26/10/04 ACTION ALERT: Bush's Kerry Comments Go Unchecked


Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

Media analysis, critiques and activism

October 26, 2004

George W. Bush's new claims about Kerry “flip-flopping” on the war in Afghanistan quickly moved yesterday from the campaign trail to the nightly news. But some journalists who repeated Bush's charges made no effort to examine the truth behind Bush's claims— claims which turn out, like many other Bush lines of attack, to be deceptive.

Bush charged that while Kerry now criticizes how the administration managed the search for Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora, Kerry made comments at the time that were much different. “In the fall of 2001,” Bush charged, “on national TV, he said this about Tora Bora: 'I think we've been doing this pretty effectively and we should continue to do it that way.' At the time, the senator said about Tora Bora, 'I think we've been smart. I think the administration leadership has done it well, and we are on the right track.'”

But Bush is taking Kerry's words grossly out of context. Both comments he cited came from an appearance on CNN's Larry King Live (12/14/01). When a viewer asked “why they don't use napalm or flamethrowers on those tunnels and caves up there in Afghanistan,” Kerry replied:

“Well, I think it depends on where you are tactically. They may well be doing that at some point in time. But for the moment, what we are doing, I think, is having its impact and it is the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimalize the proximity, if you will. I think we have been doing this pretty effectively and we should continue to do it that way.”

In other words, Kerry was suggesting that napalm and flamethrowers might be ill-suited for the mission to find Osama bin Laden.

Bush is incorrect in saying that the other quote was “about Tora Bora”; in fact, that comment came in response to this question from host Larry King: “Senator Kerry— and this is for all of you— how goes it so far in Afghanistan, in your opinion?” A moment's thought reveals the absurdity of comparing one assessment of the situation in Afghanistan— made shortly after the capture of Kabul, when it was believed that bin Laden was surrounded and would soon be captured— with an assessment made later, after bin Laden had slipped away to parts unknown.

Unfortunately, some journalists covering the Bush campaign appearance passed along his allegations, but failed to inform viewers about their accuracy. CNN's John King (10/25/04) talked up the Bush campaign strategy, noting that “another part of their strategy to keep voters moving from Bush to Kerry is to make the case that Senator Kerry has been inconsistent on Iraq.” As evidence, King explained that “as part of that message today, one of Senator Kerry's arguments on the campaign trail has been that the United States military let Osama bin Laden away at Tora Bora — let him escape from Tora Bora, Afghanistan. Senator Kerry says that is proof that Mr. Bush has mismanaged the war on terrorism. President Bush today in his speech is quoting something very different Senator Kerry said back in the fall of 2001.” He then quoted from Bush's speech, but failed to provide the context of Kerry's statements, made on his own network.

NBC Nightly News correspondent David Gregory (10/25/04) also failed to challenge Bush's claims, opting instead to explain Bush's strategy to NBC viewers: “The president also took aim today at one of Kerry's main attacks, that the administration let Osama bin Laden get away during the war in Afghanistan. Today, the Bush campaign tracked down an interview Kerry gave at the time, praising the effort to find bin Laden at Tora Bora. The president quoted Kerry's words.” Unfortunately, Gregory did not compare Bush's description of Kerry's words with Kerry's actual remarks.

ACTION: Please contact CNN and NBC News and remind them how critical it is to check the accuracy of charges made in the closing days of the presidential campaign.


CNN, Wolf Blitzer Reports

NBC Nightly News Phone: (212) 664-4971

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