CyberAlert. Tracking Liberal Media Bias Since 1996
| Monday November 5, 2001 (Vol. Six; No. 174) |
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CNN Defended Taliban Propaganda; CNN Context Policy Condemned; Koppel Mocked Flag Lapel Pins; Ailes Explained Rivera Hiring

1) CNNís Nic Robertson, who went on the Talibanís tour of U.S.-caused atrocities inside Afghanistan, admitted that the Taliban "set the agenda." When pressed about how he had relayed the Taliban claim of 92 killed in one village, Robertson conceded itís "impossible to verify a figure of 92," but then he proceeded to try to substantiate the allegation as plausible, asserting that "the numbers could be believable."

2) Former CNN reporter Peter Arnett dismissed as "ill-advised" the new CNN guidelines for anchors to remind viewers of how the U.S. was responding to an attack which killed over 5,000. Ex-CBSer Daniel Schorr condemned the policy for kowtowing to government as he argued civilians killed by the U.S. had nothing to do with terrorism, but Foxís Brit Hume called it "entirely proper advice and...needed advice to American journalists in general."

3) The Taliban and Pentagon deserve equal skepticism? NPRís Susan Feeney charged that the Taliban and the Pentagon both offer only "semi-controlled information." ABCís Ted Koppel snidely rebuked those at other networks who wear lapel pins: "I donít believe that Iím being a particularly patriotic American by slapping a little flag in my lapel and then saying anything that is said by any member of the U.S. government."

4) Viewer complaints about FNC hiring Geraldo Rivera prompted Fox News CEO Roger Ailes to draft a reply in which he promised Riveraís hiring does not contradict the Fox News Channelís commitment "to fair and balanced news." Ailes asserted that Rivera "has been changed by the events of September 11th."

5) Headline contrasts from Sunday newspapers. Will Republicans or Democrats fare better in 2002? The Northern Alliance: "Reluctant" or about to strike?

6) CBS canít win. The Emmy awards were bumped twice and then last night football overtime meant no 60 Minutes for most of the country. The punch line to Ellenís best joke during the Emmy telecast: "...a gay woman in a suit surrounded by Jews?"

     >>> Now online: "The MRCís Top 6 October Outrages for Most Biased War Coverage." In a press release distributed last week for the MRC by Creative Response Concepts, based upon quotes collated by the MRCís Liz Swasey, the MRC highlighted the six most obnoxious media quotes from war coverage during October. Those cited in the quotes which have all been previously listed in CyberAlerts: Loren Jenkins of NPR, CBSís Allen Pizzey, NBCís Ann Curry, ABCís Dan Harris and ABCís Michele Norris. To read all of the quotes cited, access the press release by going to: <<<


CNNís Nic Robertson, who last week went on the Talibanís tour of supposedly U.S.-caused atrocities inside Afghanistan, admitted to Howard Kurtz that the Taliban "set the agenda." When Kurtz raised how Robertson had relayed the Taliban claim of 92 killed in one village, Robertson conceded itís "impossible to verify a figure of 92," but then he proceeded to try to substantiate the allegation as plausible, asserting that "the numbers could be believable."

     Robertsonís defense of his reporting came during an edition of CNNís Reliable Sources aired live at 9:30am EST on Sunday morning. Kurtz queried: "When you are going into Afghanistan for a few days for a guided tour, if you will, to what extent do you become, however unwillingly, part of the Taliban propaganda effort?"

     From Quetta, Pakistan, Robertson admitted: "I think when a journalist goes into Afghanistan, any journalist, they want to be as independent and objective as possible and thatís what you strive to be inside Afghanistan. Now, the Taliban do put restrictions on, they do limit the places we can go to, and they do set the agenda. But it is possible to try and break away from that. On the third day of the visit we were able to go out unescorted and talked to people quite freely. So that's what we are trying to do, that's the objective of our mission, not fulfill whatever idea it is they have for us to do. It's for us to report what we want to report."

     Kurtz followed up by citing what Robertson chose to highlight: 
"When you reported the other day from a village north of Kandahar, you said the following, that you saw mud houses turned to rubble, fragments of what appeared to be bombs and missiles, family belongings strewn around. You also interviewed a local mullah who said that 92 people had been killed. Did you have any way of knowing whether that estimate was true or wildly inflated?"
     Robertson defended his reporting: "Impossible to verify a figure of 92 or indeed who the 92 people were. Fifteen houses inside that village -- we were told that there was 15, would perhaps, and normally in Afghanistan each house would accommodate may be anywhere between, sort of, 8 and 15 people. So the numbers are believable. Certainly, the village was substantially destroyed. I mean it is, obviously, unusual in an air bombardment of any site where all the members of a village or a building to be killed. But the numbers could be believable. In that context, the village was substantially destroyed. There could have been that number of people living there. Who was killed? We don't know."

     If he was there and doesnít really know, then what exactly did he add to the body of knowledge of CNN viewers?

     The November 2 CyberAlert quoted from Robertsonís November 1 story in which he pegged the number killed at 92 before he asserted: "The Taliban say this was a civilian village, and certainly, when we looked around it, there was a lot of evidence that civilians had lived there. There were boxes of soap powder, children's shoes, women's clothing, a lot of domestic accouterments, clocks smashed on the floor, radios."

     For more, refer back to:

     ABC's Dan Harris had conceded on the October 30 World News Tonight that the Taliban invited him into their territory because of the "rising civilian casualties" which they see as "an enormous public relations boon to them."


While Brit Hume on Fox News Sunday praised it, in the preceding days media veterans Daniel Schorr, Peter Arnett and Tom DeFrank condemned the new CNN policy, stated by Chairman Walter Isaacson, that "we must redouble our efforts to make sure we do not seem to be simply reporting from their [Taliban] 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."

     Appearing at an October 31 Brookings Institution forum, "The Role of the Press in Wartime," former CNN reporter Peter Arnett, best-known for relaying Iraqi propaganda from Baghdad, castigated the new CNN policy: "It is ill-advised."

     At the same forum shown by C-SPAN on Saturday night, NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr, a veteran of CBS News, launched into a lengthy treatise criticizing the CNN policy:
     "It reflects a kind of defensiveness already displayed in the reaction to Condoleezza Riceís warning to not use all this propaganda, not only because it might contain coded messages, which is really rather silly, but also because it conveyed propaganda and might affect the American people adversely. Once we begin to see that the government will try to involve the press in playing a positive role in whatever it is that the government wants to transmit, we are in trouble if the press is willing to accept that.
     "When you take this new thing of Walter Isaacson, under pressure not to appear to be favoring the other side, of saying Ďlook, the Taliban will take you and show you where a civilian building was destroyed by American bombsí and you stand in front of that and itís enough to say Ďweíre showing you where the Taliban says we may show youí and make it clear that youíre not showing those things which canít be shown which may be barracks and God knows what else. All the reporter can be expected to do is to say, Ďfor whatever itís worth, I show this to you.í But then for Judy Woodruff to get on in obeying this new order as she did, and say Ďand let us remind you that these people are responsible for killing 5,000 Americans.í Who are these people? The people who live in that building are responsible for things? If so, what is the relevance of that other than that the administration says people must be reminded all the time that if you see destruction going on there, think of the destruction that they visited upon us whether or not that is really relevant to what theyíre doing there."

     Sunday morning, on CNNís Reliable Sources live at 9:30am EST, New York Daily News reporter Tom DeFrank expressed his disappointment: "Walter's a good guy, I know him from the old news magazine wars and I think he was trying to say something responsible. I'm a little troubled by it because it seems to suggest that he is telling his reporters what to print, what to write, what to say, what to tell readers or listeners to think and I saw, I thought that was little bit over the top. On the other hand, anything where executives say that networks think a harder about what you do, what you say, what you write, is not a bad thing."

     Minutes later, during the roundtable portion of Fox News Sunday, Brit Hume praised CNNís policy:
     "Entirely proper advice and, I think, needed advice to American journalists in general, CNN perhaps in particular. Take the example this week of the Taliban's guided tour of alleged scenes of civilian casualties. Some news organizations, CNN and ABC News in particular, according to the New York Times, were taken along basically for free, $30 visa fees. Other news organizations -- NBC, CBS -- were not invited at all. Fox News, an effort was made to charge us a couple thousand dollars. We didn't go. Very prominent play for the stories that were generated by the Taliban's guided tour on CNN and ABC News. So you can see that Walter Isaacson had a reason to make sure that some disclaimer was issued that we're not simply trying to represent this murderous group that is harboring terrorists.
     "But it is an interesting question. Does anybody remember a previous war, with the possible exception of Iraq, in which American journalists would go behind enemy lines, escorted, guided, hosted by the enemy, to see what the enemy wanted seen and give it relatively straight-faced coverage? I can't remember anything like that. I think it's remarkable."

     Yes it is.

     For excerpts from the Howard Kurtz story on the new CNN policy as well as an example of Judy Woodruff following it, go to:


The Taliban and Pentagon deserve equal skepticism? The Senior Editor of NPRís Morning Edition, Susan Feeney, charged on CNN that the Taliban and the Pentagon are equally non-forthcoming as both offer only "semi-controlled information." A few days earlier, ABCís Ted Koppel snidely rebuked those at other networks who wear lapel pins as he asserted: "I donít believe that Iím being a particularly patriotic American by slapping a little flag in my lapel and then saying anything that is said by any member of the U.S. government."

     Sunday morning on CNNís Reliable Sources Feeney, formerly with the Dallas Morning News, defended reporters who went on the Taliban tour: "Well, you can't blame journalists for taking whatever information they can get in this environment. It's sort of we've this semi-controlled reporting that's coming out of Afghanistan and not to be too snide, but you can balance it against the semi-controlled information you have sitting at the Pentagon everyday. And I think it's fair to say we're not getting very much out of either side."
     Host Howard Kurtz pressed: "So you're saying both sides in effect are engaged in a propaganda war?"
     Feeney confirmed: "Absolutely in trying to get only their information out. As for the press, to me it's a little ironic in the sense that we're both accused of being not patriotic enough by the Pentagon and too patriotic in some quarters that were saying too Ďrah, rah United States,í and I can't figure out how you balance that for anybody's approval."

     Last Wednesday, at the Brookings Institution forum broadcast by C-SPAN on Saturday night which was quoted in item #2 above, ABCís Ted Koppel condescendingly remarked:
     "I donít believe that Iím being a particularly patriotic American by slapping a little flag in my lapel and then saying anything that is said by any member of the U.S. government is going to get on without comment and anything that is said by someone from [raises fingers to make quote signs] Ďthe enemyí is immediately going to be put through a meat grinder of analysis. Our job is to put it all through the meat grinder of analysis."

     ABC News has banned on-air staffers from wearing American flag lapel pins, but it doesnít sound as if Koppel would wear one if he were allowed.

     One wishes ABC followed Koppelís policy and made Dan Harris, who went on the Taliban tour of U.S.-caused death and destruction, put Taliban claims "through the meat grinder of analysis."


Fox News CEO Roger Ailes received some negative e-mails from viewers last week after he announced the signing of Geraldo Rivera as a war correspondent, prompting Ailes to respond in a letter to viewers, published in FNCís weekly e-mail newsletter, the Balance Sheet. Ailes promised that Riveraís hiring does not contradict the Fox News Channelís commitment "to fair and balanced news."

     Pursuing Rivera is nothing new for Ailes, who is cartoonishly portrayed by those on the left as a right-wing partisan hack building a channel to serve GOP interests. His interest in Rivera shows he puts a high priority on landing personalities who will attract viewers no matter what their ideology. Ailes brought Rivera to CNBC in the first place when he ran that channel and in 1997 he reportedly offered Rivera a showcase role in prime time on the new Fox News Channel as well as on the Fox broadcast network if he would leave CNBC, an offer which NBC countered by promising Rivera prime time specials on NBC, appearances on Today and his own CNBC news show, the since-canceled Upfront Tonight.

     As Lisa de Moraes reported in the November 2 Washington Post:
"The new deal reunites Rivera with Fox News Channel President Roger Ailes, who was President of CNBC when Rivera began working there in '94. Ailes subsequently tried to bring Rivera to FNC in '97; that resulted instead in Rivera's lucrative deal with NBC News."

     From the November 2 The Balance Sheet e-mail newsletter from FNC, the Ailes reply to those who complained about Rivera joining FNC:
     "Thank you for your letters. Geraldo Rivera has had a long and controversial career and I disagree with many of the things he has said in his life. However, I don't hire only people who agree with me. Geraldo is being hired as a war correspondent. He has been in action in Bosnia and covered the drug wars in South America. He is fearless and has a record of doing exemplary work on issues such as mental health, drugs, and war, just to name a few.
     "Geraldo, by his own admission, has made mistakes in his career. But at his core, he is a solid journalist. Frankly, he could have made millions of dollars more by staying in his safe NBC contract, but he elected to go in harms way to cover the biggest story of our time. He, like many of us, has been changed by the events of September 11th. That doesn't mean we will all agree on every issue, but it does mean that Fox News Channel is truly committed to fair and balanced news. I have great confidence in the American people to make up their own minds if they hear all the facts.
     "I'm not sure if I will be able to convince people whose minds are made up, but while very opinionated, you strike me as viewers who may be open to at least a wait-and-see attitude. I appreciate your opinions. Please keep watching the Fox News Channel even if you don't agree with all 168 hours a week. We do our best, we are making a difference, and we are #1."

     It would be nice if other network news chiefs took viewer concerns as seriously.

     In her Friday story, de Moraes outlined why Rivera decided to leave CNBC in two weeks and how heís taking a big cut in his $6 million annual pay. An excerpt:

....On Nov. 17, the day after his last appearance on CNBC's "Rivera Live," he will be dispatched to the Afghanistan region, where he'll join FNC's other recent hiring coup, former CNN correspondent Steve Harrigan, in providing live reports.

Rivera was four years into a six-year pact with NBC News that paid him about $6 million per year to host the CNBC prime-time talker, host quarterly prime-time NBC News specials on the broadcast network and appear regularly on the "Today" show....

Rivera said he's leaving because he's sick of being told he can't leave his anchor desk, like when he recently pitched that his next NBC prime-time special be on why Muslims hate America.

"They said I couldn't leave the country because of the program," Rivera said. "It was a constant irritant; I want to go where the story is and they'd say, 'What's the domestic angle?'

"It got to the point after September 11 where I couldn't bear it anymore," said Rivera, who says that 15 parents of children at his kids' elementary school were killed in the World Trade Center attacks.

"I've always seen myself, certainly in the last four or five, six years, as a newsman first and a talk show host second," he said. Rivera told The TV Column he's taking "a significant pay cut" to move to FNC....

On his CNBC show last night, Rivera told viewers he was leaving NBC and heading to the We Report, You Decide Network because "I'm not the same guy I was before the maniacs tried to tear our hearts out.

"I'm feeling more patriotic than at any time in my life. Itching for justice -- or maybe just revenge."

     END of Excerpt

     Iíd predict youíll eventually see Geraldo in FNCís prime time. How could they resist a prime time of ratings-getters Bill OíReilly, Hannity & Colmes, plus Geraldo?


Headline contrasts from Sunday newspapers.

     -- Will Republicans or Democrats fare better in 2002?

     November 4 Washington Times headline: "Prolonged War, Recession May Hurt Republicans in Ď02"

     Washington Post headline the same day: "Democrats May Carry Tuesday, But Lose It Next Year"

     -- The Northern Alliance: "Reluctant" or about to pounce?

     New York Times front page on November 4: "Afghan Rebels Seem a Reluctant Force So Far"

     Washington Post front page the same day: "Afghan Rebels Plan Assault on Kabul"


CBS canít win and Ellenís one good joke. CBS had to twice postpone the Emmy awards, first because they were scheduled for the Sunday after the terrorist attacks and then a second time when they fell on the same Sunday the U.S. launched its bombing.

     Then last night, further eating into CBS revenues, CBS was unable to air the highly profitable 60 Minutes in the eastern and central time zones because the Chicago-Cleveland NFL game went into overtime. With a hard start for the Emmy Awards telecast at 8pm EST/7pm CST, CBS barely squeezed in the Andy Rooney segment at 7:50pm EST/ 6:50pm CST, and so had no time for any of the regular pieces.

     The joke I liked best from Emmy host Ellen DeGeneres: "I feel like Iím in a unique position as host because, think about it, what would bug the Taliban more than seeing a gay woman in a suit surrounded by Jews?"

     A nice in their face spirit. -- Brent Baker



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