Accuracy in Media

The redaction of pages in the congressional 9/11 report got a lot of attention in the press. But almost no attention was given to the statement in the report that the case of the anthrax murders remains unsolved, and that investigators have failed to tie the anthrax attacks to the 9/11 terrorists. The FBI, of course, has been trying to pin the attacks on a former government scientist, Dr. Steven Hatfill, and had been banking on the discovery of anthrax from a pond that Hatfill supposedly visited to package the deadly anthrax letters.

The Washington Post has now disclosed the results of the FBI’s expensive $250,000 project to examine and drain the pond. It reported, “Lab tests of soil samples taken from a Frederick pond that the FBI drained in June have shown no traces of anthrax bacteria?” The investigation did turn up a gun, a bicycle, and fishing lures. The Post noted that last December, divers found a plastic box with two holes that “resembled a glove box used to safely handle chemicals.” That led to the search of the pond itself. But the “plastic box” has never been shown to the press, and some observers believe it is probably a minnow bucket or turtle trap.

Even before the latest embarrassment, columnist Dan K. Thomasson had written that the FBI’s handling of the case “has to be the most incredible display of bizarre ineptness since former FBI director Louis Freeh took personal charge of the investigation to nail Richard Jewell for the bombing in Atlanta’s Olympic Park.” Of course Jewell, we all now know, wasn’t guilty of anything except some genuine heroism that saved lives.

George Stephanopoulos, host of ABC’s This Week program, confronted Attorney General John Ashcroft with the story of the pond search turning up nothing. Stephanopoulos, who noted that Hatfill has been under surveillance, said that Hatfill’s lawyer, Thomas Connolly, had been quoted by the Post as saying, “Dr. Hatfill had no involvement in the anthrax attack. It is now time for those law enforcement officials who have orchestrated a campaign of smears to do the honorable thing and issue an apology to Dr. Hatfill and an apology to the taxpayers for spending a quarter-million dollars on a wild goose chase.” Ashcroft denied being behind any campaign of smears, even though he, Ashcroft, had publicly labeled Hatfill a “person of interest” in the case. With a straight face, Ashcroft insisted to Stephanopoulos that the department would eventually get to the bottom of it.

The media have had a fit over the fact that U.S. officials have not found weapons of mass destruction in just a few months since the end of major hostilities in the Iraq war. And yet the FBI is still running into dead ends in the anthrax investigation more than a year and a half after the attacks took place. Still, FBI director Robert Mueller was the subject of a highly flattering profile in U.S. News & World Report.

This is incompetence that leaves the U.S. vulnerable. The media recently noted that Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is threatening more attacks on America. Many papers failed to note that he was in charge of al Qaeda’s biological weapons program.




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