CNN amnesia: Forgot TNR report on Bush plans when Al Qaeda suspect arrested during Dem Convention

››› ››› GABE WILDAU

On July 29, CNN apparently forgot a major story the network had reported just three weeks earlier. On July 8, The New Republic posted to its website an article titled "July Surprise," which was written by TNR's John B. Judis, Spencer Ackerman, and Massoud Ansari and published in the July 19 issue of the magazine. Judis, Ackerman, and Ansari quoted two sources from Pakistan's intelligence service and another from its Interior Ministry (which handles the country's internal security) saying that the Bush administration was pressuring Pakistani officials to make arrests of so-called "high-value targets" (HVTs) during the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

According to "July Surprise," one source said: "The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [Pakistani intelligence director General Ehsan ul-Haq's] meetings in Washington." The article continued: "[A] White House aide had told him that 'it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July.' -- the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston."

On July 7, TNR's editor, Peter Beinart, appeared on CNN's NewsNight with Aaron Brown to discuss the article, which TNR had announced it would release the following day. But on July 29, when the event TNR foreshadowed actually occurred -- Reuters reported that Pakistani forces had arrested Ahmed Khalfan Ghailini, an Al Qaeda suspect in the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania -- it became apparent that CNN's reporters and anchors had suffered a collective amnesia. The network reported the story of the capture with no mention of the TNR story to which CNN had devoted so much attention three weeks earlier.

CNN's Aaron Brown had introduced Beinart on July 7 as follows:

BROWN: The New Republic, in a piece to be released tomorrow, will allege that the administration through various means is pressuring the government of Pakistan to deliver bin Laden and his henchmen before the November election, preferably during the Democratic Convention a couple of weeks from now.

It's clear from this quotation that Brown understood the significance of the story. Indeed, CNN replayed clips of Beinart's appearance throughout the following day, and Beinart made another brief live appearance as well.

As of this writing, however, neither CNN nor any other news network has mentioned the TNR article. On CNN, anchor Judy Woodruff first reported the arrest at around 4:15 pm (ET) on July 29:

WOODRUFF: We have some news just in to CNN. Pakistani security forces have captured a high-level Al Qaeda operative wanted in connection with the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa. Pakistan's Interior Minister says Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, captured a few days ago, shows that the Pakistani government is committed to fighting terrorism. In all, 224 people were killed in the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

About one hour later, CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer recapped news of the arrest before introducing CNN's Islamabad bureau chief, Ash-har Quraishi, who reported the story by phone live from Pakistan. Neither Blitzer nor Quraishi brought up the "July Surprise" angle, even as Quraishi reported that Ghailani had been captured "early on Sunday" -- meaning that he was captured more than three days before the Democratic National Convention began but that the news media was not informed until hours before Senator John Kerry's climactic speech on its final day:

QURAISHI: Pakistani officials confirming to us tonight that they have arrested Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. He's somebody listed by the FBI as one of the most wanted terrorists. Now Ghailani was picked up in weekend raids that were conducted in central Pakistan early on Sunday. Over a dozen suspects were picked up in those raids. They say over the last few days they have been working on identifying those people. One of them they say is one of the most wanted listed by the FBI -- this Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. Now this operation lasted more than twelve hours, they say, a shoot-out ensured, and then the security forces were able to go in and arrest these people. Now we understand from officials that the interrogations are continuing here in Pakistan by security forces. At some point we expect, however, that Ghailani will be handed over to the United States. Wolf.

BLITZER: Ash-har Quraishi reporting for us on this late-breaking story. Thanks very much Ash-har, very much. Let's get back to the convention now.

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