Accuracy in Media

The Washington Post published a story on Match 25 faulting President Bush for not injecting himself quickly enough into the tragic killings at the Indian reservation in Red Lake, Minnesota. Post reporter Ceci Connolly found a volunteer at an Indian office who said about Bush, “I don’t feel he cares about the American Indian people.” This is a classic case of a manufactured story designed to make the president look bad.

Connolly, a contributor to Fox News, wrote that “The reaction to Bush’s silence was particularly bitter given his high-profile, late-night intervention on behalf of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman caught in a legal battle over whether her feeding tube should be reinserted.” A left-wing website ran the story under the headline: “School Shooting vs. Schiavo: Why is Bush Silent on Red Lake?”

Did it occur to Connolly that Terri Schiavo was alive at the time that Bush intervened to try to save her life, and that the president could not have done anything to save the victims of that slaughter by an Indian youth in Minnesota? That is a clear difference, making the comparison illogical and unfair.

That statement about Bush’s response to Schiavo and the Red Lake massacre was not attributed to anybody, meaning that it was Connolly’s opinion inserted into a news  story. This is from the same paper that tried to use a dubious memo to claim Republicans were politically exploiting the Schiavo case. It seems to us, based on these two examples, that the Post is playing politics.  

Connolly’s chief exhibit in her anti-Bush story was Clyde Bellecourt, described merely as “a Chippewa Indian who is the founder and national director of the American Indian Movement here.” The American Indian Movement is known for objecting to the name “Washington Redskins” on the NFL team in the nation’s capital. It is also behind the movement to free convicted killer Leonard Peltier from jail. Peltier was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for his role in killing two FBI agents. Connolly didn’t tell us that. Back in 1973, Bellecourt was the vice chairman of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, whose founder was Angela Davis, a top Communist Party member.

Playing the race card in an effort to incite more bad feelings and even hostility between the races, the Connolly story quoted Bellecourt as calling Bush the “Great White Father” and implied he was a racist for not saying or doing more about the Indians.  However, a Post story on the same day said that the Indian tribe in the area “has resisted federal programs that would open up the reservation to private land ownership.” Lee Cook, a former member of the tribal council, said, “We have just not ever been too crazy about white people coming around the reservation.”

So the “Great White Father,” President Bush, can’t win no matter what he does. That means he’s easy cannon fodder for the Post. If he does too much, he’s a meddling white man. If he doesn’t do enough, he’s an uncaring white man.

In fact, one day before the Connolly story appeared in print, Bush had tried several times to reach the leader of the Minnesota Indian reservation where the shootings took place. Bush reached him on Friday, the day the Connolly story appeared. Bush also recorded part of his weekly radio address on the subject.  

The Connolly story was misleading from start to finish. It began by suggesting there was a massive uprising: “Native Americans across the country-including tribal leaders, academics and rank-and-file tribe members-voiced anger and frustration Thursday that President Bush has responded to the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history with silence.” In fact, six people were quoted in the article as saying that either Bush should do more or say something. This was the national groundswell.

Bellecourt probably said the anti-Bush statements without prodding, since he is a radical, but the others quoted in the piece may have been pushed to make inflammatory statements. It’s not to hard to imagine Connolly asking questions like, “What do you think of the president’s silence on your terrible tragedy?” This is how journalism is practiced these days. Questions are asked to get a certain response. She was sent to Minnesota to work on the story of a tragedy and came back with more Bush-bashing.

But here’s the interesting fact: three days earlier, the Connolly article said, Bush White House spokesman Scott McClellan had in fact said something. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who were killed,” he was quoted as saying.

In fact, he said more than that. McClellan was asked, “What about the school shooting in Minnesota? Is the President aware of that, and what does he think?” McClellan replied, “Yes, he was briefed on it last night. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who were killed. This is a terrible tragedy. I think it’s difficult for anyone to fully understand how something like this could happen. And our thoughts and prayers go out to the loved ones.”

Let’s recap: Connolly’s article made an issue of the president’s alleged silence, even though his official spokesman had already made a statement on it. And she didn’t even have the honesty to report all of the president’s response. If you examine the exchange, you will find that there was no follow-up by any member of the White House press corps.  So it would appear that the press, not the president, was gripped by silence.

Connolly contrasted Bush’s “silence” to how President Clinton handled the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. Only “hours” after that event, she said, “President Bill Clinton publicly expressed his condolences and followed up a few days later with a radio address in which he proposed new gun control measures and school safety projects.”

Connolly neglected to point out that that Richard Castaldo, the father of a student who was shot at Columbine, was among those accusing Clinton of exploiting that tragedy. He declared that, “Bill Clinton once again used the Columbine tragedy as a prop in pushing his big government, liberal agenda.”

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