CNN Says Focus on Civilian Casualties Would Be "Perverse" (FAIR)

by Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting Friday, Nov. 02, 2001 at 9:59 PM

According to the Washington Post (10/31/01), CNN Chair Walter Isaacson "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.'"

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ACTION ALERT:
CNN Says Focus on Civilian Casualties Would Be "Perverse"
 
November 1, 2001
 
According to the Washington Post (10/31/01), CNN Chair Walter Isaacson "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.'"
 
Post media reporter Howard Kurtz quotes a memo from Isaacson to CNN's
international correspondents: "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."
 
The memo went on to admonish reporters covering civilian deaths not to
"forget it is that country's leaders who are responsible for the situation
Afghanistan is now in," suggesting that journalists should lay
responsibility for civilian casualties at the Taliban's door, not the U.S.
military's.
 
Kurtz also quotes a follow-up memo from Rick Davis, CNN's head of standards
and practices, that suggested sample language for news anchors:
 
" '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.' "
 
Davis stated that "even though it may start sounding rote, it is important
that we make this point each time."
 
The New York Times reported (11/1/01) that these policies are already being
implemented at CNN, with other networks following a similar, though perhaps
not as formalized, strategy. "In the United States," the Times noted,
"television images of Afghan bombing victims are fleeting, cushioned between
anchors or American officials explaining that such sights are only one side
of the story." In other countries, however, "images of wounded Afghan
children curled in hospital beds or women rocking in despair over a baby's
corpse" are "more frequent and lingering."
 
When CNN correspondent Nic Robertson reported yesterday from the site of a
bombed medical facility in Kandahar, the Times reported, U.S. anchors "added
disclaimers aimed at reassuring American viewers that the network was not
siding with the enemy." CNN International, however, did not add any such
disclaimers.
 
During its U.S broadcasts, CNN "quickly switched to the rubble of the World
Trade Center" after showing images of the damage in Kandahar, and the anchor
"reminded viewers of the deaths of as many as 5,000 people whose 'biggest
crime was going to work and getting there on time.'"
 
If anything in this story is "perverse," it's that one of the world's most
powerful news outlets has instructed its journalists not to report Afghan
civilian casualties without attempting to justify those deaths. "I want to
make sure we're not used as a propaganda platform," Isaacson told the
Washington Post. But his memo essentially mandates that pro-U.S. propaganda
be included in the news.
 
ACTION: Please tell CNN to factually report the consequences of the U.S. war
in Afghanistan without editorializing. Including a justification for the
bombing with every mention of civilian casualties risks turning CNN from a
news outlet into a propaganda service.
 
CONTACT:
CNN, Walter Isaacson, Chairman and CEO
Phone: (404) 827-1500
Fax: (404) 827-1784
mailto:community@cnn.com
 
As always, please remember that your comments are taken more seriously if
you maintain a polite tone. Please cc fair@fair.org with your
correspondence.
 
For further details, see Howard Kurtz's full Washington Post story:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A14435-2001Oct30.html
 
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Original: CNN Says Focus on Civilian Casualties Would Be "Perverse" (FAIR)