NBC Again Hails Iraq 'Turning Point,' CBS: 'Major Blow' to Bush --8/24/2007


1. NBC Again Hails Iraq 'Turning Point,' CBS: 'Major Blow' to Bush
Republican Senator John Warner's call for the withdrawal of 5,000 troops from Iraq by Christmas was trumpeted by the broadcast network evening shows Thursday night: CBS's Katie Couric touted a "major blow tonight to President Bush's Iraq policy" and ABC's Martha Raddatz saw a "stunning announcement that could have a powerful effect on the war" as the NBC Nightly News, for the fifth time in two years, heralded a "turning point" against the war. NBC anchor Brian Williams introduced "another major story we're covering this evening that could amount to a turning point in the debate over America's involvement in Iraq. Tonight, there has been a major defection from President Bush's camp." (This wasn't the first time Williams has hailed the prescience of the very same Senator. When Warner warned last October that Iraq was drifting "side-wise," Williams teased: "Is this a new turning point?") After a report from Andrea Mitchell, which began with "Turning Point?" on screen, Williams compared Warner to Walter Cronkite, reminding Tim Russert about how during Vietnam President Johnson "famously said, 'If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America.' Well, if George W. Bush has lost John Warner, how big is this, Tim?"

2. Flashback: 'Unnewsworthy Holocaust: TV News & Terror in Cambodia'
In the wake of President George W. Bush's reminder Wednesday about how the "killing fields" of Cambodia followed the 1975 U.S. pullout from Vietnam and the region, a look back at a study, by William C. Adams and Michael Joblove, which documented how from 1975 to 1978 the three broadcast network evening newscasts, as well as the New York Times and Washington Post, virtually ignored the ongoing massacre of millions by the Khmer Rouge. Television coverage averaged "less than thirty seconds per month per network." Below is an excerpt, fairly lengthy since I can't imagine this is online anywhere else (besides the MRC's blog where this was posted Thursday morning), from the MRC's 1990 book, "And That's the Way It Isn't: A Reference Guide to Media Bias." The excerpt starts with a summary and then key findings from the study published in 1982, followed by the study, "The Unnewsworthy Holocaust: TV News and Terror in Cambodia."

3. ABC Paints Suspicious Men on Ferry as 'Ethnic Profiling' Victims
Washington State authorities and the FBI on Monday released photos, taken by the captain of a Pugent Sound ferry, of two men that passengers and crew saw acting suspiciously -- taking photos of doorways, for instance -- but Thursday's Good Morning America seemed more concerned about "ethnic profiling" than identifying the potential terrorists who had been seen on up to a half-dozen ferries. "The case is raising concerns about security. But it's also raising concerns about possible ethnic profiling," declared news reader Kate Snow. Reporter Neal Karlinsky asked: "Are these two men terrorists casing the boats for attack?" or "are they totally innocent passengers, the victims of ethnic profiling?" After noting their suspicious behavior, Karlinsky characterized them as victims: "But the men are not accused of anything, leading the Muslim community to wonder, what if the two men did not appear to be of Middle Eastern descent?" Aziz Junejo, Seattle Muslim Community spokesman, asserted: "To point that person out because of the features of a Middle Easterner is just plain wrong." Karlinsky concluded: "The FBI says the huge ferry system is among the most vulnerable maritime targets in America. The question is, are these men a threat, or just victims of a jittery public?"

4. 'Top Ten Least Popular Presidential Campaign Promises'
From the "Top Ten Contest" winners posted August 21 on the Late Show with David Letterman's Web site, the "Top Ten Least Popular Presidential Campaign Promises."


NBC Again Hails Iraq 'Turning Point,'
CBS: 'Major Blow' to Bush

Republican Senator John Warner's call for the withdrawal of 5,000 troops from Iraq by Christmas was trumpeted by the broadcast network evening shows Thursday night: CBS's Katie Couric touted a "major blow tonight to President Bush's Iraq policy" and ABC's Martha Raddatz saw a "stunning announcement that could have a powerful effect on the war" as the NBC Nightly News, for the fifth time in two years, heralded a "turning point" against the war. NBC anchor Brian Williams introduced "another major story we're covering this evening that could amount to a turning point in the debate over America's involvement in Iraq. Tonight, there has been a major defection from President Bush's camp." (This wasn't the first time Williams has hailed the prescience of the very same Senator. When Warner warned last October that Iraq was drifting "side-wise," Williams teased: "Is this a new turning point?")

After a report from Andrea Mitchell, which began with "Turning Point?" on screen, Williams compared Warner to Walter Cronkite, reminding Tim Russert about how during Vietnam President Johnson "famously said, 'If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America.' Well, if George W. Bush has lost John Warner, how big is this, Tim?" Russert affirmed: "In a word: Very big." Similarly, on the CBS Evening News, Bob Schieffer declared that "John Warner is the single most influential Republican voice on Capitol Hill" and so his recommendation will "have a major impact."

[This item was posted Thursday night on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]

Thursday's discovery by NBC of a "turning point" in Iraq was at least the fifth "turning point" or "tipping point" the NBC Nightly News has championed in the past two years. Back on July 9, Williams teased: "Tonight, is Iraq policy at a tipping point?" With "Tipping Point?" on screen, he proceeded to lead his broadcast with how "there are signs and signals and indications that a turning point may be nearing on U.S. involvement in the Iraq war" because of defections by Republican Senators. See: www.mediaresearch.org

Two weeks earlier, when Senator Richard Lugar "broke with the President on the Iraq war," Williams proposed: "Tonight many are wondering if we're witnessing the beginning of some kind of turning point?" Williams earlier teased the June 26 newscast with the same formulation: "Is this a turning point in the war?" See: www.mrc.org

NBC, however, has a poor record of picking Iraq war "turning" or "tipping points." In August of 2005 the newscast hailed Cindy Sheehan's protest near Bush's ranch as a "turning point." August 26, 2005 MRC CyberAlert: www.mrc.org

And last October, when the very same Senator John Warner warned that Iraq was drifting "side-wise," Williams teased the October 6 NBC Nightly News: "Is this a new turning point?" See: www.mrc.org

To show the flavor of the coverage of Warner's remarks, the MRC's Brad Wilmouth gathered the intros and other noteworthy portions of the Thursday, August 23 broadcast network evening newscast reporting (Only CBS led with Warner; ABC and NBC went first with flooding and drought, then to Warner):

# NBC Nightly News:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Now to another major story we're covering this evening that could amount to a turning point in the debate over America's involvement in Iraq. Tonight, there has been a major defection from President Bush's camp. The Senate's leading Republican on military matters, John Warner of Virginia, says it's time for the President to start ordering some troops to come home. He said that as this nation's spy agencies issued a grim new assessment saying Iraq's leaders currently are not up to the job. We'll start our coverage here with our chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell....

WILLIAMS, TO TIM RUSSERT: Tim, I was just thinking, during Vietnam, President Johnson, speaking about a television anchor, famously said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America." Well, if George W. Bush has lost John Warner, how big is this, Tim?
TIM RUSSERT: In a word: Very big. Why, Brian? Because of the prestige that Senator Warner has amongst his fellow Republicans...


# CBS Evening News:

KATIE COURIC: Hello, everyone. A major blow tonight to President Bush's Iraq policy. When it comes to the war, no Republican in Congress carries more influence than Senator John Warner. And now, he's calling on the President to do something he has so far refused to do: set a timetable for starting a pullout of U.S. troops. Here's Bob Orr....

COURIC TO BOB SCHIEFFER: Bob, why is John Warner's new public position so significant, in your view?
BOB SCHIEFFER: I think in this case, Katie, it's the messenger, not the message, that is the important thing. John Warner is the single most influential Republican voice on Capitol Hill. He's a former Secretary of the Navy. If Republicans were in control of the Congress, he would be the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee. When he talks, other Republicans listen when he's talking about defense matters. So I think this will give other Republicans -- and there are a lot of Republicans, Katie, who have supported the President up to now on this -- who have had real reservations about it. When they hear John Warner say what he has just said, that gives them cover, and I think you'll see others follow here. It is significant he did not say let's set a withdrawal when all of them have to be out, a date certain when they have to be gone. That's the Republican plan. But he said it is time to start bringing them home. This is going to have a major impact, Katie.


# ABC's World News:

FILL-IN ANCHOR ELIZABETH VARGAS: We turn now to Iraq and a blunt message for President Bush today delivered by one of the Senate's most influential Republicans. Virginia's John Warner says U.S. troops should start coming home before Christmas. Warner's statement comes the same day as a bleak new National Intelligence Report on Iraq, and less than a month before General David Petraeus delivers his crucial assessment of the war. Here's White House correspondent Martha Raddatz.
MARTHA RADDATZ: It was a stunning announcement that could have a powerful effect on the war. Even before the results of General Petraeus' report are known, Senator Warner is urging the President to use that September assessment to call for a draw down....

Flashback: 'Unnewsworthy Holocaust: TV
News & Terror in Cambodia'

In the wake of President George W. Bush's reminder Wednesday about how the "killing fields" of Cambodia followed the 1975 U.S. pullout from Vietnam and the region, a look back at a study, by William C. Adams and Michael Joblove, which documented how from 1975 to 1978 the three broadcast network evening newscasts, as well as the New York Times and Washington Post, virtually ignored the ongoing massacre of millions by the Khmer Rouge. Television coverage averaged "less than thirty seconds per month per network." Below is an excerpt, fairly lengthy since I can't imagine this is online anywhere else (besides the MRC's blog where this was posted Thursday morning), from the MRC's 1990 book, "And That's the Way It Isn't: A Reference Guide to Media Bias." The excerpt starts with a summary and then key findings from the study published in 1982, followed by the study, "The Unnewsworthy Holocaust: TV News and Terror in Cambodia." The xenophobic reign of terror by the Marxist Khmer Rouge from April 1975 to January 1979 in Cambodia was as brutal as that of any in history. Up to three million Cambodians died of starvation, torture or execution. But despite what George Washington University professor William Adams and research associate Michael Joblove called "the barbarism and the magnitude of the tragedy," major media outlets in the U.S. paid little attention to the tragic events.

To find out what the American public was told about the despotic reign of Pol Pot, Adams and Joblove, with the help of the Vanderbilt News Archive, studied ABC, CBS, and NBC weeknight news coverage from April 1975 through December 1978. They limited their focus to reports about "Cambodian refugees, genocide, general Khmer Rouge policies, and the reconstruction of society." They excluded reports about border clashes with neighbors, simple civil war occurrences, and the Mayaguez incident. Their statistics show that Americans who watched network news never saw the carnage and chaos that consumed Cambodia during those four years.

KEY FINDINGS:

# "Stories about the 'new society' and death in Cambodia were so sporadic that even the most constant viewers could not be expected to grasp the gravity of the Cambodian crisis." Over the four-year period of the Khmer Rouge rule, the three networks devoted less than sixty minutes on weeknights to the human rights situation in Cambodia. That averaged out to less than thirty seconds per month per network.

# Explicit discussion of genocide was heard on ABC for less than one minute and on CBS and NBC less than four minutes each during the four-year period.

# To show what little mention there was of death in Cambodia, the authors compared the coverage to time given the Jonestown murders and suicides. In the first week alone, three hours of network news detailed the cult deaths, although the death toll was at least a thousand times less than in Cambodia.

# Adams and Joblove dismissed the old network line that without pictures there is no story: "Poignant and striking footage was available without end in refugee camps all across eastern Thailand....The fact that television ignored the upheaval in Cambodia simply cannot be attributed to a dull story with poor pictures."

# The authors blamed the print media as well. "Television caricatures the front page of the prestige press" and "assignment editors rely heavily on the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the wire services to set the network agenda." So it was no surprise when the networks didn't "veer far from the pack" and "provide extensive coverage of a topic given little attention in print." Until mid-1978, little print space was given the events in Cambodia. Only when it picked up did television follow.

END of Summary and Key Findings from the MRC's And That's the Way It Isn't book.

Now, a STUDY EXCERPT, from "The Unnewsworthy Holocaust: TV News and Terror in Cambodia" by William C. Adams and Michael Joblove. From the 1982 book, "Television Coverage of International Affairs."

In April of 1975, Khmer Rouge forces overran Phnom Penh. Until their fall from power in the winter of 1979, the world was witness to one of the most bizarre and brutal revolutions of this century. Costs of Khmer Rouge rule were high. An estimated one to three million of Cambodia's eight million people died by starvation, disease, or execution.

No other single episode has involved a greater loss of life during the last quarter century. Yet, despite the barbarism and magnitude of the tragedy, little public attention was directed to Cambodia. It was ignored by the U.S. media, government, and people.

The death toll was at least a thousand times greater than that of the Jonestown murders and suicides, but news coverage of Cambodia was a fraction of that given to Jonestown. Added together over the entire four-year Khmer Rouge period, all three television networks devoted less than sixty minutes on weeknights to the new society and human rights in Cambodia. Nearly three hours were spent detailing the Jonestown deaths in the first week alone.

What, if anything, were Americans told about human rights and society in Cambodia from their preferred source of international news -- early evening, network television news? To find out, we examined Vanderbilt University's Television News Index and Abstracts for weeknight news coverage from April 1975 until December 1978.

The Vanderbilt Archive loaned compiled videotapes of the stories we had identified from the abstracts. Stories selected were all those about Cambodian refugees, genocide, general Khmer Rouge policies, and the reconstruction of society. Excluded were purely military stories about border clashes, civil war, and the Mayaguez. Research was conducted at the television news studies facilities of George Washington University's Gelman Library. The findings were generally consistent for all three networks.

A Few Sad Seconds

Stories about the "new society" and death in Cambodia were so sporadic that even the most constant viewers could not be expected to grasp the gravity of the Cambodian crises. As shown in Table 6F, from April 1975 to December 1978, NBC aired 11 stories (17 minutes 35 seconds) on life in the "new Cambodia," compared with 13 stories on CBS (28 minutes 55 seconds), and 6 stories on ABC (11 minutes 25 seconds). This averages out to less than thirty seconds per month per network on the rule of the Khmer Rouge.

ABC offered a little over four minutes in 1975, and the next year carried one human rights story about Cambodia. Two years passed before ABC returned to the subject. In April 1978, ABC viewers heard anchorman Tom Jarriel say President Carter had condemned Cambodia as "the worst offender in the world" with regard to human rights. Carter had apparently not been watching ABC News.

CBS focused on human rights in Cambodia for sixty seconds during 1975, for six minutes, ten seconds in 1976, and for the same amount of time again in 1977. CBS stepped up coverage in 1978. In April 1978, CBS ran two special reports -- each over four minutes. Later in August, after Senator McGovern's call for armed intervention in Cambodia, CBS spent two minutes and twenty seconds on the subject of Cambodian human rights.

NBC's nearly 18 minutes of coverage over four years almost equaled a single night's coverage of the Guyana massacre. NBC did broadcast a "Segment Three" (4 minutes 30 seconds) feature on human rights in Cambodia during the evening news on June 2, 1978. Once, NBC even opened its program with a lead story on Cambodian suffering (7/20/75). The twenty-second story concerned an attempted escape of 300 Cambodians; only 12 people had survived. This story and its placement were quite exceptional. No other Cambodian human rights story was ever made the lead; the few stories that were aired were usually placed midway through the broadcast. Overall, in 1975-78, very little time was devoted to the steady stream of refugees who succeeded (or failed) in escaping what they called the "terror" of their homeland. This accounting of air time on human rights in Cambodia does not measure the number of times when, in a story that was otherwise about a border clash with Vietnam, the regime might have been referred to as "harsh." However, the figures are actually generous because they include air time devoted to any discussion of the "new society" created by the Khmer Rouge, some of which dismissed or ignored reports of genocide. When this "harshness" was specifically mentioned, treatment of the subject of mass murders varied wildly -- sometimes treated with skepticism, sometimes as undisputed fact, sometimes as mere rumor. The issue of genocide was explicitly addressed less than one minute by ABC, less than four minutes by CBS, and less than four minutes by NBC.

On August 21, 1978, Senator McGovern called for an international force to invade Cambodia in order to stop the genocide. The incongruity of George McGovern advocating military action in Southeast Asia was enough to attract some attention. ABC interviewed the Senator and included a follow-up clip of a refugee's personal story of tragedy. CBS covered the subcommittee meeting at which the plea was made. NBC gave minimum coverage with a twenty-second summary.

Network Silence Despite Numerous Reports

Why was the massive loss of life in Cambodia given so little attention?√°It was not that the networks were uninformed about the new regime; as soon as news of the deaths reached the outside world, the networks were alerted. As early as June 24, 1975, in a speech covered by all three networks, Secretary of State Kissinger stressed that Cambodians had "suffered a terrible death toll" under the Khmer Rouge. CBS also mentioned that Freedom House had compared the Cambodian events to the Nazi annihilation of 6 million Jews.

On July 8, 1975, as eyewitness reports of barbarism were brought by escaping refugees, NBC ran a story with correspondent Bernard Kalb. According to Kalb, "the story [the refugees] have been telling is one of horror." One witness saw "1,500 bodies, all knifed to death." One refugee said people were killed "if they didn't plant rice" and said he had recently seen 1,000 dead bodies. Kalb noted that skepticism first greeted such stories, "but now there are so many that it must be true."

Somehow, this remarkable NBC story did not generate others. The fact that thousands of people were filling up refugee camps across Thailand with accounts of mass murders and starvation in Cambodia was not deemed newsworthy.

ABC's single enterprising story in 1975 was an interview with the then head of state, Prince Sihanouk. This was the only network interview with a Cambodian government official since Kissinger's speech on the massive loss of life, since the Kalb story of atrocities, and since newspaper accounts of forced labor camps and execution. Harry Reasoner was not shown questioning Sihanouk about any of these matters. Instead, the Prince was shown talking about rice production and boosting the economy.

This prompted Mr. Reasoner's "roughest" inquiry:

"Prince Sihanouk, you spoke of the necessary severe and austere government. Now I think of nothing more unlike the Cambodian people than severity and austerity. Have they changed?"

To this hard-hitting question Sihanouk answered:

"No, no, no, no. You know the Khmer Rouge, they are very nationalistic. Also, they want Cambodia to remain Cambodian. When I say severe or austere I mean that we have to walk much more than before. But Cambodians, they remain Cambodians. They like joking. They like laughing, they like singing. So they continue to do it. There is really a general way of life and there is still this way of life in Cambodia."

Sihanouk's depiction of the joking, laughing, singing Cambodian people was not seriously questioned by ABC News that year.

On January 26, 1976, CBS aired an account from reporter Peter Collins about forced evacuation from the cities, forced labor in the fields, and a refugee tale of five workers beaten to death with an iron pipe. Collins concluded that no one had been allowed to verify the refugee horror tales, "but their accounts of life across this frontier are so numerous and detailed, there seems little doubt that the new communist regime is continuing its harsh reform of Cambodia, under what refugees describe as 'a reign of terror.'" But CBS did not pursue the story. Six months passed before CBS again considered this "reign of terror."

A Small Shift in 1978

In 1978, after two years of near total neglect, the networks ran a handful of stories about human rights in Cambodia. On January 18, 1978, CBS covered Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher's condemnation of the "systematic terror and grinding down of the Cambodian people." "Hundreds of thousands of human beings," he said, "have perished under this regime." (Neither NBC nor ABC made any mention of the speech, although five months had passed since NBC had told its viewers about human rights "problems" in Cambodia and nearly two years had elapsed since ABC's last report on the subject.)

A two-part "Inside Cambodia" series by CBS's Bert Quint was aired April 20 and 21, 1978. Quint made references to estimates of one million people having been killed, though he cautioned that the figure "had not been confirmed by neutral observers." "Neither," he added, had "the new rulers bothered to deny them." Refugee accounts of harsh working conditions and mass killings were also mentioned.

Also on April 20, 1978, NBC ran a retrospective on Khmer Rouge rule. John Chancellor introduced the piece:

"It was three years ago this week that the city of Phnom Penh was captured by the Khmer Rouge revolutionary movement, and since then the story of Cambodia has been a horror story: The cities emptied -- thousands killed or allowed to die in the countryside. There have been charges of genocide."

Thus, in the fourth year of its rule, the Khmer Rouge emerged on television as a nasty and tyrannical -- though still rarely newsworthy -- group that was probably implicated in the ominously empty streets of Phnom Penh. David Brinkley, having displayed little prior moral outrage on the subject, called them "iron-fisted murderous savages" in a brief 1978 commentary.

By late 1978, the occasional network stories had even begun to stop "balancing" the reports of mass execution with reports of "cleaning up the cities." Death estimates that had earlier been simple "reports of mass death" (NBC, 7/8/75) became in 1978 "stories of one million killed" (CBS, 4/20/78), "hundreds of thousands, possibly 2.5 million killed" (CBS, 8/21/78), "one hundred thousand to one million" (NBC, 6/2/78), "one to three million" (NBC, 9/21/78).

Why Did the Networks Dismiss Cambodia?

Nightly news cannot cover everything. The criticism that broadcast news people themselves make most frequently is that the program is too brief. In this light, they note, the omissions and compression imposed by brevity are unfortunate but also unavoidable. (The subject then shifts to affiliates which resist expansion to an hour of network news.) Nevertheless, it is difficult to understand why the tragedy of Cambodia never secured any sustained attention.

One explanation is ideological. Events in Cambodia appeared to contradict the supposed Lessons of Vietnam. The wisdom Americans were to have acquired in Southeast Asia was that leftist guerrilla insurgents were nationalistic and relatively benign, were likely improvements over the corrupt rightist regimes they replaced, and were certainly not worth any significant expenditure of U.S. diplomatic, economic, or military power. As one telling New York Times headline put it: "Indochina Without Americans/For Most, a Better Life" (April 13, 1975). Unfortunately, Pol Pot's epigones of Marx-Lenin-Mao had not read this particular script. Thousands of Cambodian refugees brought stories of mass death and murder, but this "unverified" news could not be easily broadcast or printed to fit the Lessons of Vietnam.

There are other possible reasons for the lack of coverage. However, some of the usual explanations are inadequate.

When television news downplays a story that would otherwise appear to merit more coverage, the reason is often that the story lacked "good pictures," lacked drama and controversy, or lacked human interest. Television news, students of the medium repeatedly note, places a premium on stories that can be made visually interesting and that create emotional involvement by showing continuing sagas of conflict, danger, irony, humor, tragedy.

Cambodia under Khmer Rouge rule should have qualified superbly for the dramaturgy of television news. Only one barrier hampered coverage: camera crews were not invited inside the borders to beam home pictures of death, executions, and the forced march into the countryside. Poignant and striking footage was available without end, however, in refugee camps all across eastern Thailand. The horrible tales of death told movingly by escaped Cambodians made Kalb's July 1975 story strong and vivid. With continuous daring escape attempts, the uprooted and terrorized families, and the vandalizing of an historic culture, human interest stories were scarcely in short supply. The fact that television ignored the upheaval in Cambodia simply cannot be attributed to a dull story with poor pictures.

An even less convincing argument for the lack of coverage is that the outside world did not really know precisely what was going on within the jungle borders. Pol Pot did not issue a press release confirming the number of deaths as 3 million or merely three hundred thousand. Nor was it announced how many of the deaths should be attributed to starvation, the forced march, disease, bullets, or being clubbed to death. Not knowing exactly, the line goes, the media prudently overlooked the subject entirely....

Silence from the White House, Post, and the Times

In addition to ideology, another plausible explanation for the low level of television news about Cambodia was the strange silence from the White House. Scholars observed a decade ago that television, even more than the print media, is obsessed with the presidency. The absence of presidential concern about Cambodia would thus be likely to decrease the prospects for network coverage still further.

Neither Carter nor Ford directed any sustained attention to events under the Khmer Rouge. Both administrations engaged in the ritual of an annual condemnation of the regime, but little more -- no major diplomatic offensives, no continual publicity efforts, no stream of speeches, and no public debate over more overt moves. With little but token gestures from the President, at least one major factor that would promote network coverage of the subject was absent. (This is also partly circular, because greater media attention would likely have stimulated more concern with the subject at the White House.)

One other explanation for the lack of concern with Cambodia is that television caricatures the front page of the prestige press. Assignment editors rely heavily on the New York Times, Washington Post, and wire services to set the network agenda. Television news usually seems afraid to veer far from the pack and is unlikely to provide extensive coverage of a topic given little attention in print. While this explanation begs the question of Post and Times coverage, it does help account for television's pattern. In fact, until mid-1978, the Times and the Post gave very little space to events in Cambodia....

END of Excerpt from "The Unnewsworthy Holocaust: TV News and Terror in Cambodia" by William C. Adams and Michael Joblove.

To comment, go to the node on the MRC's NewsBusters blog where this was posted Thursday morning: newsbusters.org

ABC Paints Suspicious Men on Ferry as
'Ethnic Profiling' Victims

Washington State authorities and the FBI on Monday released photos, taken by the captain of a Pugent Sound ferry, of two men that passengers and crew saw acting suspiciously -- taking photos of doorways, for instance -- but Thursday's Good Morning America seemed more concerned about "ethnic profiling" than identifying the potential terrorists who had been seen on up to a half-dozen ferries. "The case is raising concerns about security. But it's also raising concerns about possible ethnic profiling," declared news reader Kate Snow.

Reporter Neal Karlinsky asked: "Are these two men terrorists casing the boats for attack?" or "are they totally innocent passengers, the victims of ethnic profiling?" After noting their suspicious behavior, Karlinsky characterized them as victims: "But the men are not accused of anything, leading the Muslim community to wonder, what if the two men did not appear to be of Middle Eastern descent?" Aziz Junejo, Seattle Muslim Community spokesman, asserted: "To point that person out because of the features of a Middle Easterner is just plain wrong." Karlinsky concluded: "The FBI says the huge ferry system is among the most vulnerable maritime targets in America. The question is, are these men a threat, or just victims of a jittery public?"

That we may never know, since the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has refused to print the pictures of the men and the Seattle Times waited a day to do so.

[This item was posted Friday morning on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]

In his Wednesday "Best of the Web Today" posting/e-mail for OpinionJournal.com, James Taranto provided a humorous overview of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's reasoning. Check Taranto's post for all the links for what he quoted. A reprint of his lead August 22 item:

Don't Look Now

We begin today with a public service announcement from the Federal Bureau of Investigation:

"The Seattle FBI and the Washington Joint Analytical Center (WAJAC) are requesting the public's assistance in identifying the two individuals pictured below. These men have been seen aboard Washington State Ferries on several occasions and have exhibited unusual behavior, which was reported by passengers. While this behavior may have been innocuous, the FBI and WAJAC would like to resolve these reports.

"If you can identify these individuals, or know their whereabouts, please call: 206 622-0460

"The Seattle FBI and the Washington Joint Analytical Center (WAJAC) are requesting the public's assistance in identifying the two individuals pictured [nearby]. These men have been seen aboard Washington State Ferries on several occasions and have exhibited unusual behavior, which was reported by passengers. While this behavior may have been innocuous, the FBI and WAJAC would like to resolve these reports."

You can click on the photos above or the link atop this column to go to the press release, which has the full pictures.

As the FBI notes, these men may be completely innocent; the bureau simply would like to find out who they are to make sure nothing is amiss. After all, as David McCumber, managing editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, notes, "according to a Justice Department inspector general's assessment, Puget Sound's ferries were the nation's No. 1 target for maritime terrorism. This may well be a case of alert citizens spotting a very real threat."

Accordingly, the P-I is...not publishing the photos. Seriously! McCumber explains:

"The P-I ran a story about the FBI's alert, but did not run the photographs, because we didn't have enough information to warrant it. I hope that today we are able to get more information on this story, if it exists, from the FBI that would give us a clearer idea of the background behind their request.

"Based on what we have, it seemed newsworthy that the FBI was trying to find these guys but it did not seem appropriate to run their photographs."

The FBI released the photos Monday afternoon, and the Seattle Times, like the P-I, declined to publish them yesterday. Today, however, the Times concluded that it did have enough information to publish the photos:

"'They were taking photographs of doors, not seabirds,' said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Richard Hartley in Seattle.

"[FBI agent David] Gomez said employees and passengers reported the incidents over several weeks this summer. In at least one instance, they asked questions about ferry operations, Gomez said. It wasn't until analysts looked through the reports that a pattern was seen, he said. Since then, the FBI has concluded 'four to six' of the incidents were related and involved the same two men....

"'We are able to resolve the great majority of reports of suspicious activities on the ferries,' Gomez said. 'We have not been able to do that here.' The decision to release the photographs publicly was vetted with bureau officials in Washington, D.C., and demonstrates just how serious the potential threat is being taken, he said."

Perhaps the Times just did a better job reporting the story than the P-I did, but in any case the newspapers' reluctance to publish the photos is hard to understand. If the men are up to no good, then obviously it is in the public interest that they be caught. If they are up to no bad, it is in both the public interest and their own that they be identified and cleared.

If the latter is true, then one may argue the FBI should not have released the photos -- but the bureau had already done so, and the question cannot be resolved without identifying the men.

The Times report notes one source of objection:

"The release of the photos enraged some in the Arab-American and Muslim communities, said Aziz Junejo, who hosts an Islamic talk show on television and writes a column about Islam for The Seattle Times.

"He called the release 'careless' and said he has been inundated with complaints that the FBI is profiling Arab-Americans. He said the photos appear to be of two Arab-American men.

"'The people I'm hearing from are outraged and angry and paranoid,' he said. 'They're afraid to ride the ferries now.'"

But this is illogical. The FBI is not looking willy-nilly for "Arab-Americans," but for two individual men whose behavior raised a red flag, and who may or may not be of Arab heritage.

In any case, the P-I's very serious weighing of this very serious issue was belied yesterday when it ran -- we're not kidding -- a haiku contest. Wrote the paper's Monica Guzman:

"As the story develops today, what concerns you most: The possible threat to security? The way the alert was released? Something completely different? Put it in a three-line, 5-7-5 syllable bit of pop haiku for today's contest."

Today Guzman issues a mea culpa:

"While the Big Blog mixes fun and news on a daily basis, in this case we undermined a serious issue and a serious debate, and made it seem as if we in the newsroom didn't acknowledge its importance."

We're a little disappointed, because we came up with a funny haiku about the P-I. Oh well, we'll save it for another time.

END of Taranto

For Taranto's August 22 rundown, with links: www.opinionjournal.com

Friday's Seattle Times reported:

FBI gets 200 tips over ferry photo

The FBI says it has received more than 200 leads and tips after the publication of a photograph of two men seen acting suspiciously on several Washington state ferries.

While the men have not been identified, Special Agent Larry Carr said Thursday that the bureau is hopeful "that we'll be able to have this matter resolved soon." Carr declined to say more.

The FBI earlier this week released two photographs of the men taken last month aboard an unidentified Puget Sound ferry.

The photos were shot by the boat's captain after complaints that the men were acting strangely.

FBI analysts concluded the same men were seen on between four and six different ferries.

That's online at: seattletimes.nwsource.com

The MRC's Scott Whitlock caught the August 23 Good Morning America story aired during the 8am news update:

KATE SNOW: The FBI is publicizing the pictures of two men who have reportedly been acting suspiciously onboard ferries in Washington State, allegedly taking unusual pictures and asking questions about how the ferries operate. The case is raising concerns about security. But it's also raising concerns about possible ethnic profiling. Our Neal Karlinsky explains.

NEAL KARLINSKY, OVER VIDEO OF PICTURES ON A WALL: Aboard Washington State ferry boats this morning, a question: Are these two men terrorists casing the boats for attack?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE FERRY PASSENGER: It's pretty scary, actually, a little disconcerting.
KARLINSKY: Or are they totally innocent passengers, the victims of ethnic profiling? The FBI says it posted the pictures after passengers on a half dozen ferry runs reported seeing the two men acting suspiciously. Taking pictures aboard these ferries isn't unusual. After all, it is beautiful here. What concerns the FBI is what these men were allegedly taking pictures of. They were reportedly photographing doorways and other areas. A ferry employee considered them suspicious enough to take their picture and for passengers to report seeing the pair doing the same thing on other ferry runs.
ROBERTA BURROUGHS, FBI: If you'd like to say we're profiling particular behavior, I'm comfortable with that, because this is behavior that people felt uncomfortable with.
JEFF KELSO, PASSENGER WEARING A BOSTON REX SOX CAP: I mean, I don't know how many people, you know, go on a trip and come home with a picture of a doorway on a ferry.
KARLINSKY: But the men are not accused of anything, leading the Muslim community to wonder, what if the two men did not appear to be of Middle Eastern descent?
AZIZ JUNEJO, SEATTLE MUSLIM COMMUNITY SPOKESMAN: To point that person out because of the features of a Middle Easterner is just plain wrong.
KARLINSKY: The FBI says the huge ferry system is among the most vulnerable maritime targets in America. The question is, are these men a threat, or just victims of a jittery public? For Good Morning America, Neal Karlinsky, ABC News, Seattle.

'Top Ten Least Popular Presidential Campaign
Promises'

From the "Top Ten Contest" winners posted August 21 on the Late Show with David Letterman's Web site, the "Top Ten Least Popular Presidential Campaign Promises." Contest page: www.cbs.com

10. Promises to make Rosie O'Donnell "Goodwill Ambassador" (Jill E, Silver Creek, NY)

9. $2000 donation gets you a night in the Lincoln Bedroom. $25 donation gets you a hunting trip with Dick Cheney (Joel H, Prattville)

8. To change the national anthem to "Funkytown" (John T, Detroit Lakes, MN)

7. Tax deductions for three or more wives (Mitt Romney only) (Bob F, Burbank, CA)

6. Iraq, the 51st state! (Bill B, Fort Collins, CO)

5. Jamba Juice stores to have "30% more Jamba" (Blair T, Melbourne, Australia)

4. Even more "Law & Order" marathons (Fred Thompson only) (Michelle O, Las Vegas, NV)

3. Send me to the White House and win a free night in the Kucinich Bedroom (Gregg P, Corona del Mar, CA)

2. No new taxes, only higher older ones (Allen L, Chicago, IL)

1. New head of PETA: Michael Vick (Darren L, Toms River, NJ)

-- Brent Baker