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Americans ill-served by own media

by ANTONIA ZERBISIAS Monday, Mar. 10, 2003 at 5:19 PM

Here are a few under-reported yet telling statistics from a Princeton Survey Research Associates poll conducted two months ago:

Mar. 6, 2003. 01:00 AM

Americans ill-served by own media


Here are a few under-reported yet telling statistics from a Princeton Survey Research Associates poll conducted two months ago:

At the time, 65 per cent of Americans were convinced that Al Qaeda and Iraq were "allied" even though the U.S. administration had yet to present its "evidence'' — which turned out to be cribbed, typos and all, from a student paper.

Despite the fact that 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudi, with the rest Egyptian, Lebanese and from the United Arab Emirates, 49 per cent of those surveyed were convinced that at least one of them, if not most of them, was a card-carrying Iraqi citizen. Only 17 per cent knew that not one was a boy from Baghdad.

Now, as much as we Canadians like to rag on our nearest and dearest neighbours, telling ourselves that they're so stupid, we have to cut them some slack.

That's because they are so ill-served by their news media. Not all of it, mind you, but certainly most of it, and definitely by the most pervasive of it, whether local or national.

They package and market this "Showdown" thing like info-burger: Pre-ground, overcooked, and then served with a side of processed cheese, just like the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

No wonder more than two dozen authors, historians, scholars and journalists this week signed a group letter to media organizations charging them with overplaying military tactics while ignoring significant and relevant issues.

Can we say oil, kids?

Or ask about how some of the weapons of mass destruction got to Iraq in the first place? (Read the memo at

The media's failure to serve the public interest helps explain why, as the Internet audience measurement company Nielsen NetRatings revealed last month, Americans are turning more and more to news sites outside the country for a more accurate and balanced picture of the world.

How else would they have learned, for example, that, as reported by the London Observer on Sunday, the U.S. government had pulled out its bag of "dirty tricks'' to spy on recalcitrant members of the United Nations Security Council?

While the U.S. media ignored the story, the Star had it immediately. CBC Newsworld had one of its co-authors on the line by Monday. But, as he told, NBC, CNN and Fox had all booked him — and then backed out. That despite how, even when directly questioned about the surveillance, neither the White House nor the U.S. State Department denied the charges.

The U.S. mainstream media — in the past few days alone — have also largely ignored reports by the brave and brilliant British correspondent Robert Fisk exposing how CNN ("By Appointment To The Pentagon'') war reports will undergo a new and especially rigorous screening process and how doubts have been cast on the arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who has been mysteriously promoted from a minor scowling face on the FBI's terrorist list to, as MSNBC put it the other day, "Al Qaeda's CEO."

In fact, as the media are playing guessing games over whether this guy is being tortured and what might be found in his laptop, almost nobody seems to be questioning how it was only last September, when the U.S. netted Ramzi bin al-Shibh, that President George W. Bush was crowing how they had nabbed "one of the chief planners and organizers'' of 9/11.

Now Mohammed is top gun?

Only one journalist that I could find noticed this little we-caught-the-big-one game going on.

Wrote Debra Pickett, a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times: "The cynical view on this is that Mohammed is still the relatively small fish we were first told he was, but the news of his arrest is being hyped because the Bush administration needs a victory in the war on terrorism before going to war in Iraq.

"The merely skeptical view is that we are clueless about how Al Qaeda really works.''

But, as they all drag out their ex-FBI experts, most of whom haven't been seen since the SniperVision bonanza, few major media seem to be even skeptical, let alone cynical.

All of which leads me to a very devastating conclusion: I have to agree with U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Last week, under heavy questioning, for once, by a snappish press corps, he hit back, accusing its members of churning up trouble and turning out lies: "Everyone's so eager to get the story before, in fact, the story's there that the world is constantly being fed things that haven't happened."

No? Really?

Can't imagine how that could happen.


Antonia Zerbisias appears every Thursday. You can reach her at

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I'm absolute Floored Diogenes Monday, Mar. 10, 2003 at 5:22 PM
Ill served Socrates Tuesday, Mar. 11, 2003 at 6:22 AM
One good turn deserves another Diogenes Tuesday, Mar. 11, 2003 at 8:59 AM
lies lies,lies yeah there gonna get you systemfailure Wednesday, Mar. 12, 2003 at 2:48 AM

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