. So what made him suddenly take that leap to authorizing an attack on the scale and complexity of 9/11?

We must recall that in December of 1998, the United States was being politically torn apart by an impeachment of its President. The U.S. was involved militarily in the Balkans as well as Iraq. The United States had come to blows with Iraq over Saddam’s refusal to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors. 

In early December of 1998, the threat from Al Qaeda seemed no more-or less-than usual, and when President Clinton was given his December 4, 1998, Presidential Daily Brief with the CIA article titled, “Bin Laden Preparing to Hijack US Aircraft and Other Attacks,” the threat was concerning, but not unusually so. 

The Plot

Something changed on December 17, 1998. All of a sudden Counter-Terrorism Czar Richard Clarke, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, and CIA Director George Tenet held an emergency meeting to discuss a new terrorist threat. On December 16, 1998, the United States had begun bombing Iraq with Operation Desert Fox. Sometime between the 17th and 18th, al Qaeda’s strategic planner and number two man, Dr. Ayman Al Zawahiri, issued a proclamation: “?we openly and loudly declare that we will retaliate for what is happening to the sons of our nations in Iraq, since the crimes committed by the United States against our Islamic nation will not go unpunished.”

Was this just another militant Islamic threat that got America’s counter-terrorism leaders to hold an emergency meeting or was it something larger? Hindsight is 20-20, and today we know that the 9/11 plot was being set in motion. Al Qaeda had vowed to retaliate against the United States if the United States bombed Iraq, and when Iraq was in fact bombed, the 9/11 plot was set in motion sometime within the next 150 hours.

According to numerous U.S. media sources, including ABC News, Time, Newsweek, and The Guardian, the threat of Al Qaeda retaliation upon the U.S. was more than sympathy. It was cooperation. All four reported that on or about December 21, 1998, (right in the middle of the 150-hour period when the plot was apparently set in motion) Iraq asked bin Laden to move his headquarters to Iraq.  The 9/11 Commission confirms this as well. Those same four media sources also declared that in the days when the 9/11 plot was set in motion, Iraq and bin Laden had decided to work together.

The Guardian reported, “Saddam Hussein’s regime has opened talks with Osama bin Laden, bringing closer the threat of a terrorist attack using chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, according to U.S. intelligence sources and Iraqi opposition officials. The key meeting took place in the Afghan mountains near Khandahar in late December. The Iraqi delegation was led by Farouk Hijazi, Baghdad’s ambassador in Turkey and one of Saddam’s most powerful secret policemen, who is thought to have offered Bin Laden asylum in Iraq.”

Hijazi was reported to have traveled through five American aircraft carrier battle groups, thousands of American aircraft, through Pakistan, and into the winter mountains of Khandahar, Afghanistan on December 21, 1998, and he was described by the Italian newspaper, The Corriere della Sera, as “?the person who has been responsible for nurturing Iraq’s ties with the fundamentalist warriors since 1994.” 

In February 1999, An Arab intelligence officer who knew Saddam Hussein personally predicted in Newsweek: “Very soon you will be witnessing large-scale terrorist activity run by the Iraqis.”

At the same time, Saddam himself?long described as too secular to work with Islamic radicals?called for Islamic Militants to fight on his behalf: “Oh sons of Arabs and the Arab Gulf, rebel against the foreigner…Take revenge for your dignity, holy places, security, interests and exalted values.”

A Time magazine cover story entitled “The Hunt for Osama” quoted a U.S. official as saying, “We have evidence that bin Laden may be planning his boldest move yet?a strike on Washington or possibly New York City in an eye-for-an-eye retaliation.” A State Department aide said, “We’ve hit his headquarters, now he hits ours.”

ABC News did the most extensive piece on the Iraq/bin Laden meeting, with correspondent Sheila MacVicar going into detail about the cooperation between Saddam and bin Laden.

The conclusion is inescapable that the 9/11 plot was set in motion, at the very least, in retaliation for America’s war on Saddam, and likely at the direct urging of Saddam via Iraq’s Faruq Hijazi. If the reports of the day are any indication, the deal was made in exchange for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. 

States sponsor terrorism as a means of deniable attack, and since Saddam and bin Laden both had vested interests in attacking the U.S. as well as maintaining deniability, it’s likely these killers would lie about it as well. Similarly, terrorists and spies alike compartmentalize compromising information, and so the 9/11 attackers likely never knew about Saddam and bin Laden’s private deal?even Khalid Sheik Mohammed probably didn’t know about Hijazi’s meeting with bin Laden at the time the plot was set in motion. But thanks to our own mass media, we know. All that we had to do was “connect the dots.”


With the media raising a hue and cry about an Arab state-owned company managing terminals at some U.S. ports, AIM urged a congressional inquiry into how powerful Arab financial interests are buying into major U.S. media companies.

It was fascinating to note that far less attention was devoted to Istithmar, a private investment company based in the United Arab Emirates, the same country involved in the ports controversy, acquiring a stake in the U.S.-based media conglomerate Time Warner. One was lucky to find a story about this significant development in the business pages.

In a statement, AIM editor Cliff Kincaid went beyond the UAE’s financial influence in the Western corporate world and noted that “Shares in Time Warner (parent of CNN) and News Corporation (parent of Fox News) are being sold to powerful Arab investors without any national controversy.”

“But with the media being a critical battlefield in the war on terror,” he went on, “Arab financial ties to Western news organizations must be thoroughly examined.”

The Fox Connection

Controversial Saudi Prince al-Waleed Bin Talal, one of the world’s richest people, has invested in both Time Warner and News Corporation. At an Arab media conference in December, held in the UAE, al-Waleed openly boasted of altering Fox News Channel’s coverage of the Muslim riots in France by making a telephone call to News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch. He said he convinced Fox to drop the emphasis on the Muslim nature of the rioters.

As AIM has disclosed, prominent members of the U.S. media scheduled to attend the Arab media conference in Dubai were from the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, CBS News, USA Today, the Public Broadcasting Service, Bloomberg News, and Time magazine.

“Perhaps this helps explain why Arab influence over the U.S. media is a story that doesn’t see the light of day,” Kincaid said in the AIM statement.

AIM had previously reported on the Dubai media conference, sponsored by the Saudi-financed Arab Thought Foundation. Wes Vernon, who wrote our AIM Report on this matter, had tried to find out why so many Big Media personalities were attending and what they were supposed to get out of it. We pursued this issue separately, asking USA Today editor Ken Paulson about Barbara Slavin attending the conference on behalf of USA Today. She produced only one story, which was about the son of the slain former Lebanese Prime Minister.

The Arab Media Conference

Carol Stevens of USA Today responded, telling AIM that Slavin was invited to be on a panel “that we felt was appropriate and we paid her expenses.” That included travel, hotel, etc. Stevens said the paper was “comfortable” with the sponsors of the conference, including the bin Laden family of Saudi Arabia. 

AIM once thanked Slavin for setting the record straight about one particular odious aspect of Arab propaganda?the Libyan claim that Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s “adopted daughter” was killed during a bombing raid ordered by President Reagan. We had always maintained that the story was a hoax, concocted to generate sympathy for Gadhafi. We noted evidence that the girl was said by the Libyan propaganda machine to be Gadhafi’s “adopted daughter,” although her age kept changing, depending on the account of her death, and Gadhafi wasn’t even known to have a daughter, adopted or otherwise. Slavin, who was in Libya after the bombing raid, confirmed that the story was indeed fabricated and that the girl killed in the bombing raid was not Gadhafi’s.

At a Capitol Hill forum on human rights in Libya, where she discussed the Libyan propaganda claim, Slavin also disclosed that, in exchange for newsworthy comments from Gadhafi, some female reporters went to bed with him. “There were some female journalists who succumbed to his charms in hopes of getting interviews and great access,” she said. Slavin, who interviewed Gadhafi several times, also made some comments on Gadhafi’s unstable mental condition.

She later backed away from these comments, which was always mystifying to us. But her attendance at the Arab media conference in Dubai suggests why she would back away from statements such as those. They might make it harder for her to get interviews with other Arab or Muslim leaders. 

Slavin’s modus operandi became apparent when she recently obtained an exclusive interview with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, “the first with a U.S. newspaper since he took office last August.” There was nothing new in the interview, however, and the questions were obsequious. They included: “Why do you say the things you do about Israel and the Holocaust when it only upsets people and further isolates Iran?” And “I have met several of your childhood friends and they say you were a nice and studious kid and played soccer in a special way. But none of them voted for you. Why?”

Slavin should have asked him about reports that he has had mystical experiences, including being enveloped in a bright light, and that he believes that he is destined to bring about the end of the world, possibly through the use of Iranian nuclear weapons. But such provocative questions might not get Slavin invited back to Tehran or other Arab/Muslim capitals for exclusive interviews.  

The desire to curry favor with the Arabs and Muslims?and their governments?also helps to explain why most of the “mainstream media” have not published the cartoons of Muhammad that have led to riots, violence and death throughout the Middle East. Another factor, of course, is fear. Our media will exercise their First Amendment rights but not if they are afraid of the consequences.

The Terror Factor

Telling the truth can be dangerous. In two stories about the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections, Slavin did not once use the word “terrorist” to describe the group. One referred to them as “Islamic fundamentalists.” The other called them “Islamic fundamentalists” who were “responsible for numerous suicide bombings.”

Telling the truth about terrorist groups can indeed get reporters into trouble?or worse. It’s easier to go to media conferences in Dubai, where contacts with the Arab elite can be made. One has to think that these contacts played a role in Slavin getting her Ahmadinejad interview.


When hotdog reporters like Geraldo Rivera were airing near-hysterical reports from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit, they were heralded as heroic journalists who had rediscovered what it meant to be on top of a story. Their sensationalism and outrage were excused as a natural outgrowth of finding people in desperate straits who were not being assisted by federal authorities. Now a congressional report confirms that the media were part of the problem, not the solution.

At the time, in response to calls for a federal probe of the governmental response to Katrina, AIM raised questions about the media response, noting that many journalists became self-righteous in their exploitation of the hurricane aftermath. AIM said that any proposed investigation should take a hard look at how the media possibly made the situation worse through exaggerated and sensationalized coverage.

On NBC’s Meet the Press, host Tim Russert had permitted Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard to tearfully accuse the federal government of murder in the case of an employee’s mother’s death at St. Rita’s Nursing home. Broussard claimed the federal government refused to save her day after day after day. It was powerful television. But he was all wet.

The employee himself said that Broussard was wrong, that Broussard was confused about the day when the mother died. What’s more, it wasn’t the fault of the federal government. It was the fault of local officials and the nursing home owners, who were subsequently indicted for failing to get the people out. 

Now, a new congressional report, “A Failure of Initiative,” confirms the shoddy media performance. It says that “hysterical and uncontrolled media images” prevented assistance from getting to the people that needed it.

You’ve probably heard that the study found a “failure of initiative” in the governmental response to Hurricane Katrina. But odds are you didn’t hear that the report examined and documented how “erroneous or exaggerated” reporting got in the way of the government doing its job. 

Our media, you see, like to point fingers at others. They don’t want to be held accountable for their own mistakes.

Produced by a bipartisan select committee of Congress, the study declared, “Throughout the early days of the response, media reports from New Orleans featured rampant looting, gunfire, crime, and lawlessness, including murders and alleged sexual assaults at the Superdome and Convention Center. Few of these reports were substantiated, and those that were?such as the gunfire?were later understood to be actually coming from individuals trapped and trying to attract the attention of rescuers in the helicopters.”

The report explained, “Officials on the ground in New Orleans interviewed by Select Committee staff stated the media greatly exaggerated reports of crime and lawlessness and that the reports from the Convention Center and Superdome were generally unsubstantiated.”

The report said that the “erroneous or exaggerated” reporting “created anxiety and fear among those sheltering at the Superdome and Convention Center, delayed some critical elements of the response effort, and discouraged some residents in drug neighborhoods from evacuating the city.”

Going into some detail, it said that the hyped media coverage of violence and lawlessness “served to delay relief efforts by scaring away truck and bus drivers, increasing the anxiety of those in shelters, and generally increasing the resources needed for security.”

Lieutenant General Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, is quoted as saying that the media reports “prevented truck divers coming in with the most needed supplies, water, food, ice, shelter, medicine. They were afraid to come in. They had to be escorted in by National Guard convoys, which took other manpower away from the relief efforts to go help get the commercial truckers that the civilian organizations had contracted to come in and help the people. They delayed the exact commodities from getting to the people that they were complaining weren’t getting the commodities.”

Most of our media were too busy to report on this analysis of their shoddy performance. They were desperately trying to inflate the Dick Cheney hunting accident into a national scandal.

What You Can Do

Send the enclosed cards or cards and letters of your own choosing to David Gregory of NBC News, and White House chief of staff Andrew Card. Also, order a copy of AIM’s powerful new version of its award-winning documentary, “Confronting Iraq: Conflict and Hope.”

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Join us by donating to AIM today.


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