Anthrax, Lies and Videotapes
by Alejandro Bustos
"Alejandro," a frustrated news editor once told me, "forget about journalism and try a more honest profession, like television advertising."
Watching the current TV coverage on the bombing of Afghanistan, I was reminded of this piece of advice, which was given to me several years ago while I was a journalism student at Carleton University.
Truth, it has been often been said, is the first casualty of war. If you don't believe this, then just turn on your television set and watch the "news".
Still skeptical? Well, consider the following: Condoleezza Rice, national security advisor to U.S. President George W. Bush, recently put in a telephone call to the heads of the five major U.S. television networks. The White House, said Rice, was worried about TV coverage of Osama bin Laden.
Osama, you see, is potentially using videotapes to send coded messages to his terrorist followers. Therefore, out of the goodness of their hearts, the White House was asking CNN and other TV networks to censor Osama's words to combat terrorism. The networks agreed.
To which I respond: Do the media and political elites of North America think we are retarded? The claim of coded messages is so stupid it barely warrants mentioning in a bad science fiction movie. But this hasn't stopped grown adults from telling us with straight faces that censorship is necessary to fight terrorism.
Think about it. Why would Osama use the U.S. media to send out messages, when Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arabic television news station that has become the rage in the Arab world, already shows his videotapes uncut?
Then there is the question of language. CNN, BBC, CBC and company get their Osama footage from Al Jazeera. In turn, the television networks have to translate the video -- an Oct. 9 National Post article reported that the translations were not very good. Which raises this question: Why would a terrorist rely on a poorly translated text to get their orders when they can use the uncensored, uncut and accurate Arabic original?
I am no fan of Osama or any other terrorist. What happened on Sept. 11 was a horrific massacre. But I don't feel any safer when the U.S. government appears to by lying. Moreover, as a Canadian, I did not sleep any better when I found out that the CBC is also censoring any terrorist videos in order to stop potential "secret messages."
Now, to be fair, the print media has been much better than their TV counterparts. Newspapers like the Globe and Mail, New York Times, the Guardian, Los Angeles Times and Independent have had some thoughtful debate over the current war. CNN, on the other hand, has been dreadful on a particularly bad day.
Which brings me to Anthrax. An Oct. 14 story in the Observer newspaper in England reported how U.S. officials have named Iraq as a suspect in the limited Anthrax outbreak in the United States.
Mohamed Atta, one of the hijackers thought to have guided one of the two planes that crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, is thought to have met two different Iraqi officials in Prague. U.S. and Czech officials are investigating whether the Iraqis gave Atta any Anthrax.
Is there any truth to the story, or is it merely a justification to allow war hawks in Washington to have an excuse to bomb Baghdad and get rid of Saddam Hussein? I don't know. There are only conflicting media accounts.
What I do know, however, is that the U.S. media believes Washington with an almost blind acceptance, while being critical to a fault with the enemy. For instance, when the Taliban claimed that 300 civilians were killed in a week of U.S. and British bombing, reporters repeatedly said that the claim was impossible to verify. However, when Iraqi soldiers were accussed of taking Kuwaiti babies out of their incubators during the Gulf War -- a story that later turned out to be fabricated by a PR company -- few stopped to verify this story.