Accuracy in Media

By Wes Vernon

A wall of silence by most of the national mainstream media has obscured a Cultural War victory over the forces of “political correctness.”

The winners in this David vs. Goliath story are families of 9/11 victims and the heroes and survivors of the police and firefighters who responded to the call after the terrorist planes struck the World Trade Center Towers.

The losers are New York City’s powerful liberal establishment?led by the New York Times?and also some people with an inside track to the Bush White House.  Beyond New York City, the national media largely ignored the controversy and treated it as a local story, even though it involved tax-payers nationwide.

The public part of the story that raged all summer in a campaign by the 9/11 families and first responders was settled in their favor on September 28. On that date, New York’s Governor George Pataki ousted a museum that had planned a “politically correct” exhibit at Ground Zero?the site of the Twin Towers. The planners hoped to tie 9/11 to historical issues that have nothing whatever to do with the memory of the nearly 3,000 Americans who died on the day of the most barbaric foreign attack on the Continental United States in nearly two centuries.

Two museums were originally selected as part of a proposed arts complex on the World Trade Center site. One was the International Freedom Center (IFC), whose CEO is Hollywood moneyman and New York real estate baron Tom Bernstein?an old Yale classmate of  and later a major fundraiser for President George W. Bush. He also heads Human Rights First, which has opposed the administration for “prisoner abuse” and detaining enemy combatants (many of them with terrorist records) at Guantanamo Bay.

Looking at the list of officials of the IFC and other groups involved in its efforts at Ground Zero, one finds many links to the richest foundations, corporations, white-shoe law firms, labor organizations, academia, entertainment, the news media, and prestigious groups such as the Council on Foreign Relations.

The other was the Drawing Center which, according to a July 4 Washington Post story, had recently installed the image of a hooded detainee at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and linked President Bush to Osama bin Laden. (Following the protest by the 9/11 families, this organization “pulled out of the deal,” declaring it would not be “censored.”)

A visitor looking for the 50,000 square foot memorial to the dead and heroes of 9/11 would have had to traipse through 300,000 square feet of tutorials on Jim Crow and lynching in the Old South, slavery, and Native American genocide. Those experiences would be lumped together with Adolph Hitler’s holocaust and Joseph Stalin’s gulags. 

It should come as no surprise that billionaire leftist George Soros was providing much of the money to fuel the tank of this slap in the face of the survivors of the victims of the terror attack on America.

Federal Money

But he was not alone. You too were expected to help foot the bill. Federal money was involved. That attracted the attention of New York Congressmen Peter King, John Sweeney, and Vito Fosella, who called for a congressional investigation. Ultimately, the project was opposed by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose 2006 re-election campaign did not need organized opposition from 9/11 families and police and firefighters unions.

Pataki’s eviction notice to the IFC was the end result of a bitter public four-month-old battle that began on June 7 when Debra Burlingame (sister of pilot “Chic” Burlingame whose plane was hijacked by terrorists and crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11) blew the whistle in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece. 

The New York Times led a sustained editorial campaign against Burlingame and her group, calling them “un-American” and charging they had “a political ax to grind” and wanted to “censor” the exhibits of 9/11, even though critics noted those other issues could be addressed in many available venues: just not at Ground Zero. They believed that to mix the memorial with “political correctness” was akin to graveyard desecration.

Since the Times twice attacked Burlingame by name, she asked for an opportunity to reply. Editorial Page Editor Gail Collins would not take her call or express interest in granting her op-ed space.

The day after Burlingame’s original Wall Street Journal article appeared, an administration official in Washington was asked for the White House view. The official quickly redirected the conversation to general praise for the heroes of 9/11.

Outside of the New York area, there was very little media mention of the controversial plans afoot at Ground Zero.

The Washington Post ran two stories of its own plus an AP story reporting Governor Pataki’s decision against the IFC.

In response to an AIM inquiry, CBS reported there were no stories at all regarding the Ground Zero controversy on the “CBS Evening News” in the relevant time period (June 7-October 11). NBC said with “apologies” that it was unable to fulfill our request for the number of mentions of the story on its “NBC Nightly News.” As for the “ABC World News Tonight,” that network ignored us altogether.

The Wall Street Journal?two days after the Burlingame op-ed?ran a reply by its former assistant publisher Richard Tofel, also President and COO of the IFC.

Burlingame later told the Journal that one of several “political players in Washington” who tried to persuade her to drop her opposition to the IFC was John Bridgeland, a former director of the Bush White House Domestic Policy Council.

She told AIM that in their conversation, she kept trying to get Bridgeland to focus on the political correctness concept. “He resisted mightily,” Burlingame said.

In a letter to the editor of the Journal, Bridgeland said he had reviewed IFC plans and rejected the charge that they were of the “Blame America First” mentality. He did not get any more specific than that.

Our core question is: Should this story have been national news? For the moment, let us hypothesize that in the forties, powerful groups had planned a taxpayer-subsidized memorial in Hawaii that dishonored or slighted the memory of the dead at Pearl Harbor. Would the media have treated it strictly as a Honolulu story in the same manner they decided Ground Zero was merely a New York story?

Wes Vernon is a Washington-based writer & broadcast journalist.


Senator Hillary Clinton and other Democrats charged that the Bush Administration created “fake news” and paid journalists to trick the American people into accepting government policies. News organizations such as the New York Times treated this as a major scandal. But Accuracy in Media (AIM) has discovered through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that some of the most prominent “fake news” broadcasts have been designed by the government over the years to promote science to children and educate the public about environmental issues. Other government-produced “news” has highlighted the value of programs such as Americorps, the National Senior Service Corps, and Learn and Serve America, which are designed to encourage charitable and community service activities by the American people.

Will the liberal media find fault with any of this? 

The results of our FOIA requests also show that major U.S. news organizations, including the CBS Evening News, CNN, and USA Today, have benefited from government-run public relations campaigns. 

The term “fake news” was cooked up by liberal opponents of the Bush Administration to suggest that federal payments to journalists, news organizations and public relations firms were unique to this administration and that the federal government was covertly planting stories, articles and columns in an effort to influence the public in favor of conservative policies. The liberal media seized on revelations that conservative commentators and columnists Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher were discovered to have accepted federal funds to promote or work on Bush Administration social policies on education and marriage. But it was also suggested by Senator Clinton and others that the administration was unique in packaging “fake news” in the form of Video News Releases (VNRs) by government agencies.

However, information obtained by AIM shows that VNRs and even radio news releases (RNRs) have been used by many different government agencies for different purposes. For example, through our FOIA, AIM obtained VNRs from the federal government, spanning the time period 1993-2003 and extending from the Clinton Administration into the Bush Administration, which focused on wetlands projects and associated environmental issues. These VNRs used on-air “reporters” who were identified as government employees. 

AIM discovered that The National Science Foundation produced a 1999-2000 cooperative agreement with ABC, Inc. worth $1.5 million to produce and promote print and broadcast materials supporting the NSF’s “Find Out Why” theme emphasizing increasing awareness of the benefits of “continuous science and engineering research and education to the nation.” The target audience was children. The theme was said to help the U.S. to develop a “science-literate” populace that can more able meet the challenges of the 21st century. The agreement allowed Walt Disney Television Animation, Discover Magazine and other affiliated companies to be involved. ABC was to produce nine 90-second segments to be aired for a year, Saturday mornings on the ABC Television Network. They also were to write a letter of endorsement to all ABC affiliates and the Disney Channel for suggested airing during “family programming.”

The Corporation for National & Community Service produced the following:

  • A 1999 contract in the amount of $1 million with options not to exceed $6,105,100, with Greer, Margolis, Mitchell, Burns and Assoc. for marketing strategies and support services including the production of Video News Releases. Purpose: to increase public awareness of Corporation programs which include Americorps, National Senior Service Corps, and Learn and Serve America.

  • A 2002 contract with News Broadcast Network to produce a $25,000 VNR on Americorps at the Salt Lake City Olympics.

A contract between the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) and TVN Communications was in the amount of $647,350 and included six Video News Releases on canine detection teams, air marshals, the federalization of the airports, consumer education packing tips for Christmas, port security, and cargo.

In total, AIM filed FOIA requests to more than 150 executive branch offices to find out how much money they have paid to journalists, news organizations, and public relations firms, and to whom and for what those funds were paid. The FOIA requests covered the period from 1990 to the present. Our then Associate Editor, Sherrie Gossett, did most of the examination of the thousands of pages of documents we received. Material is still coming in.

The U.S. Civil Rights Commission produced various contracts and project details, including:

  • A 2003 contract worth $95,000 with the Public Relations firm McKinney & McDowell (which now operates as McKinney & Associates), for “media services.”

  • The volume of media requests for interviews with Commission Chair Mary Frances Berry were “beyond her capacity to accommodate” so the firm notes it also coordinated interviews with other staff members: “This included an interview request from the Randi Rhodes Show…” The firm noted “the importance of interviews to propel and frame the Commission’s message cannot be underestimated.” Coordinated interviews included those with CBS Evening News with Dan Rather, National Public Radio, Associated Press, CNN News, and Inside Politics with Judy Woodruff and Bernard Shaw. The firm also facilitated an interview with USA Today editorial writer Richard Whitmire which resulted in an editorial. The firm also arranged for a liveC-SPAN feed.

As it turned out, this story was more complicated. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation, as reported by the Washington Times, showed that the U.S. Civil Rights Commission paid $135,000 to McKinney & Associates to help publicize various reports that were mainly critical of Republicans. For example, one report accused the New York Police Department under Mayor Rudy Giuliani of racial profiling. Another was highly critical of Florida state Republicans, charging that voting problems in Florida in 2000 “fell most harshly on the shoulders of African-Americans.” It recommended suing numerous state officials. Mindy Barry, oversight counsel for the House Judiciary subcommittee that looked into this expenditure, called it “absolutely an unauthorized expenditure,” saying the commission misrepresented the work McKinney was doing. Abigail Thernstrom, a Republican on the commission, said that there was more than one view expressed by members of the commission, but hers was not widely publicized because only expenditures supporting the views of Mary Frances Berry were authorized.

It is clear that the federal government and its departments and agencies have been actively spending money to promote certain goals and policies through a variety of means. Some of these information campaigns may be useful; indeed, news organizations themselves benefit from them. But the danger comes when such efforts are perceived to be political and even partisan. Whatever the case, there is no evidence that such practices are unique to the Bush Administration.


Judith Miller of the New York Times was the star witness at an October 19 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on a proposed federal media shield law. The hearing was orchestrated with selected witnesses in order to pave the way for the Senate to pass a bill giving special rights to journalists to conceal their sources.

The first hearing, held on July 20 and also arranged by Senator Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was stacked 9-1 in favor of proponents of the bill. Accuracy in Media was told we could not submit testimony in opposition to the legislation. AIM was contacted about appearing at the October 19 hearing but was eventually told that Democratic staffers on the committee objected to having a conservative media watchdog organization providing testimony in person.

The performance of the press was even worse than that of the Specter committee. Liberal media bias is a fact of life. But when the issue involves the business of journalism, the bias gets so bad as to be deliberately dishonest.

Consider the slanted coverage of the July 20 Senate hearing. Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz wrote a story about the hearing that waited until the ninth paragraph to disclose that the Washington Post was one of the “news giants” supporting the bill. The Kurtz story was better than most, since he at least mentioned how his employer backed the shield law. We examined stories from CNN, CBS News, the New York Times and other outlets and found no reference to how these news organizations were all lobbying for passage of the legislative initiative.

The backers include some of the most powerful names in the news business. In addition to those named above, they include News Corporation, Newsweek, Time Inc., the Tribune Co., NBC Universal, and ABC Inc.

Another problem with the coverage has been the failure to examine in detail the proposal’s major flaws. In his next to the last paragraph of his story, Kurtz noted that then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey’s written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee said the shield law measure, as originally drafted, “would cover criminal or terrorist organizations that also have media operations, including many foreign terrorist organizations, such as al Qaeda.”

The shield law was originally proposed by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) as the “Free Flow of Information Act of 2005,” or, as AIM has called it, the Special Rights for Journalists Act. On July 18, just two days before the Senate hearing, Pence introduced a revised version because the original had received such marked criticism from the Department of Justice.

Supporters of the bill say that 31 states have shield laws of their own and the result has not been disaster. But none of the states has to deal with classified information in the same manner as the federal government, nor are they charged with protecting the country as a whole.

The revised act notes that a “covered person” includes “a parent, subsidiary or affiliate of such a [newsgathering] entity. If a newspaper publishes through a subsidiary and a subpoena is directed to the parent company, for example, the parent company should be covered.”

This would not only cover an Al-Qaeda media operation, it would cover the pro-terrorist media group Al-Jazeera, which is now expanding its operations into the U.S.

Indeed, at the October 19 hearing, Chuck Rosenberg, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Texas on behalf of the United States Department of Justice, testified that the broad definition of “covered person” in the proposed statute “encompasses foreign media and foreign news agencies (including government-owned and -operated news agencies), some of which are hostile to the United States and some of which can, and have, acted in support of foreign terrorist organizations..” He noted that a reporter of the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera “was recently convicted in Spain for acting as a financial courier for Al-Qaeda.”

What You Can Do

Send the enclosed cards or cards and letters of your own choosing to Senators Arlen Specter and Ben Nelson. Also, order our special report on the Joseph Wilson controversy.

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