The Media Lied and People Died?

Among the smaller tidbits in the 9/11 Commission’s report are a couple of shots the commission takes at the media in general and at the New York Times in particular for downplaying terrorism and Osama Bin Laden as a threat prior to 9/11. At one point, for example, the report notes,

It is hard now to recapture the conventional wisdom before 9/11. For example, a New York Times article in April 1999 sought to debunk claims that Bin Laden was a terrorist leader, with the headline ‘U.S. Hard Put to Find Proof Bin Laden Directed Attacks.'”

I was curious, so I looked up that story on Lexis/Nexis. It includes paragraphs like this,

In their war against Mr. bin Laden, American officials portray him as the world’s most dangerous terrorist. But reporters for The New York Times and the PBS program “Frontline,” working in cooperation, have found him to be less a commander of terrorists than an inspiration for them.

Enemies and supporters, from members of the Saudi opposition to present and former American intelligence officials, say he may not be as globally powerful as some American officials have asserted. But his message and aims have more resonance among Muslims around the world than has been understood here.

The 9/11 report also includes a quote from an unidentified Saudi Arabian individual who complains that the American media’s anti-Saudi(!?) bias fuels terrorist groups like Al Qaeada. But the 1999 New York Times story shows exactly the sort of cavalier attitude that the Saudi took (and continue to take IMO) toward Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden,

On May 31, 1996, four Saudis were beheaded after confessing to bombing a Saudi National Guard post in Riyadh and killing five Americans. All told their interrogators that they had received Mr. bin Laden’s communiques. Only 25 days later, a truck bomb tore through a military post in Dhahran, killing 19 American soldiers.

Mr. bin Laden was blamed by American officials for instigating the attacks. But no known evidence implicates him, and the Saudi Interior Minister, Prince Nayef ibn Abdel Aziz, has absolved him. “Maybe there are people who adopt his ideas,” Prince Nayef said. “He does not constitute any security problem to us.”

The interesting thing in light of what the report says about Sandy Berger — that he rejected no less than four separate attempts to grab Bin Laden based on narrow legalistic grounds — is that the Times story is also focused on excessively legalistic matters. After all, the only thing the United States could prove with absolute certainty was that Bin Laden had fled to Sudan and then Afghanistan, declared war on the United States, was busy training terrorists in camps, and regularly issued calls for terrorists to strike against American targets as well as praised successful such strikes.

Pretty weak case, huh?


U.S. Hard Put to Find Proof Bin Laden Directed Attacks. Tim Weiner, New York Times, April 13, 1999.

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