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Media's Conveniently Changing View of Zarqawi

By Noel Sheppard

If Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and all of al Qaeda's leaders in Iraq and throughout the world laid down their arms and surrendered to American forces, would the media report it as good news?

Judging from the press's reaction to the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq by the American military last week, the answer appears to be no.

In fact, this tepid response to the death of the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq - a man who has at times in the past couple of years been depicted by the press as more vital to this terrorist network than the currently in-hiding bin Laden - suggests quite disturbingly that America's media are fighting a different war than America's soldiers.

According to NewsBusters, CNN's senior editor for Arab affairs Octavia Nasr said the following about Zarqawi's death on "American Morning" Thursday:

"Some people say it will enrage the insurgency, others say it will hurt it pretty bad. But if you think about the different groups in Iraq, you have to think that Zarqawi's death is not going to be a big deal for them."

However, CNN didn't always feel that Zarqawi's death or capture would be so inconsequential. Just days after Saddam Hussein was found in his spider hole, Paula Zahn brought CNN national correspondent Mike Boettcher on to discuss a new threat in Iraq. Zahn began the December 15, 2003 segment:

"The capture of Saddam Hussein may lead to renewed attention on the search for Osama bin Laden and other terrorists, and next to bin Laden, there is one man emerging as a major threat. He is believed to be the leader of a group much like al Qaeda, and the U.S. wants to catch him before he strikes again."

Boettcher entered the discussion:

"The reward for his capture is only a fifth of that offered for Saddam Hussein, $5 million to Saddam's $25 million, but abu-Mus'ab al- Zarqawi, say Middle East intelligence analysts, is emerging as the most dangerous terrorist conducting operations in Iraq, the surrounding region, and perhaps the world."

Subsequent to this report, Zarqawi's reward was raised to $25 million, meaning that the importance of his capture increased fivefold. Mysteriously, CNN didn't see it that way, as in its view, the death of what it once described as "the most dangerous terrorist" in "perhaps the world" somehow became "no big deal."

At roughly the same time as Nasr was downplaying Zarqawi's death on CNN, ABC's Diane Sawyer invited perennial Bush-basher Richard Clarke on "Good Morning America" to solicit his opinion on the subject. As reported by NewsBusters, Sawyer asked,

"[Is] it any safer in Iraq and will the war end any sooner?"

Clarke responded:

"Well, unfortunately the answer is no. This man was a terrible man. He was a symbol of terrorism. He was the face of terrorism, the only real name we knew of an insurgent leader in Iraq. But he commanded only a few hundred people out of tens of thousands involved in the insurgency. And so, unfortunately for the loved ones of troops over in Iraq, this is not going to mean a big difference."

Sawyer incredulously concluded the segment:

"So for overall terrorism against the U.S., it's, again, not a major effect."

Yet, on November 21, 2005, Sawyer and the Good Morning America team weren't so blasé about capturing or killing Zarqawi. Quite the contrary, Sawyer began her report that morning:

"Right now intelligence officials are pouring over information trying to decide if it's possible that public enemy number one in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, has, in fact, been killed over the weekend. ABC's chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross tells us what he learned."

Ross answered:

"If it's true it'd be major victory for the US in Iraq."

This raises a rather obvious question: how could what would have been a "major victory" if it had occurred in November 2005 not have "a major effect" when it actually transpires less than seven months later?

Regardless of the answer, it wasn't just the morning shows experiencing a convenient change of heart towards Zarqawi. A drastically similar conversion occurred on the CBS Evening News Thursday. And, in this instance, it took less than five weeks for the story to change.

Anchor Bob Schieffer invited former CIA member and current CBS News analyst Michael Scheuer on to discuss Zarqawi's death. Schieffer began the interview:

"Michael, I want to ask you, it's my understanding you believe this might actually increase danger for US troops."

Yes, you read that right: on a day when America should have been celebrating the death of one of her greatest enemies, a top CBS anchorman actually brought on a guest to discuss how this might "increase danger for US troops." Scheuer conveniently responded:

"I think that's probably the case, Bob."

Schieffer then asked his guest what the significance of Zarqawi's death was. Scheuer answered:

"Strategically it's not very important."

Yet, the Evening News didn't always feel that Zarqawi's death or capture would "increase the danger for US troops" or be strategically "not very important." Less than five weeks earlier, the Evening News did an entire story called "Task Force 145 leads hunt for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi." Schieffer began that May 2 segment:

"The toll of American military people killed in Iraq reached 2,400 today, with the death of another American soldier killed by a roadside bomb. That news came as our David Martin learned more details of an intense new campaign that American troops have launched to track down top al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi."

Schieffer then handed it off to Martin, who winded the segment down by saying, "Getting Zarqawi would be a major victory," and concluded:

"If or when the end comes, he will almost certainly be replaced by another terrorist, but it is unlikely his replacement will be the equal of Zarqawi."

As such, it is infinitely clear that the media's view of Zarqawi changed virtually the moment he was killed. In fact, their response to what they had presaged in the past would be great news if it happened was instead designed to dampen the public's enthusiasm for the event, while at the same time diminish any positive the Bush administration could gain from it here at home.

Sadly, such behavior is yet another example of a press clearly acting in its own best interests without regard for that of the American people much in the same way as the politicians they revere.

After all, it has been suggested for many years that members of America's two major parties base policy decisions almost exclusively on a calculus for re-election and not on what actually would be beneficial to the public they serve. Many experts believe that such strategic planning begins almost immediately after Election Day, and dictates every move these politicians make until the next important first Tuesday in November.

With disturbing similarity, the atrocious behavior of the drive-by media makes it quite apparent that the same can be said of most press representatives today. Since at least the year 2000, it seems virtually every mainstream report of a current event has been meticulously crafted to further the goals of politicians favored by the media, while acting to thwart the efforts of those whose views are considered to be unacceptable by these supposedly enlightened journalists regardless of what position of power or responsibility they hold.

For those that question this conclusion, just imagine all the terrorists and their leaders in Iraq laying down their arms and declaring a truce with the new Iraqi government as the American media question whether this will be good for peace in the region.

Noel Sheppard is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. He is also contributing editor for the Media Research Center’s, and a contributing writer to its Business & Media Institute. Noel welcomes feedback.

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