National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States: Media Accountability

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On March 23 and 24, 2004, the "independent bipartisan" National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States heard testimony from a number of staff members from the current Bush administration, as well as from previous administrations, in order "to prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, including preparedness for and response to the attacks, as well as recommendations to prevent future attacks." Aside from accountability from these government officials, there is also the matter of media accountability. [1]

In his March 29, 2004, article "Clarke and the Media Failures of 9-11" for Media Channel, Danny Schechter asks "Who in our media will have the courage to apologize for giving the Administration a soft sell and a big pass?" [2]

Schechter adds: "As anyone who has followed these issues knows, a whole body of questions being raised on hundreds of websites, and by independent investigators and groups of 9-11 families were marginalized and for the most part ignored." [3]

"It seems like you have to be in 'the club' to be taken seriously. The irony of course is that the hearings only took place because of the persistence of a handful of outsiders--activist wives of 9-11 victims who lobbied for the investigation like crazy and then walked out in disgust when many of their questions were sidelined and after national Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice refused to testify because of a bogus separation of powers 'principle', which she claims precludes her from testifying before Congress. She made the same claim in an all too friendly interview on 60 Minutes. [4]

"Neither correspondent Ed Bradley nor other commentators have pointed out to her that this Commission was appointed by the President, not the Congress and only met in a room on the Hill. The reference to testifying before Congress is misplaced. [5]

"What she did say that was interesting was to allude to the kind of context and background that is missing in most of the media, 'You have to go back into the 70's and 80's,' she said. Her reading of that history was very selective but at least she cited it. That is precisely what the 9-11 investigation and the media coverage has NOT done." [6]

Greg Mitchell, in the April 1, 2004, edition of Editor & Publisher, points out that "Editors and reporters now under attack for failing to expose the inaccuracy of official claims during the run-up to the Iraq war often offer this defense: We were being spun (or lied to) by Iraqi defectors on the one hand, and by administration officials on the other. What were we to do?" [7]

To answer this question, Mitchell cites "legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee," who, he asserts, "offered the perfect retort" on March 17, 2004: [8]

"'The best journalists,'" Bradlee said, "'are the best lie detectors... Not just the relentless skeptics who sort of automatically disbelieve everything. But the reporters who instinctively are alert to the possibility that their sources don't know what they are talking about ... are leaving out vital details that would tend to discredit their stories, or they are deliberately lying.'"

Mitchell says that, "While too many of their colleagues were suffering from A.D.D. (alert deficit disorder), an investigative team from Knight Ridder's Washington bureau has produced one damning report after another, from the summer of 2002 to mid-March 2004. ... Two KR reporters, Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel, contributed to most of these stories, with others also playing key roles." [9]

Also, Mitchell says that "there's another reason KR was so 'alert' (as Ben Bradlee would phrase it) when some of the other national news outlets were not. 'Our sources,' John Walcott says, 'include a large number of people at the working level in government, not on the cocktail circuit. These unglamorous people -- they could be called the 'blue- collar' type -- actually handled intelligence and saw it different than officials.'" [10]

The March 29, 2004, edition of Editor & Publisher also carried the story of Rick Mercier, a columnist for the Fredericksburg, Virginia, The Free Lance-Star, who delivered an apology in his article "Elite print media failed its readers on the Iraq War": [11]

"The media are finished with their big blowouts on the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and there is one thing they forgot to say: We're sorry," Rick Mercier wrote.
"Sorry we let unsubstantiated claims drive our coverage. Sorry we were dismissive of experts who disputed White House charges against Iraq. Sorry we let a band of self-serving Iraqi defectors make fools of us. Sorry we fell for Colin L. Powell's performance at the United Nations. Sorry we couldn't bring ourselves to hold the administration's feet to the fire before the war, when it really mattered.
"Maybe we'll do a better job next war."

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