Accuracy in Media

Bob Schieffer is described by CBS News as “broadcast journalism’s most experienced Washington reporter.” So why can’t he get his facts straight? His September 13 “Free Speech” segment on the CBS Evening News accused President Bush of operating CIA “secret prisons” when no evidence of them has been produced by anyone. What President Bush has acknowledged is that the CIA held them in its “custody.”

Ironically, Schieffer, in an interview with Katie Couric the night of President Bush’s speech on the issue, acknowledged that the President never used the term “prison” in talking about where these terrorists, including the architects of 9/11, were held. So where did the term come from?

The term “secret prisons” came from the pen of Dana Priest of the Washington Post, the leftist scribe who exaggerated the nature of the secret CIA program in order to win a Pulitzer Prize. She even compared the “secret prisons” to Soviet gulags. The ploy worked; she got her prize. But so did Janet Cooke, who wrote a Post story about a child heroin addict who didn’t exist.

A more accurate description of where they were held would be secret “sites.” That’s the term Matt Lauer used when he interviewed Bush. Perhaps they could be termed “detention” facilities of some kind. Clearly, the terrorists were held somewhere. But “prisons” is a loaded term that implies something like an Alcatraz or Sing-Sing, with guards and towers and hundreds of inmates. There’s no evidence of that. In fact, only a few terrorists were ever held at any one point by the CIA.

Schieffer, CBS News’ Chief Washington Correspondent and anchor and moderator of Face The Nation, said he had no sympathy for the 9/11 ringleaders but that he was glad that Bush “took them out of those secret CIA prisons.” He added, “For me, it’s a matter of national security-ours. Democracies have no business running secret prisons. That’s what our enemies do.”

No, our enemies cut peoples’ heads off.

For us, it’s a matter of factual journalism. Despite what you may have read or heard, Bush himself never acknowledged keeping those terrorists in “prisons.” Schieffer undoubtedly borrowed that term from false Associated Press or other accounts of what was said to be in the Bush speech on the topic but which actually wasn’t.

This is an old story for AIM. We have repeatedly noted the complete lack of evidence that any terrorists were ever held in “secret prisons.” But almost nobody in the media wants to get the story right.

Schieffer continued: “If we are in a battle for the hearts and minds of people around the world, as the administration says we are, I won’t feel very secure if the people around the world believe we are no different than our enemies.”

How can we win the battle for the hearts and minds of people around the world when we are saddled with a media that exaggerate the nature of a secret program in order to make the U.S. look bad?

A September 14 Washington Post article by Jonathan Weisman took a different approach, saying that the CIA program is “known unofficially as the CIA’s secret prisons system.”

Known unofficially by whom? Well, the Post of course.

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