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Media Coverage of 9/11 Warning Scandal

From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release May 28, 2002

White House Responds to Tough Questions About 9/11 Warnings
by Challenging Patriotism of Those Calling for Public Inquiry

* Syndicated columnist Norman Solomon,
examines the media's coverage of the 9/11 warnings
story and White House secrecy in dealing with the Enron scandal

Interview by Scott Harris

Revelations that the White House received warnings from the FBI and CIA in August 2001 about possible hijackings and attacks being planned by Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, have motivated some politicians on Capitol Hill to call for an independent inquiry. After the explosive leaks captured headlines on TV networks and newspapers, Vice President Dick Cheney and others from the administration questioned the patriotism of those who were asking for an investigation into possible failures of U.S. intelligence agencies. Cheney warned that new terrorist attacks were imminent and war-time conditions demanded unchallenged secrecy.

After eight months of promoting patriotism, the media -- for the first time since the September 11th -- have begun asking tough questions about the Bush administration's honesty and conduct in the months prior to the assault on New York and Washington. But some in the media have risen to echo the warnings issued by Dick Cheney, asking the press and the public to back off and place their trust in those occupying the White House.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with syndicated columnist and author Norman Solomon, who examines the way in which the media has covered the 9/11 warnings that came to president Bush and the culture of secrecy that has characterized the White House dealings with many issues, including the Enron scandal.

Norman Solomon: As soon as this scandal broke after the night of May 15, when there was a CBS Report, Ari Fleischer in the White House immediately said it was awful and terrible and unspeakable that anyone would raise these sorts of issues. And I think it became clear very quickly that that wasn't going to wash. That for the first time, Democrats in Congress since 9/11 were willing to take on Bush in some major and potentially very substantive way. So over the weekend there was a shift into counter-attack as part of damage control, you know, because the more defensive modes of damage control clearly hadn't worked. So you had Dick Cheney and other people in the administration not only firing back at their critics, but also announcing with a lot of drum rolls that the U.S. is under danger now from a future, perhaps even imminent al-Qaeda attack in the U.S. that could be horrific and could be even worse than 9/11. And now we're hearing about the possibility of suicide bombings and one of the notable things abou So Cheney, while he's rushed to try to change the subject in the last 48 hours or so as we speak, he's gone ahead and done that while saying that what he is concerned might happen in the future in terms of terrorism in the U.S. could happen weeks or months or even years from now. So I think that's pretty transparent.

In a weird kind of way that may not first be readily apparent, the Bush administration wants to raise a very high threshold as to what would indicate culpability on the part of the president and the administration. I believe at this point, the Bush people would like nothing more than to have the question be whether Bush consciously chose to allow something like 9/11 to happen. Because, if they can have that framed as the measure or the benchmark of culpability then I think it's pretty evident there's no evidence to support that. And so, the bar is raised so high by what I would say are the undocumentable charges by really fringe people who have been making such charges for many months, that it's exactly the sort of the thing that the Bush administration would thrive on.

Between The Lines: Now one of the other things we've been hearing is that the United States is currently at war and it's not the time for public hearings, it's not the time for questioning of Bush administration policies in dealing with the threat of terrorism, and that any questioning in the end could jeopardize the safety of every man, woman, and child in the United States. Now that raises the bar quite a bit for politicians and reporters who are asking the tough questions. Do you think the media is responding appropriately to this implicit threat from the White House?

Norman Solomon: The damage control operative out of the White House is trying to use the patriotism argument to basically tell people to "Sit down and shut up and don't raise any questions." They want to turn the First Amendment into kind of a one-half amendment, which means that we should listen to the free speech rights of the people in the administration. I think one of the dynamics that has shifted is that a lot of Democrats in Congress, for the first time since Sept. 11, have been willing to raise some important issues around Sept. 11 events that the White House doesn't want them to raise. And I think we could extrapolate from this a general paradigm that does exist and that is, when you have no division within or between the Democratic and Republican parties on a substantive issue, generally the mass media don't see an issue worth discussing in major way. For better or worse -- and I think it's almost always for the worse -- when you do have some kind of split or division between or among the two majo One of the things that concerns me is that the editorials in places like the New York Times and the Washington Post in the last few days since this big story broke, these editorials have been very much inclined to downplay the significance. There's a lot of vibe coming from the pundits and big editorial writers of major newspapers to the effect of "Hey, you know, don't get too excited, take a deep breath, let's keep this in perspective. Frankly it's beginning to remind me of a lot of what we heard during the early stages of the Iran-Contra scandal, where there was clearly, according to astute observers, strong indications of outright mendacity in high places in the Reagan administration, but we had these pundits in major newspapers telling us, in effect, "We don't want a failed presidency, we don't want to get carried away and push too much against this administration."

I think it's incumbent upon people at the grassroots to make clear that we're not going to accept that sort of attitude.

Read Norman Solomon's Media Beat column online at:


Scott Harris is the executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines, for the week ending May 31, 2002.


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