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