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CyberAlert -- 11/29/2001 -- "Home-Grown" as Bad as al Qaeda?

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"Home-Grown" as Bad as al Qaeda?; Amnesty International Complaint Highlighted; Objections to Military Trials; Rather with Marines?

1) ABC 20/20's hyperbole: "Since September 11th the word terrorist has come to mean someone who is radical, Islamic and foreign, but many believe we have as much to fear from a home-grown group of anti-abortion crusaders."

2) Amnesty International (AI) as arbiter of war fairness. NBC Nightly News led with the group's complaint as reporter Jim Maceda claimed a prison battle "raises questions of Northern Alliance atrocities against their Taliban prisoners" which led to AI "calling for a UN investigation." ABC's Peter Jennings stressed that the group wants to know if the Northern Alliance response "was proportionate."

3) Peter Jennings stressed how "human rights organizations... object" to military trials for terrorists as "they point out that when the U.S. criticizes the human rights records of other countries, those countries get a black mark if they try civilians in military courts." But after a story which favored opponents of Bush policies, Jennings had to concede they have overwhelming public support.

4) A new Pew Research Center for the People and the Press poll found "half the public believes the military should have greater influence over war reporting," but "public perceptions that the media both 'stands up for America' and 'protects democracy' have increased notably." Pew also determined that "most Americans are turning to cable news for reports about terrorism and the war, and the number doing so has increased since mid-September."

5) Question to OMB Director Mitch Daniels at the National Press Club: "When you talked about the factors affecting long-term budget deficits, why didn't you include the President's $1.3 billion tax cut as one of those factors?"

6) Dan Rather is now in Bahrain hoping to join up with a group of Marines going into Afghanistan, the New York Times reported.


1

ABC's 20/20 on Wednesday night found, in the words of host Barbara Walters, "terror in our own backyard." Looking at tactics of a radical anti-abortion group and those who have murdered abortionists, reporter Jami Floyd applied more than a bit of hyperbole: "Since September 11th the word terrorist has come to mean someone who is radical, Islamic and foreign, but many believe we have as much to fear from a home-grown group of anti-abortion crusaders."

Floyd's story, which topped the November 28 edition of 20/20, examined the plight of a Rochester, New York doctor named Morris Wortman, and his wife, who live under the constant threat of violence from anti-abortion zealots, especially the "Army of God."

After recounting how last week many abortion clinics received letters containing a white powdery substance, which tested negative for anthrax, Floyd warned: "If Americans can learn something from the Wortmans about how to live with fear, then perhaps we can also learn something from those who live to spread fear. Since September 11th the word terrorist has come to mean someone who is radical, Islamic and foreign, but many believe we have as much to fear from a home-grown group of anti-abortion crusaders."

Floyd proceeded to list those who have murdered abortion doctors, such as Paul Hill who killed two, and then she interviewed Army of God leader Donald Spitz about his belief that he prefers "live babies over live abortionists."

There's no doubt a small number of radicals use intimidation tactics, and sometimes even murder, to achieve their ends, tactics which can be classified as terrorism. But to equate that with al Qaeda's tactics as displayed on September 11 is ridiculous. There are at least two major differences. First, the anti-abortion terrorists are targeting specific individuals, not murdering everyone in a neighborhood around a clinic or thousands in a community because they elected a pro-abortion city councilor. Second, while the anti-abortionists are subverting the democratic process which has delivered a result with which they disagree, they are aiming to end a specific policy, not trying to destroy U.S. society and all the rights and freedoms it protects.

2

Imprisoned Taliban soldiers who had surrendered rose up and opened fire on unprepared guards, killing a CIA officer in addition to many Northern Alliance troops. But what most concerned ABC, and especially NBC, on Wednesday night was Amnesty International's complaint about the supposed abuse of the rights of the Taliban prisoners.

NBC Nightly News led with the Amnesty International complaint as reporter Jim Maceda charged the prison battle "raises questions of Northern Alliance atrocities against their Taliban prisoners" as "dozens of Taliban corpses were seen today with their hands tied behind their backs, suggesting an execution, Amnesty International calling for a UN investigation." Maceda offered just a few words about the CIA officer, reporting that "one CIA operative, Mike Spann, was killed in the battle," before concluding: "The battle one of the most gruesome in the Taliban's history with many questions about the Northern Alliance's abuse still unanswered."

ABC's Peter Jennings stressed that the "human rights group" wants to know if the Northern Alliance response "was proportionate."

FNC's Bret Baier delivered a more gruesome account than did the other networks of CIA officer Mike Spann's death. On Special Report with Brit Hume, Baier reported from the Pentagon: "Witnesses say Spann was beaten, kicked and bitten [or beaten again, word unclear] to death by Taliban soldiers in that prison uprising, and then his body was booby-trapped, making it difficult to recover."

Even if the Northern Alliance did act improperly, shouldn't that have been put into the context of a double-crossing surprise attack from soldiers who had surrendered? And how newsworthy are particular Northern Alliance procedures anyway? The U.S. didn't create them, they already existed and were fighting our enemy which had attacked us first.

The November 28 NBC Nightly News opened with Maceda's story. He asserted: "A three-day prison revolt against their Northern Alliance captors was over, a bloody, suicidal battle, but one that already raises questions of Northern Alliance atrocities against their Taliban prisoners, mostly Chechyans and Pakistanis. They got what they deserved says this Northern Alliance fighter. But dozens of Taliban corpses were seen today with their hands tied behind their backs, suggesting an execution, Amnesty International calling for a UN investigation."
Claudio Cordone, Amnesty International: "People that have been involved in abuses should be brought to justice."
Maceda proceeded to worry about the proper etiquette of the Northern Alliance leader who is defeating the Taliban:
"The focus on this man, General Rashid Dostum, the warlord whose force's eventually quashed the revolt. Today Dostum strolled through the war zone denying any abuse of Taliban prisoners. 'We brought them here so they could be safe,' he said. 'We treated them like brothers.' Dostum is already under investigation for the initial assault on Mazer-e Sharif after the Red Cross uncovered some 600 bodies there last week. Dostum's capture of that city was a turning point in the war against the Taliban, some bodies allegedly tortured and murdered. Today at the prison Red Cross workers began to count and identify the dead, perhaps 500 Taliban in all who on Sunday overwhelmed their guards, stealing their grenades and machine guns. By Monday the firefight so fierce, U.S. special forces on the scene had to call in air strikes. But one U.S. bomb missed its target, seriously wounding five American soldiers. One CIA operative, Mike Spann, was killed in the battle."

After recounting how the U.S. and Northern Alliance took back the prison, Maceda concluded by casting aspersions on the U.S. allies: "The battle one of the most gruesome in the Taliban's history with many questions about the Northern Alliance's abuse still unanswered."

Only after Maceda's piece did NBC run a full story on Spann by reporter Jim Miklaszewski.

ABC's World News Tonight at least held off on the Amnesty International complaint until after the lead story on Spann's death followed by French TV video of the battle at the prison with scenes of Northern Alliance soldiers shooting over mounds of dirt. Anchor Peter Jennings then intoned:
"One other item about the prison, the human rights organization Amnesty International wants a formal investigation into the prison rebellion. They want to know how it started, and whether the response, part of which you see, was proportionate. Hundreds of Taliban died. Many of the dead were reportedly found with their hands tied behind their backs."

(This wasn't the first time since the war began that Jennings highlighted an international group's complaint. Back on October 8, just after U.S. bombing began, Jennings asserted: "One other item about these food and medicine drops. They're not popular with everyone. The international relief organization Doctors without Borders, which won the Nobel Peace Prize for relief work, described it today as military propaganda designed to justify the bombing. The Bush Administration points out it also has committed $300 million in other aid. It's a question, ultimately, of getting it there.")

Wednesday's CBS Evening News didn't mention the Amnesty International complaint and neither did CNN's NewsNight.

3

ABC followed up its concern about the Northern Alliance's human rights record with a look at how people in other nations and some U.S. Senators are upset by how the Bush administration is abusing civil rights by proposing military trials for captured terrorists, though anchor Peter Jennings characterized those to be put on trial as "civilians."

Jennings insisted: "Human rights organizations also object. They point out that when the U.S. criticizes the human rights records of other countries, those countries get a black mark if they try civilians in military courts."

Jennings was setting up a story by Pierre Thomas which devoted more time to opponents than supporters of the Bush policy as he noted that "at a Senate hearing...the Bush administration's anti-terror campaign came under fire from Senators frustrated about the policy to try suspects in secret military tribunals."

Jennings introduced the November 28 World News Tonight piece:
"At the White House today, President Bush thanked the visiting Spanish president for what Spain has done in the campaign against terrorism. Eight men suspected of belonging to al-Qaeda have been arrested there. There could be a problem. Spanish law forbids their extradition if they will face military tribunals here. Other nations have similar objections. Human rights organizations also object. They point out that when the U.S. criticizes the human rights records of other countries, those countries get a black mark if they try civilians in military courts. On Capitol Hill today, this was an issue at a hearing with Justice Department officials."

Pierre Thomas began, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "Peter, that's right. It's an issue for some members of Congress who are deeply concerned about the Bush administration's anti-terrorism policies. At a Senate hearing today, the Bush administration's anti-terror campaign came under fire from senators frustrated about the policy to try suspects in secret military tribunals."
Patrick Leahy, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman: "At no time during those discussions-and there were a lot of them with you, with the President, with the Attorney General. At not time was the question of military commissions brought up."
Thomas: "And there was intense debate about whether military tribunals are appropriate for prosecuting terrorists."
William Barr, former Attorney General: "If he is bearing arms against the United States and waging war against the United States, he gets no rights under the Constitution."
Professor Neal Katyal, Georgetown University Law Center: "Our constitutional design can't leave these choices to one man however well-intentioned and wise he may be. We don't live in a monarchy."
Thomas: "Administration officials say in times of war, extraordinary measures are needed."
Michael Chertoff, Assistant Attorney General: "Are we being aggressive and hard-nosed? You bet. But let me emphasize that every step that we have taken satisfies the Constitution and federal law."
Thomas: "Still, the administration was criticized for plans to monitor conversations between suspects and their attorneys and for the detention of hundreds of foreign nationals without naming them."
Senator Russell Feingold (D-WS): "I continue to be deeply troubled by your refusal to provide a full accounting of everyone who has been detained and why."
Thomas concluded: "The Senators want more answers, and next week the Attorney General himself will be on the same congressional hot seat."

Immediately after the Thomas piece aired, however, Jennings had to concede that the concern of ABC News and the Senators does not match that of the public: "An ABC News/Washington Post poll today finds that most Americans support the various law enforcement measures the government is taking in the campaign against terrorism: 59 percent are in favor of military tribunals and, 86 percent say the government's detention of hundreds of people is justified."

4

A new Pew Research Center for the People and the Press poll has found better ratings for media coverage of the war on terrorism than did Gallup a few weeks ago, but the public trusts the military and government over reporters to decide what should be reported from a war zone as "half the public believes the military should have greater influence over war reporting."

"Public perceptions that the media both 'stands up for America' and 'protects democracy' have increased notably since the terrorist attacks," Pew discovered in the poll brought to my attention by the MRC's Liz Swasey. (The Gallup poll released on November 14 found 54 percent disapproval for how the news media are "handling the war on terrorism since September 11," compared to 43 who approved. For details, go to: http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2001/cyb20011115.asp#2)

The Pew survey also determined that "most Americans are turning to cable news for reports about terrorism and the war, and the number doing so has increased since mid-September. Fully 53% cite cable as their primary source for news on the crisis, versus 17% for network TV and 18% for local TV."

That sounds encouraging on a certain level as it shows a desire for more complete and thorough coverage and, hopefully, is a sign of the growing preference for the Fox News Channel which has higher ratings than MSNBC and beats CNN head-to-head in homes that get both channels, but...

My big but is that I don't think it's possible that four times as many watch CNN, FNC and MSNBC as ABC, CBS and NBC when Neilsen ratings numbers show much higher audience levels for the broadcast networks. A total of about 14 million tune in the broadcast network morning shows each day while CNN, USA Today's Peter Johnson reported on October 30, leads the cable channels in the morning with just one million viewers. That's about one-third as many who tune in CBS's Early Show, the lowest-rated broadcast network morning show. NBC's Today gets over 6 million viewers.

On November 7, Johnson reported: "Helped by popular talk-show host Bill O'Reilly and his O'Reilly Report [oops, that would be The O'Reilly Factor], Fox News Channel edged out archrival CNN in prime time last week -- a first since the war broke out. Fox drew 967,000 households to CNN's 971,000. Overall, FNC tied CNN in ratings, but, because CNN's reach is bigger, CNN won by about 120,000 households. MSNBC was third behind both, averaging 452,000 households overall and 569,000 in prime time."

Translation: the combined prime time audience for CNN, FNC and MSNBC is smaller than that for the least-watched show on UPN or the WB -- and barely a fourth of the 8 to 12 million who tune in shows like Dateline and 20/20. The ABC, CBS, and NBC evening shows attract about 19 million viewers in total compared to the 2.5 million watching cable news in prime time.

I'd guess a lot of those polled are giving the answer they think makes them sound informed and sophisticated. (I understand there's a difference between "households" and "viewers," but that doesn't change my basic point.)

For the "Introduction and Summary" of the findings in the new Pew poll, go to: http://www.people-press.org/112801rpt.htm

Below are excerpts from the three more detailed sub-sections. Go to the link for more information and matching tables with specific numbers:

-- "Public Views of Terrorism Coverage....From the beginning of the crisis, the public has given the press high marks for its coverage of the attacks and the war against terrorism. In the current survey, better than three-quarters of Americans (77%) say coverage has been good or excellent, which is on par with the positive rating the public gave the press during the Gulf war (78% good or excellent).
"But there has been a significant decline in the number of people who rate the media's performance as excellent since the first week of the crisis. Three-in-ten give that rating now, compared with 56% who viewed coverage as excellent in the Sept. 13-17 survey. Nearly all of the drop occurred between mid-September and mid-October; since then, the ratings have remained fairly stable....
"Half the public believes the military should have greater influence over war reporting, while four-in-ten believe most decisions about how to report about the war should be left to news organizations. The partisan split in opinions toward the press also is seen in attitudes toward censorship and government restrictions: nearly six-in-ten Republicans (59%) want the military to exert more control over war reporting, compared with 41% of Democrats....
"Fully 84% of Republicans believe that when the government withholds information about the war, it is to protect the security of U.S. troops. And Republicans, especially conservatives, are dubious of aggressive reporting by the media - by a 55%-38% margin, conservative Republicans say the media should trust government officials when they refuse to release information instead of going all-out to break stories.
"Democrats are less persuaded than Republicans that the government mostly refuses to release information in the interest of protecting troops -- a quarter of all Democrats, and nearly a third of liberal Democrats, say the government mostly withholds information on the war to hide negative news. Democrats strongly back aggressive reporting, with a solid majority (57%) saying the press should dig hard for stories."

For more, go to: http://www.people-press.org/112801s1.htm

-- "The Media's Post-9/11 Image....For years, Republicans have been more convinced than Democrats that the press is politically biased in its reporting, and the events of the past few months have done little to change this view. As was the case in early September, a solid majority of Republicans think the press is politically biased [68 percent]. Democrats and independents, on the other hand, have become significantly less cynical about media bias since the terrorist attacks. Today, just four-in-ten independents see the media as biased, down from 57% prior to Sept. 11, and the decline among Democrats has been nearly as great (from 55% to 42% today)....
"More See Press as Pro-American. Public perceptions that the media both "stands up for America" and "protects democracy" have increased notably since the terrorist attacks, resulting in solid majorities viewing the press favorably in both of these areas. These shifts have been pronounced regardless of party identification, though Democrats are particularly likely to believe news organizations are standing up for America. Fully 78% of Democrats hold this view today, up from 47% in early September."

For more, go to: http://www.people-press.org/112801s2.htm

-- "The New Media Landcscape....Most Americans are turning to cable news for reports about terrorism and the war, and the number doing so has increased since mid-September. Fully 53% cite cable as their primary source for news on the crisis, versus 17% for network TV and 18% for local TV. Other non-television sources lag well behind cable, although the number relying mostly on newspapers has tripled (from 11% to 34%) since the week of the attacks. All types of media may take comfort in the fact that 66% of respondents say they are more interested in the news now than before Sept. 11....
"Americans are following the news more closely than they were before Sept. 11, and cable networks such as CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel are their first choice for news about terrorist attacks and the war on terrorism. But cable is not the only source Americans are relying upon. Fully 44% say they at least sometimes get news about issues related to terrorism from talk radio shows, 35% get news from the Internet, and 24% get at least some news from religious radio and television programming....
"Late-night TV shows, such as those hosted by David Letterman and Jay Leno, are less important as sources for news on terrorism than they were as sources of political information during the 2000 presidential campaign. During the run-up to the 2000 primaries, nearly one-in-three Americans said they at least sometimes got news about the presidential campaign from these late-night shows. Just 17% say the same today about news related to terrorist attacks and the war on terrorism. However, as was the case during the campaign, Americans under age 30 are more than twice as likely to cite Leno and Letterman as news sources than are those age 30 and older (29% to 14% respectively)."

For more, go to: http://www.people-press.org/112801s3.htm

5

The suppressed liberal bias. A question posed by a National Press Club audience member to Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels on Wednesday showed that lurking beneath war coverage is the same old liberal bias on taxes and government spending just waiting to burst through once the media focus on terrorism subsides.

As is standard procedure at National Press Club addresses, after the speaker finishes the club's President, currently Richard Ryan, senior Washington correspondent for the Detroit News, poses questions which are passed forward on note cards from the audience. Watching the November 28 speech on C-SPAN, I caught this assertion in the form of a question read by Ryan: "When you talked about the factors affecting long-term budget deficits, why didn't you include the President's $1.3 billion tax cut as one of those factors?"

Daniels retorted: "Now that we know that the economic slowdown that the President sensed a year-plus ago was real, and in fact became a recession essentially around the time of his coming to town, one can only say thank goodness for tax cuts that are a major reason why this recession -- many are saying -- may prove short and shallow. But the last thing anybody should be suggesting or should want in a time of recession is to strip away the long-term growth-inducing policies of that tax cut, which are very much a part of the near term as well, since some of those reductions have just occurred or will very soon. So what the President asserted was wise, when not everybody agreed, now looks very, very prescient indeed."

6

Dan "Leatherneck" Rather? Dan Rather, a Marine Corps private many years ago, is now in Bahrain hoping to join up with a group of Marines going into Afghanistan, the New York Times reported.

The MRC's Tim Jones caught this in a November 28 New York Times story by Alessandra Stanley: "Mr. Rather is traveling to the region to return to Afghanistan in something of a reprise of a famous 1980 trip into Soviet-occupied territory disguised as a Muhajadeen that earned him the nickname Gunga Dan. A CBS spokeswoman, Sandy Genelius, said, 'The final plans for where he will report from are still being finalized,' but Mr. Rather has put himself on a waiting list of journalists hanging out in Bahrain in the hope of getting on a ship and joining 'the leathernecks,' as the marines call themselves."

That explains why Rather hasn't anchored the CBS Evening News since before Thanksgiving. -- Brent Baker



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