With regards to the war on terror, what is the focus of the mainstream media? Is it fighting and winning? Or are they more concerned with embarrassing the Bush administration? Fran Townsend, a White House Homeland Security advisor, appeared on ABC, CBS, CNN and Fox News on Friday, February 10th. The contrast could not be more stark. CNN, CBS and ABC focused on warrants, wiretaps, and whether the mayor of Los Angeles was properly informed of the President’s speech regarding a foiled attack. All of these networks, except FNC, failed to ask Townsend about the prison break of 23 terrorists, including 13 members of Al Qaeda, which one would assume is an important story.
Ms. Townsend appeared first on the CBS Early Show at 7:10AM EST. Harry Smith seemed skeptical about the timing and the subject of the President’s speech. He started by asking, "Why did the President choose yesterday to reveal this information about a plot that’s almost four years old now?" Ms. Townsend patiently explained that the members of the cell had been arrested and the leads exhausted, therefore this case was one that the President could freely discuss. Smith then went on to question whether there was an actual threat:
"Do you believe there are in fact sleeper cells in the United States whose aim is to attack American targets?"
American Morning's Miles O’Brien, proved to be even more concerned with trivial issues. He began, at 7:30AM EST, by repeatedly pressing Ms. Townsend about whether Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was properly informed:
"Well, imagine the surprise if you're the mayor of Los Angeles watching that speech. He happened to be watching CNN. We're glad he was doing that. And he finds out about this plot for the first time....Miss Townsend, he's saying he didn't expect a call from the President, but I think he was kind of implying he expected a call from you. Why didn't you call him?"
Townsend asserted that the mayor of Los Angeles had been informed, but O’Brien continued to press the issue.
"Is the mayor lying when he says he wasn’t notified?...He says he was in the dark. I mean, it seems like an important thing like that you’d want to get to a very high level to the mayor, right?"
Now, whatever one thinks Villaraigosa was properly notified or not, is this the most important point? Is informing the mayor of a speech really where the focus should be? Furthermore, Villaraigosa wasn’t even mayor when the attempted attack was going to take place! After rephrasing the question one more time, the CNN anchor finally moved on to wiretapping and the Patriot Act. O’Brien stated:
"I find it interesting that he's using this particular case as an example because it was thwarted in the context of a time when the Patriot Act was just emerging. It was passed in November of 2001. Warrant-less wiretapping had not really begun. You could certainly make a case that this was thwarted without a change in the new rules and it could be a strong argument for not changing the rules at all."
Townsend remarked that the main focus of the President’s speech was that a terrorist attack that had been foiled, not the wiretapping program. Mr. O’Brien closed the interview by wondering if the President’s speech was simply a way to shift the focus away from Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.
Good Morning America’s Bill Ritter talked to Ms. Townsend at 7:13AM EST. He started with a similar tone, mentioning the mayor of Los Angeles and, like his CBS and CNN counterparts, wondered about the timing of this speech.
"Does it make you wonder, Ms. Townsend? I suspect not."
He repeated this line of questioning later, in a slightly different manner:
"Do you blame the average person for being at least a little bit skeptical about all this and the timing?"
FNC’s interview, airing at 7:23AM EST on the Fox and Friends show, was markedly different. Here is a sampling of the questions, actually related to the foiled attack, asked by co-host Brian Kilmeade:
"What airport were [the attackers] supposed to be coming from?...So we have no idea about what they would have attempted to get through, from taking off their shoes to fortified cockpit doors? We have no idea what type of airline they would have chose or where it would have emanated?
Unlike O’Brien, Kilmeade asked specific questions about the event and how it was stopped. He then brought up the escape of 23 prisoners from a Yemeni jail, including the mastermind of the USS Cole bombing, from a Yemeni prison. This is an issue that ABC, CBS and CNN completely ignored in their interviews.
Thanks to Mike Rule, Megan McCormack and Brian Boyd for first catching the comments by Ms. Townsend and her inquisitors.