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MEDIA ADVISORY: Lessons from London Bombings show right was right all along, pundits say



Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

Media analysis, critiques and activism

July 11, 2005

Many pundits insisted that “partisanship” should play no part in the discussion of the July 7 terrorist attacks in London. But it seemed like business as usual in the right-wing media—as commentators used the attacks to score political points for their side and promote their pet agendas.

On Fox News Channel’s Special Report (7/7/05), Jeff Birnbaum seemed hopeful that the attacks would mean a rise in the polls for George W. Bush:

“I think that there has been a plunging poll rating for Bush’s policies in Iraq and even for the president’s job performance overall, in part because the American people forgot that there really is a war on terror, or they didn’t believe Bush’s oft-repeated reminders from the stump that, in fact, we were in war and we had to act that way. I think this will—it takes away all of the credibility problems that the president has been having. And popular support, I think, will begin to rise for him again.”

Birnbaum’s co-panelist, Bill Sammon of the Washington Times, agreed: “I think the entire conversation changes now. You know, we were talking about Gitmo and whether the prisoners had sufficient comforts… That debate is obliterated. And now we’re back to, guess what? Good and evil. I mean, this is what Tony Blair, and Jack Straw, and all these people were talking about. They’re talking about using words like wicked and evil, the words that Bush was mocked for using by his detractors when 9/11 happened. But that’s where the conversation’s back to. We’re not talking about global warming. We’re not talking about Gitmo. We’re back to the basics. We are at war.”

Oddly, Birnbaum’s response to that was to predict a dip in partisanship: “I think, in fact, partisanship, at least in the short run, will be diminished.” That would be true if one were defining partisanship merely as criticism of Bush, since praising Bush and criticizing his “detractors” is apparently not partisan. Fox panelist Fred Barnes made that point even clearer by noting an exception to the non-partisan trend: “Not for Jane Harman,” Barnes interjected— referring to the Democratic Congresswoman who had suggested that the war in Iraq was not making the U.S. or its allies safer.

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough seemed to declare (7/7/05) any and all criticism of the White House unacceptable: “Earlier today, you had Hillary Clinton, senator for New York, coming out and actually criticizing George Bush, criticizing our government, saying that we’re just not spending enough money on counterterrorism.” The clip that followed was a dry recitation of federal domestic security budgets cuts—hardly an unimaginable topic for discussion after the London attacks.

Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity also lamented that the left had dared to criticize the Bush administration (7/7/05): “I have felt at almost every step of the way from the very beginning, they have often undermined the president’s war on terror. And they have accused him of targeting civilians for assassination, accused him of starting a war for political gain, accusing him of being responsible for torture policies when no such thing came true. It seems like they’ve always looked to politicize it, which has hurt our effort to unite and combat this.”

While Hannity was lamenting such “politicization,” he was also practicing it: “And doesn’t events like this actually prove that the president is actually right, inasmuch as we knew Saddam used chemical weapons and biological weapons against his on his own people. We knew he wouldn’t abide by the cease-fire agreement or the U.N. resolutions.”

Other outlets found it an opportune time to promote White House policies. The Washington Times editorialized (7/8/05): “The London attacks, like the train bombings last year in Madrid, required a high degree of coordination and detail, suggesting a plot planned well in advance. And yet here we are arguing whether to dismantle key provisions in the Patriot Act.”

On the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page (7/8/05), Daniel Henninger seized the moment to back the White House’s candidate for U.N. ambassador: “If the U.S. Senate wanted to send a signal of resolve and seriousness to whoever bombed London, Democrats would join with Republicans their first day back to dispatch proven anti-terror warrior John Bolton straight to the U.N. They won’t. They’ll keep playing political fiddles while London burns.”

Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly was more hopeful that the London killings would change the minds of those he disagrees with. “My first thought was Al-Qaeda trying to disrupt the G-8 summit in Scotland,” explained O’Reilly (7/7/05). “My second thought was now maybe Europe will wise up. The terrorists are the evildoers, not the USA.”

(In contrast, Fox’s Brit Hume said his “first thought” when he heard about the attack was: “Hmmm, time to buy” stock market futures—Media Matters, 7/7/05.)

When O’Reilly wasn’t criticizing the governments of France and Germany for being soft on terrorism, he was blaming the press: “The anti-American press both here and in Europe is actually helping the terrorists by diminishing their threat.” To make his point even clearer, O’Reilly asked one guest, “Have you read The Guardian lately? I mean, it might be edited by Osama bin Laden. I mean, that’s how bad that paper is.”

O’Reilly seemed to almost be blaming the victims, wondering why Islamist terrorists would even bother attacking Europe: “What good does it do to Al-Qaeda to alienate Europe when Europe has basically been, not on their side but certainly putting the U.S. as the big villain and de-emphasizing, as I say sanitizing, what Al-Qaeda has done. What good does it do Al-Qaeda to alienate, you know, the BBC and all of these major organizations that have basically not dealt with the threat in a realistic way?” O’Reilly’s guest, Steven Emerson, expanded on that: “In certain respects, BBC almost operates as a foreign registered agent of Hezbollah and some of the other jihadist groups.”

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough similarly lamented the lack of seriousness about terrorism:

“We stop listening to the warnings of the Churchills and the Bushes and, instead, we focus on speeches by rock stars and by Hollywood actors. When our world leaders get together, they focus on global warming and the causes of the moment, instead of fighting the war of our lifetime. But, while the rock stars preach, our enemies scheme. While movie stars practice politics, suicide bombers plan on how to kill the most innocent people with a single blast. You know, our leaders may ignore antiterrorism at G8 conferences these days, but, of course, that suddenly changes when the first reports of explosions come in. Then, suddenly, that idiot Bush starts looking a little bit better than the likes of the Chiracs and the Schroeders standing next to him. And Tony Blair, well, he suddenly seems to have a more realistic grasp on global realities than, say, Bob Geldof.”

Scarborough added: “We’re not a serious people. Some concern themselves more with terrorists’ rights than civilization’s future. Reporters work overtime demeaning the very troops who protect our land. And rock stars replace grim Cassandras, like Bush and Churchill, as the prophets of pop cultures. The results are almost always disastrous.”

This lecture comes from a cable news host who has devoted much of his program in recent weeks to the search for Natalee Holloway, the Alabama teenager missing in Aruba.

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