Friday, January 25, 2008


From Bad News: The Decline of Reporting, the Business of News, and the Danger to Us All by Tom Fenton

Here's a startling example of how more news stories about bin Laden and al Qaeda might have made a difference. Shortly after he arrived in America, Mohammed Atta, the man we now believe to have been the ringleader of the 9/11 attacks, went to an unsuspecting Department of Agriculture loan officer in Florida and tried to get a loan for what he described as crop dusting. He told the loan officer, one Johnell Bryant, that he wanted to finance a twin-engine, six passenger aircraft, take out the seats, and fit it with a chemical tank that would fill every square inch except where the pilot would sit. Bryant thought the idea was impractical and rejected the application. Atta then turned his attention to an aerial photo of Washington on the wall of her office, pulled out a wad of money, and tried to buy it. He asked her to point out the White House and the Pentagon, and asked her how America would like it if another country destroyed Washington and some of the monuments in it, just as the cities in his country had been destroyed. And here's the amazing part: In the course of their conversation, Atta inquired if the loan officer had heard of an organization overseas of people dissillusioned with their governments; that group, he told her, was called al Qaeda. He also mentioned the name Osama bin Laden, and promised that bin Laden would some day be known as the "world's greatest leader."

All of this took place four months before 9/11. but none of this rang a bell with Bryant, for al Qaeda or bin Laden were going nearly unmentioned by the mass media at the time.
Imagine if we had a mass media that pursued stories relevant to the functioning of democracy with the tenacity that it pursues stories that do not. Imagine if the media was as interested in Cheney's dissapeared e-mails as it was the vagina of Britney Spears. Imagine if the media pursued the story of a conspiracy to fraud the nation into war with the tenacity that it stalks celebrities and their children. Imagine if the press followed a bipartisan effort to perpetuate a "constitutional crisis" as obsessively as it follows up on celebrity deaths. Imagine if the media was as interested in where the presidential candidates stand on one of the most massive (and illegal) civil liberty violation in the nation's history as they are in endlessly discussing bickering between candidates. Imagine if we had a media that devoted as much time as it does to telling us who Linsday Lohan is dating in rehab to informing us that we have a broken government.

Addendum (5/31/08): Since posting this a significant flaw in the Bryant/Atta incident cited by Fenton has come to my attention.


NAL said...

Britney's vagina, celebrities and their children, celebrity deaths, Linsday[sic] Lohan; the reason the MSM devotes the resources to these stories is: ratings, and paper/magazine sales. We have met the problem and the problem is us. At least, in part.

Anonymous said...

You forgot the link to Britney's hoo-hoo.

Hume's Ghost said...

"You forgot the link to Britney's hoo-hoo."

I didn't want to traumatize anyone.

Alan said...

Wow. I had not seen Bryant's account of his meeting with Atta before and had not realized that Atta was so blatant about Bin Laden and al Qaeda.

I wrote about Fenton's book and the media's failures on my weak attempt at a (now defunct) blog back in 2005.

What you do not explicitly point out in your post is that Fenton repeatedly tried to get CBS to investigate and interview Bin Laden, but CBS executives continually rejected the idea. CBS saw the story as of "no interest" to the viewers. As if a story's importance should be determined by viewer interest. Sad.

Hume's Ghost said...

Yeah, right after the section I quoted Fenton goes on to explain how journalists who covered that beat were aware that there was an impending danger. Kinda shoots the "nobody saw it coming" canard out of the water.