The lap dog role of the mass media is never more evident than when the government announces it's going to war. Although the recently christened crusade against terrorism doesn't count as a war in the traditional sense, the media has predictably been leading the drum beat for a military response to the September 11 terror attacks. There's nothing new about the current media lead cheerleading for war. From the U.S.S. Maine to the Gulf of Tonkin to the S11 terror attacks of this year, the mass media has always propagandized in favor of war in a time of crisis.
These days every pronouncement of a government official or a media appointed terrorism expert is being given headline status around the clock in the media. No matter how poorly sourced or how logically challenged the claim is, there isn't a newspaper, a radio station or a television station that isn't publicizing it virtually unchallenged by any criticism. A good example is the front page feature article appearing in the September 23, 2001 St. Paul Pioneer Press.
This edition of the Pioneer Press happened to catch the eye of the author while he was waiting for a Seattle bound Northwest Airlines flight at Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport. The feature story appearing on the front page contains the names and photos of the FBI's official list of the suspected S11 suicide highjackers. The list includes 19 men, all of them apparently Arab, including 16 black and white photographs, many of them low quality passport photos. The article in question is titled "Terrorists Left Behind A Twisted Trail," by Pioneer Press Washington Bureau reporters Tom Infield, Mark Fazlollah and Daniel Rubin. When I saw this I instantly thought to myself, "I'll bet there's some shoddy journalism to call the Pioneer Press on with this."
I was already aware of Robert Fiske's September 17 report in the Independent (www.independent.co.uk) on the recent whereabouts of one of the suspected "suicide highjackers," Abdulrahman al-Omari, who happens to be a Saudi Airlines pilot alive and well living in Jeddah, thank you very much(al-Omari, whose first name is misspelled on the front page of the Pioneer Press as "Abdulaziz" is one of the three suspects whose names appear without photos). I wasn't prepared for the actual text of the article to admit that it is a case study in bad journalism, but it does. The fourth paragraph of the article basically admits as much when it state that "the story of the suspects is a maddening maze of sketchy records, aliases and apparently phony documents. Even now, the FBI is uncertain about the identities of all the purported hijackers, leaving agents to work from the list they assembled from flight records." Then 39 paragraphs later it is admitted that one of the suspects named with a photo on the front page, Flight
175 "suspect" Waleed Alshehri, has been reported by the Associated Press alive and training with a Moroccan airline in Casablanca. Yet the editors at the Pioneer Press went ahead and published this story on the front page anyway.
I believe that there is only one source for this story, and that would be the FBI. The authors and editors do try to dress up the story with the appearance of journalistic integrity. The paragraph that mentions the AP report on the recent whereabouts of one of the suspected highjackers mentions the FBI declining comment on this revelation, as if this is what is required in a story dealing with 19 dead criminal suspects whose identities are in question. Earth to the editors of the Pioneer Press: WHAT ABOUT CONTACTING THE MAN IN MOROCCO NAMED WALEED ALSHEHRI, INSTEAD OF PUBLISHING HIS NAME WITH THE PHOTO OF A MAN WHO MIGHT HAVE BEEN USING HIS NAME AS AN ALIAS, YOU FUCKING IDIOTS!
Now this is what Robert Fiske did in his September 17 article in the Independent about the revelation that Abdulrahman al-Omari was alive and well in Saudi Arabia. Although Fiske didn't interview al-Olmari, the article states that the Saudi pilot is refusing to talk to reporters, leaving the impression that Fiske made an attempt to contact him (and given Fiske's reputation I don't doubt for a second that he did try to contact this man).
Fiske also wrote a September 16 article based on interview with the Lebanese family of Flight 93 suspect Ziad Jarrah(his name is misspelled as Jarrahi on the front page of the Pioneer Press). Jarrah's family vehemently denies that he could have had any role in the highjackings. Whether or not the denials of Jarrah's family turn out to be true, the Independent isn't risking defaming somebody by publishing Fiske's interview the suspect's family. This is also the ethical thing to do because what if it turns out that Jarrah had nothing to do with the hijacking of Flight 93. DUH!
Why would the Pioneer Press publish such a potentially defamatory article based on a list of suspects, produced by a law enforcement agency, whose identities are still in question? One possible explanation is that the Pioneer Press probably doesn't has have a reporter based in the Middle East. Yet how difficult is it to make the appropriate phone calls to overseas reporters and suspect family members to fact check the names the FBI is giving them? Could there be any doubt that a group of British or French citizens wouldn't be getting treated this way? I don't think they would. A group of European Americans certainly wouldn't be getting treated this way as well. There can be no doubt why the Pioneer Press published its September 23 front page story: Our society's racist attitudes towards Arab and/or Muslim peoples.
When Arabs and/or Muslims are accused of engaging in terrorism many non-Arab and non-Muslim Americans immediately condemn all of these peoples as terrorists. In fact, many Americans don't even have a rudimentary understand of the terms Arab and Muslim. A Sikh man in Mesa, Arizona is believed to have been murdered after the S11 attacks because the suspected killer thought he was Arab and/or Muslim even though he is neither. Many Sikh's happen to wear turban's, like many Arabs and/or Muslims are know to do.
What this tells is us that no standard of evidence is necessary when a group of Arabs and/or Muslims are accused of engaging in terrorism. Any photo a man with dark hair, brown skin and an Arab or an Arab-sounding name attached to it will do for a suspect. This is the low standard of evidence the Pioneer Press apparently needs to put publish 19 names with 16 photos on the front page of a Sunday edition of the paper with stories about the S11 hijackings. Why won't most of the U.S. media publish Fiske's sympathetic but yet hard hitting piece about highjacking suspect Jarrah's family (Fiske does not spare the suspect's family any tough questions in his interview)? Fiske's article on Jarrah's family portrays Arabs as human and understandably defensive about the role any family member may have played in such horrific crimes. This is the kind of reporting that doesn't seem to be allowed in the media once the FBI starts naming the names of suspects in a terrorist crime, and all of the names turn out to be Arabs.
On the editorial page of the same edition of the Pioneer Press appeared an op-ed by editor Walker Lundy titled, "Mr. Bush: Show us the 'hard evidence' against bin Laden." Lundy's column is a rare, reasoned piece of journalism in the war mongering media these days, with many pundits stating that they don't really care what country gets bombed or how many innocents get killed in retaliatory U.S. bombings for the S11 terror attacks. Lundy makes the reasonable observation that President Bush's statements about having evidence that Osama bin Laden was the mastermind behind the S11 terror attacks are long on bombast and short on any hard evidence. It's quite ironic then that the same edition of the Pioneer Press would contain a front page feature that reads like little more than a badly researched FBI most wanted bulletin, helping make asses out of Lundy and the rest of the editorial staff at the paper.