"U.S. Is Targeting Civilians"; Kite Flying in Kandahar; CNN's Reminder; Why Westin Missed; Bush Not Booed as Jennings Predicted
1) "We saw a young boy flying a kite," ABC's
Dan Harris marveled from Taliban-controlled Kandahar. He conceded they
brought him in to make "their case that indiscriminate U.S. bombing
has killed hundreds of civilians." While he noted that "many
reporters were skeptical" of the Taliban claims, he showed the video
they wanted of damage and asserted: "The chief doctor says the U.S.
is targeting civilians."
2) After a report from inside Afghanistan, CNN's Judy
Woodruff reminded viewers "that the United States is fighting this
war in response to a terrorist attack that killed close to 5,000 innocent
people in the United States." Her comment followed a new policy set
by CNN chief Walter Isaacson who wants to "make sure we're not used
as a propaganda platform."
3) ABC News President David Westin made his remarks which
he retracted on Wednesday, about the Pentagon as a "legitimate'
target, before dozens of journalism students. So why did it take
CyberAlert to first report them? Maybe because he was the most right-wing
person in the room. Check out the left-wing agenda of the questions: Run
Bib Laden videos unedited, don't terms like "America Fights
Back" betray "a lack of objectivity?" and whatever happened
to that Florida recount project?
4) The Yankee Stadium crowd delivered sustained cheering
when President Bush came out Tuesday night to throw the first ball at game
three of the World Series, but ABC's Peter Jennings on Wednesday night
failed to correct his faulty prediction from the night before that Bush
would probably be booed. Yet he found time to report on Bush and arsenic
in the water.
expected a completely joyless, rigid society," ABC's Dan Harris
told Peter Jennings via videophone from Taliban-controlled Kandahar before
marveling at how "today, in fact, we saw a young boy flying a
In stories aired on both Wednesday's World
News Tonight and Good Morning America, Harris conceded over video of
destroyed buildings, that the Taliban brought him in because, as he
admitted on GMA, "they have one single, unerring goal which is to
show that civilian casualties are mounting that the U.S. is responsible
for. They hope, of course, that undermines support in the West and among
Muslim countries that have allied themselves with the West." On World
News Tonight, he referred to "their case that indiscriminate U.S.
bombing has killed hundreds of civilians." While he also noted that
"many reporters were skeptical" of the Taliban claims, he
nonetheless asserted: "The chief doctor says the U.S. is targeting
Referring to a top military official, Harris
passed along how "he said the air strikes had unified the Taliban and
that only 15 of his men had been killed."
Asked by Peter Jennings if "they in any
way tried to guide your news coverage?", Harris assured him:
"Nobody is checking our scripts. Nobody is standing here as I do this
discussion with you."
Given ABC's focus on past Taliban claims
about civilian casualties, that's no surprise. But it should give ABC
News pause. For a rundown of examples of ABC giving credibility to Taliban
claims, see the October 31 CyberAlert. Scroll down to the list: http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2001/cyb20011031.asp#1
On the October 31 World News Tonight, over
video of destroyed buildings, Harris checked in via videophone from
soldiers led a caravan of reporters on a tour of Kandahar this morning, a
tour with one overriding goal: To make their case that indiscriminate U.S.
bombing has killed hundreds of civilians. They say this house, a medical
clinic, was hit this morning killing 15, injuring more than twenty. The
chief doctor says the U.S. is targeting civilians. He now wants to fight
the Americans. Many of the reporters on the tour were skeptical. There was
no way to confirm the number of casualties we were given and we weren't
taken to a hospital to see the injured."
Harris moved on to an appearance for the
reporters from the Taliban's Foreign Minister who was rumored to have
defected, followed by a top military official who, Harris passed along,
"said the air strikes had unified the Taliban and that only 15 of his
men had been killed. He and his soldiers came to this local Madrassa, or
religious school, for the interview. They said conducting it at the
military headquarters would have made us targets for air strikes. They
were probably right. These are people the U.S. wants eliminated."
Jennings then asked Harris about life in
Kandahar. Harris replied that the religious police had been "shut
down." Harris observed: "We expected a completely joyless, rigid
society. But today in fact we saw a young boy flying a kite. In any other
nation in the world that would be an ordinary site, but previously
kite-flying had been outlawed by the Taliban. We saw women walking
unescorted. Previously that had been outlawed."
Jennings next asked: "You are there in
Kandahar at the invitation of the Taliban, under the protection of the
Taliban. Have they in any way tried to guide your news coverage?"
replied: "They certainly are taking us to the places they want us to
see, but nobody is checking our scripts. Nobody is standing here as I do
this discussion with you on the roof of the foreign ministry building.
Nobody threatened us in any way."
They don't have to. ABC News to doing just
what they want.
Earlier, Harris provided a similar report for
Good Morning America: "They invited us in, we think, because they've
woken up to the PR value of having Western journalists here in this
country. They have one single, unerring goal which is to show that
civilian casualties are mounting that the U.S. is responsible for. They
hope, of course, that undermines support in the West and among Muslim
countries that have allied themselves with the West in this strike against
has happened is this morning we've gone on a massive tour of Kandahar,
which was tightly scheduled, very hectic. They took us around to six
sites, each of which they said was an example of U.S. bombings killing
civilians. We went to shops, homes, even an apparent medical relief
center. There was some reason for skepticism, however, about some of these
sites. For example, after seeing one home that was said to have been
bombed by the U.S. and have killed several civilians, we saw tank
exercises not far."
inquired near the top of the 7am half hour: "And you had lunch with
"They serve us all of our meals. They served us dinner last night and
lunch today and breakfast today, and they'll serve us dinner again. We're
staying at the Foreign Ministry guest house, which is a reasonably nice
complex of houses that is the place where foreign guests come to stay when
they're visiting the Taliban, and the Taliban have been very hospitable.
In fact, hospitality is part of the Afghan code of ethics."
informed viewers of the lunch menu: "And again, that's ABC's Dan
Harris, and in one of those strange details we accumulate, lunch with the
Taliban is chicken and pomegranates."
ABC, CNN also has a reporter inside Afghanistan invited in by the Taliban.
But unlike ABC, CNN management has made sure video of bomb damage and
claims about civilian casualties are matched with reminders by CNN anchors
about the deadly terrorist attacks which led to the U.S. military action.
At about 4:45 pm EST on Tuesday, for instance,
following a dispatch from Nic Robertson inside Afghanistan, anchor Judy
Woodruff noted: "We want to say as we will often be saying now from
now on when we show you these reports from inside Taliban-controlled
Afghanistan, that the United States is fighting this war in response to a
terrorist attack that killed close to 5,000 innocent people in the United
States. All that to keep in perspective."
Woodruff's remark follows a new CNN edict
set by CNN Chairman Walter Isaacson which the Washington Post's Howard
Kurtz reported in an October 31 story. An excerpt:
The chairman of CNN has ordered his staff to balance images of civilian
devastation in Afghan cities with reminders that the Taliban harbors
murderous terrorists, saying it "seems perverse to focus too much on
the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan."
In a memo to his international correspondents, Walter Isaacson said:
"As we get good reports from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, we must
redouble our efforts to make sure we do not seem to be simply reporting
from their vantage or perspective. We must talk about how the Taliban are
using civilian shields and how the Taliban have harbored the terrorists
responsible for killing close to 5,000 innocent people."...
"I want to make sure we're not used as a propaganda
platform," Isaacson said in an interview yesterday.
"We're entering a period in which there's a lot more reporting and
video from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan," he said. "You want
to make sure people understand that when they see civilian suffering
there, it's in the context of a terrorist attack that caused enormous
suffering in the United States."...
Jim Murphy, executive producer of the "CBS Evening News,"
said of the CNN instructions: "I wouldn't order anybody to do
anything like that. Our reporters are smart enough to know it always has
to be put in context."...
Murphy said he doesn't believe "the danger is extremely high that
showing what we know, and covering what the other side purports, is really
going to change the mood of the nation. We know a terrible thing happened,
it will take time to deal with and mistakes will be made along the way.
NBC News Vice President Bill Wheatley took a similar tack, saying:
"I'd give the American public more credit, frankly. I'm not sure it
makes sense to say every single time you see any pictures from
Afghanistan, 'This is as a result of September 11th.' No one's made any
secret of that."
But Fox News Vice President John Moody said the CNN directive is
"not at all a bad thing" because "Americans need to
remember what started this....I think people need a certain amount of
context or they obsess on the last 15 minutes of history. A lot of
Americans did die."...
Isaacson's memo said the network, in covering Afghan casualties, should
not "forget it is that country's leaders who are responsible for the
situation Afghanistan is now in."...
In a second memo, Rick Davis, CNN's head of standards and practices,
said it "may be hard for the correspondent in these dangerous areas
to make the points clearly," so he suggested language for the
"'We must keep in mind, after seeing reports like this from
Taliban-controlled areas, that these U.S. military actions are in response
to a terrorist attack that killed close to 5,000 innocent people in the
U.S.' or, 'We must keep in mind, after seeing reports like this, that the
Taliban regime in Afghanistan continues to harbor terrorists who have
praised the September 11 attacks that killed close to 5,000 innocent
people in the U.S.,' or 'The Pentagon has repeatedly stressed that it is
trying to minimize civilian casualties in Afghanistan, even as the Taliban
regime continues to harbor terrorists who are connected to the September
11 attacks that claimed thousands of innocent lives in the U.S.'...
But aren't viewers who don't live in caves well aware of the Sept. 11
"People do already know it," Isaacson said yesterday.
"We go to Ground Zero all the time. We cover the memorial services.
We cover people's lives that have been touched. I just want to make sure
we keep a sense of balance."
To read the entirety of the Kurtz article, go
A laudable goal espoused by Isaacson and one
from which ABC News could benefit.
As James Taranto, however, observed in his
"Best of the Web" column for OpinionJournal.com: "It tells
us something truly appalling about America's media culture that it
should even be necessary, at a time when the country is fighting a just
war against an enemy that has killed thousands of civilians on our soil,
for an American news executive to tell his reporters not to favor the
enemy in their coverage."
But at least CNN realizes there is a problem.
did it take CyberAlert, six days after he made his remarks to a room full
of journalism students, to first reveal how ABC News President David
Westin had refused to take a position on whether or not the Pentagon was a
"legitimate" target? A review of the questions those Columbia
University students posed to him would suggest it's because the future
journalists are well to the left and, therefore, saw nothing wrong with
what he said.
As you probably already know from
Extra, the New York Post, DrudgeReport.com, FNC's Special Report
with Brit Hume or numerous newspaper stories today, on Wednesday Westin
apologized and said "I was wrong" for remarks which were first
put into play by the October 29 CyberAlert.
Wednesday's New York Post, crediting the MRC, ran an editorial
criticizing Westin which alerted the New York media world to his belief.
The heat was turned up a notch when Matt Drudge featured Westin's
comments on his DrudgeReport.com site which, in turn, prompted Rush
Limbaugh to spend much of his show discussing Westin's attitude.
For a rundown of Westin's October 23
comments and his October 31 retraction statement, see the October 31
CyberAlert Extra: http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2001/cyb20011031_extra.asp
Westin gave his now infamous answer in
response to a question posed at a Tuesday, October 23 forum at Columbia
University's Graduate School of Journalism where that evening he
addressed students about balancing the First Amendment and the nation's
war interests. Four days later, on Saturday night October 27, C-SPAN
played the hour-long session. And then on Monday, October 29, CyberAlert
reported one of his answers.
But while the New York Post editorial writers
immediately found it newsworthy, no one in the room at the time did. The
left-wing tone of the questions suggests a reason why. At the very least,
the journalism students agreed with Westin and probably found him too
conservative given that many of their inquiries were based on the
assumption that he was letting ABC News be too accommodating of the U.S.
Just check out some of the questions posed, as
taken down by MRC analyst Patrick Gregory, starting with the very first
one which got Westin into trouble:
-- "When describing America, you said
'we win wars', what did you mean by that? You also said that a small
group of fanatics attacked us, do you really believe that? And do you
believe that the Pentagon was a legitimate military target even if the
missile was not?"
-- "Following up on the topic of the
interplay between government and what's reported about the government in
the press, would you comment on the decision by the Times, the Washington
Post, CNN and the Wall Street Journal to continue to not publish the
results of their research that they put a seven figure budget into in
months of research, with respect to the Florida elections? Would you do
that at ABC?"
-- "You talked about the free exchange of
ideas and journalism obviously is always seeking to get both sides of a
story. Would ABC News seek out another interview with Osama Bin Laden in
this right now?" [Answer: yes]
-- "You just mentioned that you trust the
American people to, given all the information, figure things out. Why then
edit the Osama Bin Laden videotapes one, according to government, because
the government asked you to, and two, does any, do you or do you believe
the other network executives honestly believe that with all of the means
of communications out there that Bin Laden is sending coded messages
through videotapes sent to ABC News?"
-- "But in the Bin Laden videos that come
through Al Jazeera, those are things, those are, if you, had you
translated those and presented them in their entirety to the American
people, you would be giving them all of the information that's out
-- "I was wondering what you thought
about the tag lines a lot of news media have been using like
'America's New War' or 'America Strikes Back' or 'America
Fights Back,' and I was wondering if you thought that was kind of a lack
of objectivity on their part?"
-- "You've used the word 'enemy'
several times, and I'm curious from a European point of view whether you
consider yourself American first, or journalist first, in terms of how you
cover the story and what your policy is?... Does that mean that you
consider the U.S. media as not obligated to get on our side as World War
II journalists clearly were, the side of the U.S. policy?"
-- "Before the September 11th attacks we
had a panel up here of distinguished investigative journalists. And their
biggest concern, or one of their biggest concerns, was actually corporate
control of the media, and constriction of the media. The networks behavior
on, say tobacco being one of the most striking examples of that, and I
think that those stories were clearly in the public interest and I believe
turned out to be true. So, the question is, you know, how much of the
networks as businesses become the story, and how do you balance your
responsibility to your shareholders versus that to the public at
With these men and women just now entering the
journalism profession, it looks like CyberAlert is guaranteed many more
years of liberal bias to document, expose and correct.
Yankee Stadium crowd delivered sustained applause and cheering when
President Bush came out onto the field Tuesday night to throw the first
ball at game three of the World Series, but ABC's Peter Jennings on
Wednesday night failed to correct his faulty prediction from the night
before that Bush would probably be booed.
Jennings wrapped up the October 30 World News
Tonight, just over an hour before Bush walked to the pitcher's mound, by
trying to warn the nation about why the locals might boo:
last thing. We are always looking for signs that the country is behaving
like its old self again. Tonight at the World Series, if the Yankee fans
boo the President it won't mean necessarily they are unhappy with his
leadership, but he did say that he would cheer for anyone but the Yankees
in the series. So if New York fans give him the business it just means
they're acting like their old selves. And that's probably a good
But a good sign which didn't come through
for Jennings and yet on Wednesday's World News Tonight he didn't
update viewers. He did, however, find time for this short item: "The
Bush administration says it will now use the Clinton administration
standards for arsenic in the drinking water. The White House has been
delaying the adoption of these new standards until they could review them,
but they got a lot of bad publicity for delaying."
Bad publicity from the networks.
And if Yankee fans won't boo Bush, who
probably would? I'd put my money on Columbia University journalism
students. -- Brent Baker
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