In coverage of Bush speech, CBS, NBC, and Fox News ignored apparent gap between key Bush claim and events in Pakistan

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

In coverage of President Bush's September 5 speech, during which he stated that the United States will not tolerate nations that "harbor" terrorists, CBS' Evening News with Katie Couric, NBC's Nightly News and Fox News' Special Report all ignored reports from the same day that purported U.S. ally Pakistan has signed a "peace deal" with local tribes reported to be allied with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, agreeing that it will cease military operations against them.

In their coverage of a September 5 speech by President Bush addressing Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, CBS' Evening News with Katie Couric, NBC's Nightly News, and Fox News' Special Report all ignored reports from the same day that Pakistan, which Bush has stated is an ally in the fight against terrorism, has signed a "peace deal" with local tribes reported to be allied with the Taliban and Al Qaeda who have largely taken over the North and South Waziristan regions of Pakistan, agreeing that it will cease military operations against them. The areas, in the northwestern* part of Pakistan next to its border with Afghanistan, are believed to be where Osama bin Laden currently resides. These media outlets did not report on the Pakistan deal despite Bush's reiteration during his speech that the United States will not tolerate nations that "harbor" terrorists, and that his administration had been working "to deny terrorist networks control of any nation or territory within a nation."

During his speech, Bush stated, "After September the 11th, I laid out a clear doctrine: America makes no distinction between those who commit acts of terror, and those that harbor and support them, because they're equally guilty of murder. ... And we have made clear that any government that chooses to be an ally of terror has also chosen to be an enemy of civilization." As Media Matters for America has noted, Bush's statement echoes claims he has repeatedly made in the years since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Bush further stated that a central element of his strategy to combat terrorism is to deny terrorists control of any territory:

BUSH: [W]e're determined to deny terrorist networks control of any nation or territory within a nation. So, along with our coalition and the Iraqi government, we'll stop the terrorists from taking control of Iraq and establishing a new safe haven from which to attack America and the free world. And we're working with friends and allies to deny the terrorists the enclaves they seek to establish in ungoverned areas across the world. By helping governments reclaim full sovereign control over their territory, we make ourselves more secure.

However, Bush's assertions do not appear to square with recent news reports that Pakistan, a purported U.S. ally, has agreed to a "peace deal" with "militant tribal groups allied to the Taliban and Al Qaeda," according to ABC News' Gretchen Peters and Habibullah Khan. Peters and Khan reported that, according to the terms of the agreement, "[t]he Pakistani military will no longer operate in the area where Osama bin Laden and other top al Qaeda operatives are believed to be hiding." The September 5 report continued:

It is a stunning setback for U.S. efforts to root out al Qaeda and Taliban strongholds.

The agreement, signed in the North Waziristan district of Pakistan's volatile tribal belt, calls for the [Pakistani] military to return to its barracks and for the insurgents to stop launching attacks on Pakistani troops.

"The army will pull back to its camps," spokesman Major General Shaukut [also as Shaukat] Sultan told ABC News. "They will not undertake any terrorist activity. There will be no parallel government, and foreigners will leave the area."

Extremist tribal leaders in North and South Waziristan had virtually taken over in recent months. They imposed Taliban-style law in their districts, held public executions and were openly recruiting fighters for 'jihad' against U.S. troops across the border in Afghanistan.

Early on September 6, ABC reported further developments about the agreement, including that, according to Sultan, "Osama bin Laden, America's most wanted man, will not face capture in Pakistan if he agrees to lead a 'peaceful life.' " The report added that "[i]f he is in Pakistan, bin Laden 'would not be taken into custody,' ... Sultan ... told ABC News in a telephone interview, 'as long as one is being like a peaceful citizen.' "

The ABC News report also noted that "[t]he agreement was signed on the same day President Bush said the United States was working with its allies 'to deny terrorists the enclaves they seek to establish in ungoverned areas across the world.' " Pakistan's ambassador later denied the report and said in a statement that "[i]f he [bin Laden] is in Pakistan, today or any time later, he will be taken into custody and brought to justice." Pakistan claimed that Sultan had been "grossly misquoted"; according to the Associated Press, "A statement from Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Sultan was not referring to bin Laden." However, ABC stated that Sultan's "comments were recorded in a telephone interview with ABC News" and produced an apparent transcript.

In addition, as Media Matters recently pointed out, Bush's repeated statements that the United States will treat any nation that "harbor[s] and support[s]" terrorists as "an enemy of civilization" appears inconsistent with the 2005 statements of his then-CIA director Porter Goss, who said that the Bush administration has an "excellent idea" where bin Laden is, but that it was difficult to capture him because of "sanctuaries in sovereign nations."

However, many news reports of Bush's speech, including during the September 5 broadcasts of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric and NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams, did not mention either the reported agreement in Pakistan or Goss's 2005 statement. Nor did either show note the Pakistan agreement on their September 6 broadcasts.

Fox News chief White House correspondent Bret Baier's report on the September 5 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume specifically noted Bush's "five priorities for action," including, in Baier's words, "deny terrorists the support and sanctuary of rogue states" and "deny terrorists control of any nation, or territory within a nation, they would use as a base and launching pad for terrorist attacks. Eliminate safe havens." On September 6, Special Report noted Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's comments while meeting with Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, that, while he would not allow U.S. or foreign troops into Pakistan to chase Al Qaeda or Taliban members, "he would not allow the region to become a haven for terrorists, saying he would address any militant activity with force."

By contrast, the September 5 edition of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson featured ABC News chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross's report on the Pakistan agreement, and in introducing ABC News chief White House correspondent Martha Raddatz's report on Bush's speech, host Charles Gibson specifically noted the seeming contradiction:

GIBSON: Just today, in another speech outlining his plan for combating terrorism, Mr. Bush said, and this is a quote, "We're working with friends and allies to deny the terrorists the enclaves they seek." Martha Raddatz, our chief White House correspondent, is here. And Martha, it would seem from what Brian [Ross] is reporting that the Taliban and perhaps, bin Laden, are getting just that, a safe haven.

RADDATZ: Well, it sounds like it, Charlie. But the White House was very surprised by this news. I spoke to a spokesman just a short time ago and he said, "We have to find out whether the Pakistani government is really involved in this." Really quite surprised, as I said, especially on a day when the president gave such a strong speech about fighting terrorism.

Also, a September 6 Washington Post article on the speech noted the developments in Pakistan:

As Bush spoke in Washington, Pakistan signed a peace accord with pro-Taliban forces in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, agreeing to withdraw its troops from the region in return for the fighters' pledge to stop attacks inside Pakistan. The pact prompted concern that it could allow Islamic extremist groups to operate more freely in the area.

From the September 5 broadcast of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:

KATIE COURIC (anchor): The war on terror began, of course, with the September 11th attacks on the United States. Today, President Bush warned Americans not to get complacent about the continuing terror threat. Here's our chief White House correspondent, Jim Axelrod.

AXELROD: President Bush is casting the war on terror in new terms yet again -- charting a course for the future, while looking at evils of the past.

BUSH: Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them. The question is: Will we listen? Will we pay attention to what these evil men say?

AXELROD: Nine weeks before the midterm elections, Mr. Bush used terrorists, in their own words, to make his point. First, Osama bin Laden.

BUSH: "Death is better than living on this earth with the unbelievers among us."

AXELROD: Bin Laden's right-hand man, [Ayman al-] Zawahiri:

BUSH: "The whole world is an open field for us."

AXELROD: And quoting Hezbollah's leader [Shiekh Hassan] Nasrallah, fresh off his war with Israel:

BUSH: "Death to America will remain our reverberating and powerful slogan. Death to America!"

AXELROD: Clearly, the president hopes his strong suit, the war on terror, will absorb his weakness, the war in Iraq. And that requires making the struggle larger than any single terrorist.

BUSH: This is the great ideological struggle of the 21st century, and it's the calling of our generation.

AXELROD: The president warned that danger remains and sacrifice is required but that he's confident in the ultimate outcome. Essentially, Katie, this -- this was a "stick with me" speech.

COURIC: All right. Jim Axelrod at the White House. Jim, thank you so much.

From the September 5 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News:

BRIAN WILLIAMS (anchor): Now to the latest speech by President Bush on the war on terrorism, part of the Republican effort to steer the debate in the midterm elections toward national security. And the president went back to citing a familiar enemy who we haven't heard that much about from the administration of late. Our chief White House correspondent David Gregory with us from the White House, tonight. David, good evening.

GREGORY: Good evening, Brian. And that enemy is Osama bin Laden. It's clear now the president wants him front and center in this fall campaign.

With the politics of security now dominating Washington, the president spoke ominously today about America's enemies, namely, Osama bin Laden.

BUSH: Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them. The question is: Will we listen?

GREGORY: Just one week before the fifth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, Mr. Bush mentioned bin Laden 17 times. Yet back in March of 2002, less than one year after the attacks, Mr. Bush downplayed bin Laden's importance.

BUSH: Terror is bigger than one person. I just don't spend that much time on him, Kelly, to be honest with you.

GREGORY: That contrast underscores the new effort by the White House to widen the debate about security beyond the war in Iraq, the president's and his party's major weakness. But a White House report released today, the "National Strategy for Combating Terrorism," seeks to downplay that weakness, listing as one of its successes, quote, "aggressively prosecuting the war against the terrorists in Iraq."

Larry Diamond, a senior adviser to U.S. officials during the occupation there, says the Bush team failed to anticipate the terrorist insurgency in Iraq.

DIAMOND: As a result, what we had in Iraq was the creation of a base of terrorist operations inside Iraq that did not exist before.

GREGORY: Democrats, including retired general and former presidential candidate Wesley Clark, today issued their own stark appraisal of the country's vulnerability after 9-11.

CLARK: The war in Iraq was a mistake. The policies that this administration has trumpeted haven't worked.

GREGORY: But on that point, tonight, the White House is dismissing a new round of calls for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. White House spokesman Tony Snow saying today it may make good politics for Democrats to make Rumsfeld a bogeyman, but it would be "lousy strategy" in his words. Brian?

WILLIAMS: Thanks for that, David. David Gregory at the White House.

From the September 5 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

BAIER: The speech also outlined an updated "National Strategy for Combating Terrorism." The president said the 23-page unclassified summary, released by the White House, has been updated since its first release in 2003 to take into account the, quote, "changing nature of the enemy."

The president talked about five main priorities for action. First, prevent attacks by terrorist networks, using a wide range of tools at home and abroad.

BUSH: We've taken the battle to terrorists and their supporters on our own soil and across the world. We've stopped a number of Al Qaeda plots.

BAIER: Second, deny weapons of mass destruction to rogue states and terrorist allies who seek to use them, using international pressure to stop the flow of material, equipment and expertise to make WMD.

Third, deny terrorists the support and sanctuary of rogue states.

BUSH: We have made clear that any government that chooses to be an ally of terror has also chosen to be an enemy of civilization.

BAIER: Fourth, deny terrorists control of any nation, or territory within a nation, they would use as a base and launching pad for terrorist attacks. Eliminate safe havens. And finally, deny terrorists new recruits. The president specifically cited Al Qaeda's use of the Internet.

BUSH: Al Qaeda's leaders no longer need to meet face-to-face with their operatives. They can find new suicide bombers and facilitate new terrorist attacks without ever laying eyes on those they're training, financing, or sending to strike us.

BAIER: The president's next war on terror speech comes Wednesday afternoon here at the White House.

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