“We know we could have saved thousands of lives if we had done more to bring the public’s attention to the threat of an Al-Qaeda attack in the years before 9/11. What we must ask now is why did we fail?”
That startling statement is made by CBS News Senior Foreign Correspondent Tom Fenton in his just released book “Bad News: The Decline of Reporting, The Business of News, and The Danger to Us All.” This fascinating insider’s account of broadcast news serves up 9/11 as a wake-up call to those concerned over declining standards in media. He says, “CBS News like most of the broadcast news industry, had been sliding blithely downhill for years; ?for me it was the failure of my own profession that cut deepest.”
Fenton and his colleagues had been tracking stories about Al-Qaeda and its allied networks for more than a decade, but they rarely reported what they knew on network news ?”because much of the time, our bosses didn’t consider such developments newsworthy.” Fenton notes that in the three months leading up to 9/11 Al-Qaeda was never mentioned in any of the three evening news broadcasts. Fenton himself had fought in vain to interest CBS in an interview with Bin Laden.
When it comes to media failures, Fenton contends the real questions are “the ones that go to the heart of the system” and “never get asked.” He asks, “Do media organs give us enough of the truth (otherwise known as news) or do they consistently miss large, crucial chunks of it? Do they even know what real news is?”
Fenton’s account is fascinating, but it’s not the first time such questions have been raised. Accuracy in Media is one group that has focused on media’s failure to do proactive reporting on terrorism. Even years after 9/11 we’re still getting “after the fact” reporting-after a tragedy, or after a Justice Department or FBI announcement of an indictment, arrest or investigation.
But consider the case of Florida professor Sami Al-Arian and his alleged role in the terrorist group, Islamic Jihad. Al-Arian was under scrutiny by journalist Steven Emerson long before most American media even knew who he was. Emerson is still the exception to the rule.
Groups like the Islamic Society of North America get a free pass when it comes to media coverage. No tough questions are asked about why they launched a legal defense fund for admitted HAMAS terrorist leaders Abu Marzuk and Mohammed Salah. No questions are asked about hosting such controversial figures as Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is famous for penning the “theological” justification for suicide bombing that was posted on the HAMAS website, or Rashid Ganushi, who referred to Jews as a “cancer” and “Satans.”
Positive press is given to another group, the Islamic Circle of North America, despite charges that it functions as the North American branch of Jama’at-i-Islami, a radical Pakistani group that calls Bin Laden the “hero of the Islamic world” and raises millions of dollars for armed jihad around the world. Conferences hosting individuals who support suicide bombing don’t make news in the post-9/11 American mediascape.
Last November Peter Bergen commented at the National Press Club that “There are more Al-Qaeda in Brooklyn than in Baghdad.” One wonders, with all these Al-Qaeda abounding in the Big Apple, why journalists haven’t investigated to find out who they are.
The media can start anew. A ground-breaking book, Lightning Out of Lebanon: Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil, by Tom Diaz and Barabara Newman, has just been released. The book reveals Hezbollah cells are operating in 14 American cities. Will our media follow up on the sensational charges in this book?
Lisa Myers, senior investigative correspondent for NBC News, has broken an incredibly important story revealing that the terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993, now locked up in a maximum-security federal prison, are still involved in terrorist activities. Myers reported, “Letters and articles obtained by NBC News show that while behind bars, the 1993 bombers?wrote letters to other suspected terrorists and brazenly praised Osama bin Laden in Arabic newspapers.” One of the letters has been used as a recruiting tool for Islamic terrorists.
Who was responsible for what law enforcement officials admit was a “lapse?” Will anybody be fired? This is far more important than Condoleeza Rice’s black high-heeled boots, a subject of a recent story in the Washington Post that ran under a headline about her “commanding clothes.”