Days Before 9/11 Anniversary, 94% of Stories Don’t Mention Al Qaeda In Syria

The United States is poised to fire missiles at Syria in response to chemical attacks on Syrian civilians. But the assault will also pit the U.S. against one side of the civil war and aid the other side, which includes Al Qaeda. That falls just days before the anniversary of Al Qaeda attacks against both the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

Broadcast news outlets are clearly aware of the Islamic terror group’s role in Syria, but rarely report it. Nearly 94 percent of all Syria stories since the gas attacks have made no mention of Al Qaeda whatsoever.

It’s not like the networks haven’t had time. Since the gas attack, which happened Aug. 21 in Ghoutta, Syria, ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening news shows have done at least 171 stories on the conflict. Just 11 of those stories have made any mention of the terrorists of Al Qaeda, and all of those have been passing references. There hasn’t been one story focused exclusively on Al Qaeda in Syria during that time.

But the connection is clear and journalists know it. On ABC’s “Nightline,” ABC’s Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross noted the unusual alliance. “The role of the Al Qaeda group fighting against Assad is one of the great ironies of the United States military strike in Syria,” he said.

Ross interviewed Rand “counter-terror expert” Seth Jones, who called it “a great irony.” “12 years after the attack, the United States finds itself on the same side as AlQaeda trying to overthrow the Assad regime,” he explained.

But ABC only mentioned that connection three times (3 stories out of 51) since the Aug. 21 gas attack. ABC’s Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl reported on “Good Morning America” Sept. 2, a Syrian warning about the terrorists. “The bread line and bakeries are open once again in Damascus and the Syrian government is right back at it hurling insults at Washington saying that should a military strike come eventually, that would be tantamount to the United States cooperating with Al Qaeda,” said Karl. 

NBC has a similarly poor showing, mentioning the connection just 3 times out of 64 stories. During an Aug. 28 report, Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel acknowledged that Al Qaeda is on the rise in Syria. “Big strikes, and the Syrian regime could collapse, leaving rebels, including a growing number aligned to Al Qaeda, to fight for control,” Engel cautioned.

CBS did just a little better, mentioning Al Qaeda 5 times out of 56 reports. During an Aug. 29, “This Morning” appearance, Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez (New Jersey) expressed his concern about what could happen if the Assad regime falls and Syria becomes “a failed state” with “Hezbollah who are backed by Iran” and “Al Qaeda elements there “

“Evening News” anchor Scott Pelley gave viewers background “how we got to this point” on Aug. 26, adding: “The Obama administration considered some of the rebel groups terrorists, linked to al Qaeda.”

Even the major print outlets acknowledge the connection, sometimes. On Aug. 29, The Washington Post wrote about the impact of a U.S. assault might have on Al Qaeda. “Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups are redeploying their resources in rebel-held parts of Syria amid widespread fears that any strikes carried out by the United States would target not only the Syrian government but also Islamists in the opposition, according to rebels and activists,” stated Liz Sly.

Back in December, The New York Times talked about the rise of Al Qaeda among rebel groups in Syria. “The lone Syrian rebel group with an explicit stamp of approval from Al Qaeda has become one of the uprising’s most effective fighting forces, posing a stark challenge to the United States and other countries that want to support the rebels but not Islamic extremists,” explained the paper.

Dan Gainor
Dan Gainor is The Boone Pickens Free Market Fellow and Vice President for Business and Culture for the Media Research Center