[Reader-list] FAIR reporting

Monica Narula monica at sarai.net
Wed Sep 19 16:56:44 IST 2001

We are surrounded by the diatribe of the war machine - and from all 
sides we find ourselves submerged in what the Media is giving to us. 
The FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, 130 West 25th Street 
New York, NY 10001, www.fair.org) organisation sets out to review and 
analyse the rhetoric of hate and the aggressive posturing of this 
machine. It is definitely a place to go to when looking for a 
necessary perspective.  I am attaching below an extract from the 
website which is reviewing some recent speech/writing.

It would be great if someone were to do a similar audit of press/TV 
in India. (consider the fact that Star News has become a subsidiary 
of Fox News,  a channel that FAIR calls the most biased, with an 
extraordinary right wing tilt)

Media March to War

September 17, 2001

In the wake of the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center and 
the Pentagon, many media pundits focused on one theme: retaliation. 
For some, it did not matter who bears the brunt of an American attack:

"There is only one way to begin to deal with people like this, and 
that is you have to kill some of them even if they are not 
immediately directly involved in this thing."
--former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger (CNN, 9/11/01)

"The response to this unimaginable 21st-century Pearl Harbor should 
be as simple as it is swift-- kill the bastards. A gunshot between 
the eyes, blow them to smithereens, poison them if you have to.  As 
for cities or countries that host these worms, bomb them into 
basketball courts."
--Steve Dunleavy (New York Post, 9/12/01)

"America roused to a righteous anger has always been a force for 
good. States that have been supporting if not Osama bin Laden, people 
like him need to feel pain. If we flatten part of Damascus or Tehran 
or whatever it takes, that is part of the solution."
--Rich Lowry, National Review editor, to Howard Kurtz (Washington 
Post, 9/13/01)

"At a bare minimum, tactical nuclear capabilites should be used 
against the bin Laden camps in the desert of Afghanistan. To do less 
would be rightly seen by the poisoned minds that orchestrated these 
attacks as cowardice on the part of the United States and the current 
--Former Defense Intelligence Agency officer Thomas Woodrow, "Time to 
Use the Nuclear Option" (Washington Times, 9/14/01)

Bill O'Reilly: "If the Taliban government of Afghanistan does not 
cooperate, then we will damage that government with air power, 
probably. All right? We will blast them, because..."

Sam Husseini, Institute for Public Accuracy: "Who will you kill in 
the process?"
O'Reilly: "Doesn't make any difference."
--("The O'Reilly Factor," Fox News Channel, 9/13/01)

"This is no time to be precious about locating the exact individuals 
directly involved in this particular terrorist attack.... We should 
invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to 
Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing 
only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we 
killed civilians. That's war. And this is war."
--Syndicated columnist Ann Coulter (New York Daily News, 9/12/01)

"Real" Retribution

Many media commentators appeared to blame the attacks on what they 
saw as America's unwillingness to act aggressively in recent years.

As conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer (Washington Post, 
9/12/01) wrote: "One of the reasons there are enough terrorists out 
there capable and deadly enough to carry out the deadliest attack on 
the United States in its history is that, while they have declared 
war on us, we have in the past responded (with the exception of a few 
useless cruise missile attacks on empty tents in the desert) by 
issuing subpoenas."

The Washington Post's David Broder (9/13/01), considered a moderate, 
issued his own call for "new realism -- and steel -- in America's 
national security policy": "For far too long, we have been queasy 
about responding to terrorism. Two decades ago, when those with real 
or imagined grievances against the United States began picking off 
Americans overseas on military or diplomatic assignments or on 
business, singly or in groups, we delivered pinprick retaliations or 
none at all."

It's worth recalling the U.S. response to the bombing of a Berlin 
disco in April 1986, which resulted in the deaths of two U.S. service 
members: The U.S. immediately bombed Libya, which it blamed for the 
attack. According to Libya, 36 civilians were killed in the air 
assault, including the year-old daughter of Libyan leader Moamar 
Khadafy (Washington Post, 5/9/86). It is unlikely that Libyans 
considered this a "pinprick." Yet these deaths apparently had little 
deterrence value: In December 1988, less than 20 months later, Pan Am 
103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, in an even deadlier act of 
terrorism the U.S. blames on Libyan agents.

More recently, in 1998, Bill Clinton sent 60 cruise missiles, some 
equipped with cluster bombs, against bin Laden's Afghan base, in what 
was presented as retaliation for the bombing of U.S. embassies in 
Africa. One missile aimed at Afghan training camps landed hundreds of 
miles off course in Pakistan, while a simultaneous attack in Sudan 
leveled one of the country's few pharmaceutical factories. Media 
cheered the attacks (In These Times, 9/6/98), though careful 
investigation into the case revealed no credible evidence linking the 
plant to chemical weapons or Osama bin Laden, the two justifications 
offered for the attack (New York Times, 10/27/99, London Observer, 

Despite the dubious record of retributory violence in insuring 
security, many pundits insist that previous retaliation failed only 
because it was not severe enough. As the Chicago Tribune's John Kass 
declared (9/13/01), "For the past decade we've sat dumb and stupid as 
the U.S. military was transformed from a killing machine into a 
playpen for sociologists and political schemers." This "playpen" 
dropped 23,000 bombs on Yugoslavia in 1999, killing between 500 and 
1,500 civilians, and may have killed as many as 1,200 Iraqis in 
1998's Desert Fox attack (Agence France Presse, 12/23/98).

The Wall Street Journal (9/13/01) urged the U.S. to "get serious" 
about terrorism by, among other things, eliminating "the 1995 rule, 
imposed by former CIA Director John Deutsch under political pressure, 
limiting whom the U.S. can recruit for counter-terrorism. For fear of 
hiring rogues, the CIA decided it would only hire Boy Scouts." One 
non-Boy Scout the CIA worked with in the 1980s is none other than 
Osama bin Laden (MSNBC, 8/24/98; The Atlantic, 7-8/01)-- then 
considered a valuable asset in the fight against Communism, but now 
suspected of being the chief instigator of the World Trade Center 

Who's to Blame?

In crisis situations, particularly those involving terrorism, media 
often report unsubstantiated information about suspects or those 
claiming responsibility-- an error that is especially dangerous in 
the midst of calls for military retaliation.

Early reports on the morning of the attack indicated that the 
Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine had claimed 
responsibility on Abu Dhabi Television. Most outlets were careful 
with the information, though NBC's Tom Brokaw, while not confirming 
the story, added fuel to the fire: "This comes, ironically, on a day 
when the Israel Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is scheduled to meet 
with Yasser Arafat. Of course, we've had the meeting in South Africa 
for the past several days in which the Palestinians were accusing the 
Israelis of racism"--as if making such an accusation were tantamount 
to blowing up the World Trade Center.

Hours after a spokesperson for the Democratic Front for the 
Liberation of Palestine denied any responsibility for the attack, the 
Drudge Report website still had the headline "Palestinian Group Says 
Responsible" at the top of the page.

Though the threat from a Palestinian group proved unsubstantiated, 
that did not stop media from making gross generalizations about Arabs 
and Islam in general. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman 
wondered (9/13/01): "Surely Islam, a grand religion that never 
perpetrated the sort of Holocaust against the Jews in its midst that 
Europe did, is being distorted when it is treated as a guidebook for 
suicide bombing. How is it that not a single Muslim leader will say 

Of course, many Muslims would -- and did -- say just that. Political 
and civil leaders throughout the Muslim world have condemned the 
attacks, and Muslim clerics throughout the Middle East have given 
sermons refuting the idea that targeting civilians is a tenet of 
Islam (BBC 9/14/01, Washington Post 9/17/01).

Why They Hate Us

As the media investigation focused on Osama bin Laden, news outlets 
still provided little information about what fuels his fanaticism. 
Instead of a serious inquiry into anti-U.S. sentiment in the Middle 
East and elsewhere, many commentators media offered little more than 
self-congratulatory rhetoric:

"[The World Trade Center and the Pentagon] have drawn, like gathered 
lightning, the anger of the enemies of civilization. Those enemies 
are always out there.... Americans are slow to anger but mighty when 
angry, and their proper anger now should be alloyed with pride. They 
are targets because of their virtues--principally democracy, and 
loyalty to those nations which, like Israel, are embattled salients 
of our virtues in a still-dangerous world."
--George Will (Washington Post, 9/12/01)

"This nation symbolizes freedom, strength, tolerance, and democratic 
principles dedicated to both liberty and peace. To the tyrants, the 
despots, the closed societies, there are no alterations to the 
policies, no gestures we can make, no words we can say that will 
convince those determined to continue their hate."
--Charles G. Boyd (Washington Post, 9/12/01)

"Are Americans afraid to face the reality that there is a significant 
portion of this world's population that hates America, hates what 
freedom represents, hates the fact that we fight for freedom 
worldwide, hates our prosperity, hates our way of life? Have we been 
unwilling to face that very difficult reality?"
--Sean Hannity (Fox News Channel, 9/13/01)

"Our principled defense of individual freedom and our reluctance to 
intervene in the affairs of states harboring terrorists makes us an 
easy target."
--Robert McFarlane (Washington Post, 9/13/01)

One exception was ABC's Jim Wooten (World News Tonight, 9/12/01), who 
tried to shed some light on what might motivate some anti-U.S. 
sentiment in the Middle East, reporting that "Arabs see the U.S. as 
an accomplice of Israel, a partner in what they believe is the 
ruthless repression of Palestinian aspirations for land and 
independence." Wooten continued: "The most provocative issues: 
Israel's control over Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem; the stationing 
of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia near some of Islam's holiest sites; 
and economic sanctions against Iraq, which have been seen to deprive 
children there of medicine and food."

Stories like Wooten's, which examine the U.S.'s highly contentious 
role in the Middle East and illuminate some of the forces that can 
give rise to violent extremism, contribute far more to public 
security than do pundits calling for indiscriminate revenge.
Monica Narula
Sarai:The New Media Initiative
29 Rajpur Road, Delhi 110 054

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