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The Truth May Set You Free...

But it might not get you confirmed by the Senate.

The New York Times reports on the nomination of J. Dorrance Smith to be assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, which apparently is now very much in jeopardy.

WASHINGTON, Oct. 25 - The senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee vowed Tuesday to defeat President Bush's choice for chief Pentagon spokesman, citing an op-ed article the nominee wrote in April accusing American television networks of aiding Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.

The comments by the senator, Carl Levin of Michigan, during and after a committee hearing to consider the nomination of J. Dorrance Smith to be assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, cast serious doubt on Mr. Smith's chances to win approval by the full Senate.

Mr. Smith, a former ABC News producer who has worked as an adviser in both Bush administrations, said in an article in The Wall Street Journal on April 25 that the Arab satellite news channel Al Jazeera operated on behalf of terrorists and that American networks aided them by televising Al Jazeera's videotape.

...Mr. Levin said Tuesday that coming from someone who had been picked to be the Pentagon's chief liaison with the news media, those comments went too far. "That you would characterize them as aiders and abettors of the terrorists that attack us," he told reporters, "as far as I'm concerned that is so far over the top, it's unacceptable."

So what did Smith actually say? The full text of the column is included below.

The Enemy On Our Airwaves Wall Street Journal Apr 25, 2005 Dorrance Smith

On April 11, Jeffrey Ake, an American, was taken hostage in Iraq. Video of him in captivity was shown on Al-Jazeera on April 13. A short time later six American networks -- ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CNN and MSNBC -- aired the same video, a vivid example of the ongoing relationship between terrorists, Al-Jazeera and the networks. Last week, Al-Jazeera showed video of a helicopter being shot, bursting into flames and trailing smoke as it fell to the ground. It also aired video of the lone survivor being forced to walk on a broken leg and then being shot by the terrorists, one of whom said, "We are applying God's law."

As the war continues, more hostages will be taken and acts of murderous violence committed -- leading to more videos for Al-Jazeera and the networks. Isn't it time to scrutinize the relationship among Al-Jazeera, American networks and the terrorists? What role should the U.S. government be playing?

Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and al Qaeda have a partner in Al- Jazeera and, by extension, most networks in the U.S. This partnership is a powerful tool for the terrorists in the war in Iraq. Figures show that 77% of Iraqis cite TV as their main source of information; 15% cite newspapers. Current estimates are that close to 100% of Iraqis have access to satellite TV, 18% to cell phones, and 8% to the Internet. The battle for Iraqi hearts and minds is being fought over satellite TV. It is a battle today that we are losing badly.

The collaboration between the terrorists and Al-Jazeera is stronger than ever. While the precise terms of that relationship are virtually unknown, we do know this: Al-Jazeera and the terrorists have a working arrangement that extends beyond a modus vivendi. When the terrorists want to broadcast something that helps their cause, they have immediate and reliable access to Al-Jazeera. This relationship -- in a time of war -- raises some important questions:

-- What does Al-Jazeera promise the terrorist organizations in order to get consistent access to their video?

-- Does it pay for material?

-- Is it promised safety and protection if it continues to air unedited tapes? (No Al-Jazeera employee has been killed or taken hostage by the terrorists. When I ran the Iraqi Television Network, seven employees were killed by terrorists.)

-- Does Al-Jazeera promise the terrorists that it won't reveal their whereabouts and techniques as a quid pro quo for doing business? Is this bargain in the guise of journalism a defensible practice?

While I was in Iraq in 2004, Al-Jazeera was expelled from the country by the Iraqi Governing Council for violating international law. Numerous times they had advance knowledge of military actions against coalition forces. Instead of reporting to the authorities that it had been tipped off, Al-Jazeera would pre- position a crew at the event site and wait for the attack, record it and rush it on air. This happened time after time, to the point where Al-Jazeera was expelled from Iraq. The airing of the Ake video, however, demonstrates that it can still operate on behalf of the terrorists even from outside the country.

Al-Jazeera continues to broadcast because it reportedly receives $100 million a year from the government of Qatar. Without this subsidy it would be off the air, off the Internet and out of business. So, does Qatar's funding of Al- Jazeera constitute state sponsorship of terrorism? As long as Al-Jazeera continues to practice in cahoots with terrorists while we are at war, should the U.S. government maintain normal relations with Qatar? As long as Al-Jazeera continues to aid and abet the enemy, as long as we are fighting a war on the ground and in the airwaves, why are we not fighting back against Al-Jazeera and Qatar, the nation that makes possible the network's existence? Should the U.S. not adopt a hard-line position about doing business with Qatar as long as Al- Jazeera is doing business with terrorists?

In addition to being subsidized by Qatar, Al-Jazeera has very strong partners in the U.S. -- ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CNN and MSNBC. Video aired by Al-Jazeera ends up on these networks, sometimes within minutes. The terrorists are aware of this access and use it -- as in the Ake case -- to further their aims. They want to reach the American audience and influence public opinion.

The arrangement between the U.S. networks and Al-Jazeera raises questions of journalistic ethics. Do the U.S. networks know the terms of the relationship that Al-Jazeera has with the terrorists? Do they want to know?

There has been no in-depth reporting about Al-Jazeera in the U.S. and virtually no scrutiny of Qatar and its relationship with the network. Why not? Is it that the American networks don't want to give up their tainted video? And since they all get the same material and all air it at the same time, do they feel a certain safety being in bed together? The cable networks have become addicted to the latest B- roll video. If that video was obtained by means that violated their own standards and practices, would they air it? Would they even know?

What if one of the networks had taken a stand and refused to air the Ake video on the grounds that it was aiding and abetting the enemy, and that from this point forward it would not be a tool of terrorist propaganda? The terrorists know that the airing of such video creates pressure on the government to negotiate a release. It also sends a signal to Americans about the perils of being an American working in Iraq. If the Ake video had never aired in the U.S., the position of the hostage-takers would have been severely impaired. Had it never aired, terrorists would have had no incentive to continue making the tapes.

Is it fanciful to think that network news executives would have the fortitude not to air any video shot by terrorists? They already stop short of airing everything, so why not refuse to touch the stuff altogether? At the very least, is it not reasonable to raise questions about the sources and methods used to obtain this material? The war in Iraq will likely drag on for some time. More lives will be lost and more hostages will be taken and more videos will be made. Now we should engage the terrorists on the airwaves as we do on the ground.

---

Mr. Smith, currently a media consultant in Washington, spent nine months in Iraq as a senior media adviser to Ambassador Paul Bremer.

Just wait a few years until a blogger gets appointed to a position that requires confirmation - calling it "the politics of personal destruction" will probably be an understatement ...


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Comments (1)

"so far over the top."... (Below threshold)

"so far over the top."

Well, when you're Carl Levin, you're lucky if you gat climb out of the basement.




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