CNN anchors and reporters repeatedly described Dubai Ports World -- the company set to assume control of six U.S. ports -- as an "Arab company" or a "Dubai-based company." However, in describing the company as such, these reporters are ignoring a key factor in the bipartisan controversy surrounding the takeover deal, which is that the company is a state-run business in the United Arab Emirates.
On the February 22 edition of CNN's American Morning, CNN anchors and reporters repeatedly described Dubai Ports World -- the company set to assume control of six U.S. ports -- as an "Arab company" or a "Dubai-based company." But in simply describing Dubai Ports World as a company based in an Arab country, CNN obscured the source of the bipartisan controversy surrounding the takeover deal, in which Dubai Ports World acquired the British company that used to manage the U.S. ports. Members of Congress, governors, and other lawmakers have objected to the White House's approval of this transfer specifically because the company is owned by a foreign government with what The New York Times editorial board referred to as a "mixed" record on fighting terrorism.
Dubai Ports World is a state-run business in the United Arab Emirates. Last week, it acquired British company Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation (P & O) in a $6.8 billion deal. As a result, Dubai Ports World would assume control of the six U.S. ports previously managed by P & O, which are located in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Miami, and New Orleans.
The Bush administration's subsequent approval of the new ownership has sparked strong protests from a bipartisan group of lawmakers who cite national security concerns. Some have noted that two of the 9-11 hijackers came from the United Arab Emirates and laundered money through its banking system.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), for example, made clear on the February 21 edition of PBS' The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer that his objections were based on the fact that Dubai Ports World is owned by a foreign country and one about which he said there are "security concerns":
JIM LEHRER (Host): Well, let me -- let's start at the top then. Do you see this -- is your objection to this deal based on security concerns?
MENENDEZ: Yes, it is, and to the nature of the fundamental issue that a foreign government should not operate the critical infrastructure of the ports of the United States. I have represented this port, first in the House for the last 13 years, and now in the United States Senate. I know the operations that go on here. And the reality -- is --
MENENDEZ: And to have a foreign operator that is controlled by a foreign government -- which is much different than just simply a foreign company -- I think is a dangerous precedent, especially when, in this particular case, this foreign government -- I know that I heard the secretary describe them as an ally -- but the reality is that there are security concerns here.
In describing Dubai Ports World, news outlets have generally used terms such as "state-run," "a state-owned Arab company," "a state-owned company in Dubai," or "a company owned by the United Arab Emirates."
But CNN anchor Kelly Wallace and hosts Soledad O'Brien and Rob Marciano repeatedly referred to Dubai Ports World as an "Arab company," omitting the fact -- highly relevant to the political debate -- that Dubai Ports World is government-owned.
From the February 22 edition of CNN's American Morning:
O'BRIEN: Let's move on and talk about a CNN "Security Watch" this morning. President Bush is threatening to veto any efforts that would kill a deal that would put an Arab company in charge of six U.S. ports. The issue is causing a political firestorm in Washington, D.C.
WALLACE: A proposed deal over six U.S. ports is pitting the president against his own party. Some Republicans are criticizing the deal which lets a Dubai-based company run the ports. President Bush says he backs the agreement and has threatened to veto any bill that tries to block the deal. We'll hear from White House spokesman Dan Bartlett just ahead.
O'BRIEN: Top stories straight ahead this morning, including much more on that deal to outsource U.S. ports to an Arab company. President Bush says he's ready to veto any plans that would kill the deal. We're going to talk to one of the president's top advisers this morning and find out why the president is really going to the mat on this particular issue.
MARCIANO: A CNN "Security Watch" now: More members of Congress are lining up against the deal to put the management of six major U.S. seaports into the hands of a Middle Eastern company. The White House threatening a rare veto -- and it's making moves to bolster the deal.
O'BRIEN: President Bush says having a Middle Eastern-based business operate six major U.S. seaports is a safe deal that will not put the nation at risk.
BUSH [clip]: I think it sends a terrible signal to friends around the world that it's OK for a company from one country to manage the port, but not a country that plays by the rules and has a good track record from another part of the world, can't manage the port.
O'BRIEN: That's what the president has to say. But there is a list -- kind of a long list -- of lawmakers who would disagree. Let's get right to the White House counselor, Dan Bartlett. He joins us this morning from the White House.
WALLACE: Some lawmakers, including Republicans, are up in arms over the agreement which would give control over some major U.S. ports to an Arab-based company. Critics of the transaction say it puts America's security at risk. But a White House spokesman says the U.S. should not be playing favorites by rejecting the deal.
O'BRIEN: CNN "Security Watch" this morning: call it port politics. President Bush is backing a deal to put management of six American seaports into the hands of a company based in the Middle East.
By contrast, in a report on America Morning, CNN White House correspondent Dana Bash stated that the controversy concerns "the administration's decision to allow an Arab country to take control, operational control, over six major U.S. ports."