"Media Matters," week ending April 29, 2005; by Jamison Foser


On April 25, President Bush met with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas. That same day, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) wire service reported that a member of Abdullah's delegation was denied entry into the United States because his name appeared on a "watch list" used to screen out possible terrorists.

Week ending April 29, 2005

This week:

Coverage of Bush's meeting with Abdullah avoided important questions

Right-wing word games continue; media again compliant

Visit Media Matters' website for the latest on Bush's Social Security plan

Coverage of Bush's meeting with Abdullah avoided important questions

On April 25, President Bush met with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas. That same day, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) wire service reported that a member of Abdullah's delegation was denied entry into the United States because his name appeared on a "watch list" used to screen out possible terrorists:

A member of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz's delegation was denied entry into the United States after authorities found he was on a government "watch" list, a US official said Monday.

The US Department of Homeland Security, in a routine check of the delegation passenger manifest, found that one traveller was on a government list meant to screen out possible terrorists, the official said on condition of anonymity.

Somehow -- despite evidence that the Saudi government provided support to the September 11 hijackers -- the fact that a member of the Saudi Crown Prince's delegation to meet with President Bush was denied entry into the United States because his name appeared on an anti-terrorism watch list was barely mentioned in the U.S. media.

The New York Times didn't mention it; The Washington Post didn't mention it; CNN didn't mention it (with one exception, noted below). In fairness, of course, news organizations have a difficult task; if they reported the fact that the Saudi Crown Prince tried to bring with him to a meeting with Bush a person who is on an anti-terrorism watch list, they'd have to leave some other important news out.

For example, if CNN decided to report the Saudi story on Thursday's edition of Inside Politics, it might not have had time to bring us news of a photo opportunity held by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with people dressed as Spider-Man and Captain America. Or maybe the show would have had to drop the portion of a CNN correspondent's interview with first lady Laura Bush in which we learned that Mrs. Bush "like[s] to listen to rock 'n' roll and that sort of music a lot" but doesn't watch Desperate Housewives.

Likewise, for The Washington Post to have found room to cover the Saudi story in Section A of its April 26 edition, it might have had to drop its coverage of the pressing issue of school-naming, which served up this crucial bit of information:

There are 488 schools with "Jefferson" in their name, 237 with "Madison" (though they are not all named for President James Madison), 202 with "Kennedy" and 43 schools with "Bush" -- including one in Texas named for the current president's mother, Barbara -- though none listed by the center is named for President Bush or his predecessor, Bill Clinton.

CNN Crossfire host Paul Begala did bring up the Saudi story:

BEGALA: I wish the president would say no more often by the way. Case in point, to Crown Prince Abdullah -- again he's holding hands with him, in a very affectionate way. Makes me sick.

No. He's a despotic dictator of a country that's ripping us off, that produced the 19 terrorists that attacked my country and yours. And when he brought his entourage, five planeloads full of toadies with him to Texas, one person he wanted to bring with him was on a terrorist watch list. Shouldn't the president of the United States be asked why he's meeting with the leader of a nation who wanted to bring someone on our terrorist watch list into our country?

BILL McCOLLUM (former Florida Republican congressman): Because he's agreed to increase the oil production by 25 percent over the three years. That's crucial to that.

Sure, Begala's question -- and McCollum's answer -- seem newsworthy. This seems like something the media should cover. But is it as newsworthy as the fact that Laura Bush likes rock 'n' roll -- a lot? We can see how that would be a tough call for any news director.

Also drawing little-to-no interest from the media was the fact that just three days before strolling hand-in-hand among the wildflowers with President Bush, Prince Abdullah "presided over the arrest of 40 Pakistani Christians." Nina Shea explained in the conservative National Review:

Their crime? The Pakistanis were caught praying in a private home in the capital Riyadh in violation of the state's strictly enforced religious law that bans all non-Muslim worship.


The Saudi state's propagation of Wahhabi extremism is more than hate speech; it is a totalitarian ideology of hatred that can incite to violence. The fact that this ideology is being mainstreamed within our borders through the efforts of a foreign government demands President Bush's urgent attention in today's conversations with Prince Abdullah.

Did President Bush, as he held Abdullah's hand, demand that the Saudi government immediately stop persecuting non-Muslims? We don't know; the media ignored the question. Despite the fact that President Bush speaks freely of his religious beliefs; despite the fact that he and his party are widely thought to use religion as a blunt object with which to bludgeon their political opponents, nobody thought to ask him what message his warm greeting of Abdullah sent to people of faith around the world; nobody thought to ask what Bush thought of the arrests, of Saudi Arabia's shameful history of official persecution of non-Muslims; nobody thought to ask Bush if he asked Abdullah to stop the practice. The only mention we find of the matter came in Slate.com's "Today's Papers" on April 26:

The NYT [New York Times] mentions that the president and prince also discussed "Mr. Bush's call for more democracy in the Middle East." Just wondering: Was the jailing of Saudi lawyers and dissidents discussed? How about the recent arrest of a few dozen Christians?

We waited all week for Fox News and its star host Bill O'Reilly to address the topic with the same wall-to-wall coverage they gave to other recent examples of "persecution" of Christians. But while Macy's use of the phrase "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" caused great outrage at Fox News, nobody seemed to care what the President of the United States said to a man who presided three days earlier over the mass arrest of Christians -- including children -- for the "crime" of praying in a private home.

Right-wing word games continue; media again compliant

We've long noted that much of the media has gone along with the Right's efforts to trick people into supporting its Social Security privatization scheme by playing word games, redefining their plans as "personal accounts."

Some might find this a semantic debate unworthy of attention. But it is, in part because it isn't limited to Social Security. There is a clear pattern at play here:

  1. Conservatives develop language to describe their proposals;

  2. Reporters go along with that language, and it gains widespread use among conservatives, progressives, and the media;

  3. Conservatives find that their proposal lacks public support;

  4. Conservatives begin describing their proposal using new terminology designed to obscure the intent and pressure reporters to abandon the established words and use the new instead; and

  5. Compliant reporters go along with it.

It happened with Social Security privatization; it is happening again with the "nuclear option." Republicans picked that term to describe what they may do to end the filibuster; when it proved unpopular, they adopted absurd, utterly meaningless substitute language: the "constitutional option," they began calling it. One would hope that any "option" they pursue would be "constitutional"; thus the phrase really doesn't mean a thing. But sure enough, the media goes along with it. News organizations that just a few months ago reported that Republicans called their plan the "nuclear option" are now reporting that that is Democratic terminology. Consider, for example, the New York Times:

11/12/04: "Some Republicans have been reluctant to try that maneuver. They call it the nuclear option, because it could come back to haunt them if they are in the minority."

4/23/05: "Republicans, who have a 55-member majority, are threatening to lower the threshold for closing debate on all nominations to a simple majority. They say they need only 50 votes plus Vice President Cheney to make the change. Democrats call this the nuclear option, and say they will use other parliamentary rules to bring the Senate to a virtual standstill if Republicans use it."

Words have meaning. There is a reason why conservatives constantly try to redefine public discourse, changing the terminology that they themselves chose: They think that by putting lipstick on a pig, they can get the public to go along with policies it doesn't like. News organizations that go along with this are taking sides in the debate. It's that simple, and it's now a pattern that goes far beyond Social Security privatization.

Consider one more example: an exchange between Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and The Hill in January 2003. Slaughter wrote the newspaper in response to an article about abortion politics:

I was appalled to see that your Jan. 21 article, "Abortion Politics: 30 years later," repeatedly referred to "pro-abortion" lawmakers. I have never heard any politician, nor any activist, who considers him- or herself as "pro-abortion."

In fact, my pro-choice colleagues and I have spent a substantial portion of our careers working to reduce the rate of abortion. We continue to promote access to contraception and fight for sensible sex education programs.

What my colleagues and I do support is a woman's right to make decisions about her own reproductive health free from government interference. The fact that your reporter referred to supporters of a woman's right to choose as "pro-abortion," and that your editorial staff failed to correct this misrepresentation, seems to indicate a strong bias in your newsroom.

I certainly hope that you will limit such subjective reports to the op-ed page in the future.

The Hill responded:

Editor's note: "Pro-abortion" fairly and accurately describes people who support the continued availability of medical abortion services. "Pro-choice" is partisan, for it accepts one side's definition of the argument. It is precisely to avoid bias in our news reporting that The Hill does not use the terms "pro-choice" and "pro-life," but instead uses locutions that do not conceal that the debate is about abortion.

As Slaughter made perfectly clear; the debate is not "about abortion," it is about whether women should have the right to choose an abortion. Nobody, as Slaughter noted, is "pro-abortion." Yet The Hill goes along with right-wing efforts to shape the debate by using inaccurate terminology.

Visit Media Matters' website for the latest on Bush's Social Security plan

During his prime-time press conference April 28, President Bush began to outline his Social Security privatization plan. Media coverage of Bush's remarks have glossed over the benefit cuts his plan would cause; failed to note that Bush contradicted himself about the trust fund, and gave short shrift to Democratic responses to Bush's plan. Visit www.mediamatters.org for details and for the latest on conservative misinformation about Bush's plan.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Terrorism
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