More on CNN and Reports of al-Qaida
A headline in the Pakistan"Daily Times" reads "CNN ends up with `much egg on its face'." Yesterday, I mentioned that -- after providing blanket coverage of the imminent capture of al-Qaida's #2 man al-Zawahiri (which has not occurred and is unlikely to do so) -- CNN abruptly dropped the story and barely mentioned it for hours. The background on what happened is an instructive glimpse into the media's mindset and the influence it exerts. Aaron Brown -- CNN's lead anchor and host of NewsNight With Aaron Brown -- was in Pakistan to cover US Secretary of State Colin Powell's"anniversary" visit when the opportunity to interview President Pervez Musharraf arose. Musharraf told Brown about a military operation in South Waziristan, stating that the resistance being offered suggested militants might be defending a high-value target. He said it was"very likely" the possible target had been surrounded. Sensing they had a global exclusive -- the biggest story since the capture of Saddam Hussein -- CNN ran with it, sensationalizing both the form and substance. Suddenly, al-Zawarhiri by name was surrounded and about to be captured any moment, thus raising worldwide expectations and tensions. As events unfolded and non-US media began to comment, it became clear that nothing about the battle was"imminent" and fierce conflict might rage for days or weeks. And, so, in live satellite broadcasts, Brown began to backpedal, lowering time expectations. It became unclear that al-Zawahiri was still among the beseiged or ever had been there. And, so, top news executives at CNN exerted fast control. No retractions. Just bury the story as though it had not been reported. It was a blunder of Biblical proportions that made the world a little more nervous and news a lot less trustworthy.
Meanwhile, only foreign media seem to be raising any question about whether the beseiged are really al-Qaida. Perhaps they are. But the area being destroyed by the Pakistan military is populated by warlike tribes and leaders who have never recognized Musharraf's authority, and who may well have had a hand in the two recent attempts on his life. When Diem destroyed all his political opponents in Vietnam, he did so under the guise that they were Communists which was patently untrue. US officials readily believed Diem because they wished to see"progress" and, frankly, they didn't know any better. According to CNN and the Pakistan military, the so-called al-Qaida captured so far" could be Arabs, Uzbeks, Chechens or members of local tribes." If they don't know their nationalities or affiliations, how do they know the captured are al-Qaida?
For more commentary, please see McBlog.