PC News: Networks Downplay Terrorism, Muslim Connection in Ft. Hood Attack
- Networks Decide Attack Wasn't Terror: 85 percent of the broadcast stories didn't mention the word "terror." ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news referenced terrorism connections to the Fort Hood attack just seven times in 48 reports.
- ABC, CBS, NBC Follow White House Line: Before Obama's Nov. 10 speech, 93 percent of the stories had ignored any terror connection. But after Obama hinted at what ABC called "Islamic extremist views," all three networks mentioned terrorism.
- Alleged Attacker's Muslim Faith Not Important Either: Slightly more than one-fourth (29 percent) of evening news reports mentioned that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was a Muslim. Of those, half (7 out of 14) defended the religion or included experts to do so.
Last week, Fort Hood, Texas was the site of the worst mass shooting in history on a U.S. military base. At 2:34 p.m. local time on Nov. 5, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan - one of the military's own - reportedly attacked fellow soldiers, yelling, "Allah Akbar." He then allegedly fired more than 100 rounds into Fort Hood's crowded processing center, killing 13 and wounding 29. This heinous act stunned the nation and captivated the news media.
Rather than call the attack "Islamic terrorism" or just plain "terror," the White House took a careful approach and news reporting did so as well. That all changed during the Fort Hood Memorial service Nov. 10. ABC "World News with Charles Gibson" anchor Charles Gibson said Obama was "unambiguous in judgment" about the attack, but that wasn't accurate. Obama never used the term "terror" and made no mention of Hasan's religion. But he did hint at it and that was enough for the media.
A blog by ABC's Jake Tapper said Obama's remarks "were a tacit acknowledgment of the Islamic extremist views investigators say were held by [Hasan]."
"No faith justifies these murderous and craven acts," Obama told the mourners, "no just and loving god looks upon them with favor."
That night, the evening news programs reflected the president's changed position. The three networks more than doubled their references to terrorism. CBS and NBC mentioned it once, while ABC referred to it twice.
Before the memorial, all three networks had downplayed any mention of terrorism, as well as Hasan's Muslim connections. The media themes reflected the White House position then as well.
Obama addressed the nation at 5 p.m. the day of the shooting, two-and-a-half hours after the attack. His brief remarks were sandwiched in between his speech at the Native American Tribal Nations Conference, Obama spoke about the Fort Hood massacre a total of 2 minutes, 39 seconds. During that time, he cautioned against "jumping to conclusions," about the shooting.
The "conclusions" Obama was hinting at were the facts that Hasan was a Muslim and that he had connections to radical Islamic extremists. The word he avoided saying was "terrorist." The media mirrored Obama's politically correct approach.
It wasn't until Nov. 8, three days after the shooting, that the broadcast network evening news programs even mentioned the word "terror" in relation to this event. But even then the three programs only referred to it once each.
"CBS Evening News" and "ABC World News" mentioned that Hasan had contacted Anwar al-Awlaki, "an outspoken advocate of violent jihad" through e-mail. NBC didn't even address the issue directly. It simply aired a short clip of Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who warned Hasan was an "Islamic extremist and, therefore, that this was a terrorist act." The network softened that position and followed the quote immediately with NBC's Janet Shamlian cautioning against "focusing on Hasan's Islamic roots."
Until then, the broadcast networks had also downplayed his Islamic connections. From Nov. 5 through Nov. 10, all three evening news programs only identified Hasan as a Muslim one-fourth of the time (14 times out of 48 reports). And out of those 14 times, seven included a defense of the Islamic religion and expressed concern about a "possible backlash against Muslims in the military."
ABC's Bill Weir claimed that "Muslims in uniform today face a challenge not seen since Japanese-Americans fought in World War II." NBC echoed a similar sentiment when it aired a clip by General George Casey, the Army Chief of Staff. "Our diversity, not only in our Army, but in our country, is a strength," Casey said. "And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that's worse."
So within a day, Hasan went from being portrayed as the suspect in a horrific mass murder to a victim that, as ABC said, was "harassed by other soldiers who he said called him a camel jockey."
The broadcast networks haven't always been this sensitive. In two cases, where the media were quick to blame the right, this politically correct approach went out the window as they used words like "extremist," "hate groups," and "terror." Back in June, George Tiller, "the Kansas doctor notorious for his commitment to performing late-term abortions," was shot and killed. Two weeks later in a separate incident, James von Brunn opened fire at the Holocaust Museum, killing a guard. The result in both cases was a media frenzy that included statements like this by ABC's Pierre Thomas.
"Radicals of the ultra-fringe, filled with rage about illegal immigration, fear of losing their guns, abortion and race making law enforcement increasingly nervous about a potential wave of domestic terror," Thomas said.
CBS also pointed out after the Tiller and Holocaust Museum killings that "the number of hate groups in America has exploded," citing the Internet as the "number one driver for hate groups, for extremist groups on both sides, and even for terrorist organizations."