CBS Adopts Olbermann-esque Spin and Charges Terrorist Arrests Over-Hyped

On Tuesday night, following a week in which the CBS Evening News attracted the fewest viewers in decades, the producers decided the Katie Couric-anchored newscast needed an injection of an Olbermann-esque twist: The arrests of six Islamists, for plotting to use automatic weapons to murder troops at Fort Dix, matches the hype around previous captures which fizzled. Armen Keteyian framed his story around how since 9/11 “more than 400,000 names have come under one form of government surveillance or another -- from watch lists to wiretaps. But only a handful of terrorists have been convicted in cases with concrete ties to al-Qaeda.” Keteyian highlighted how cases that “start out as larger, bolder terrorism cases, turn into lesser offenses. According to a study by the NYU Center on Law and Security, of the 550 terrorism cases since 9/11, only 163 individuals have been prosecuted on terrorism charges.” The group's Karen Greenburg then asserted: “The conclusion would be that we've made a lot of hoopla about a number of cases on the grounds of terrorism at the beginning, and they haven't panned out to be terrorism cases.”

But Keteyian didn't bother to alert viewers to the Center for Law and Security's agenda. Greenberg, the Executive Director featured in a soundbite, is “co-editor of The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib” and “she is a former Vice President of the Soros Foundation/Open Society Institute,” according to her online bio. Amongst the Fellows at the organization: infamous Clinton sycophant and conservative-basher Sidney Blumenthal and on the Board of Advisers: Dana Priest, the Washington Post reporter who exposed the secret overseas CIA sites to interrogate terrorists. The topic of the group's most recent forum, “The Hidden Roots of War: Christian Zionism and the Neocon Fundamentalist Alliance in America.”

Keith Olbermann dutifully echoed the CBS spin, only with more of an edge as he derided the “extensive and entirely credulous coverage” and dismissed the capture: “The FBI has arrested six morons.” On Tuesday's Countdown on MSNBC, he charged:
“The flaw, though, in the breathless reporting of the purported terror cell: The Bureau [FBI] infiltrated the six person group after its members took video of themselves, practicing with assault weapons, brought the tape to a photo store and had it transferred to DVD. The details of the supposed plot don't seem to hold together that well either, though that did not stop extensive and entirely credulous coverage on TV, the Internet, in print today. The men supposedly had plans to gain access to the base disguised as pizza delivery guys, then cut the power somehow, then quote, 'hit four, five or six Humveees and light the whole place and retreat without any losses.' And take the tape of yourselves practicing and have it copied at FotoMat. In other words, the FBI has arrested six morons.”
Olbermann's dismissal of terrorist arrests as irrelevant -- or as an effort to distract from bad political news for Bush -- is nothing new, as documented in two NewsBusters items in which Brad Wilmouth collated some examples. From last August, check “Olbermann Suggests Bush Timed Terror Plot Arrests for Politics.” And from October of 2005, “Olbermann: Conspiracy of Terror Alerts to Cover Bush's Bad Days.”

Couric's plummeting ratings: TVNewser reported Tuesday, “Last week's CBS Evening News viewership was the lowest it has been since at least 1987, which is as far back as Nielsen records date. It's accurate to call it the smallest audience for the Evening News in decades.” Only 6,050,000 watched Couric, compared to 8,100,000 who tuned into ABC's World News and 7,490,000 who watched the NBC Nightly News.The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide a transcript of the May 8 CBS Evening News story which followed Bob Orr's lead piece summarizing the case:
Armen Keteyian: "This is Armen Keteyian. It's here in the heart of the National Counter-terrorism Center where the tips are tracked, the seeds of homegrown plots like today's at Fort Dix are hopefully prevented. The founder of the Center is John Brennan."

John Brennan, CBS News terrorism analyst and former Director of the National Counter-terrorism Center: "There are other groups like this that are developing the types of materiel and operational planning that's necessary."

Keteyian: "In the wake of 9/11, more than 400,000 names have come under one form of government surveillance or another -- from watch lists to wiretaps. But only a handful of terrorists have been convicted in cases with concrete ties to al-Qaeda -- most notably, shoe bomber Richard Reid and Iyman Faris, sent here to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge. Instead, in the last six years, the Justice Department has turned its attention to what it calls 'preventative prosecutions,' in part because what often start out as larger, bolder terrorism cases, turn into lesser offenses. According to a study by the NYU Center on Law and Security, of the 550 terrorism cases since 9/11, only 163 individuals have been prosecuted on terrorism charges, 387 were charged with lesser crimes like fraud and immigration violations."

Karen Greenburg, NYU Center on Law and Security: "The conclusion would be that we've made a lot of hoopla about a number of cases on the grounds of terrorism at the beginning, and they haven't panned out to be terrorism cases."
Unidentified man: "This is the model for the post-September 11th era."

Keteyian: "Many form a familiar pattern -- lots of fanfare, supposedly inspired by al-Qaeda, and built around undercover informants -- plots like the Miami Seven accused of eyeing the Sears Tower and federal buildings in Florida, and one man fixated on bombing a suburban shopping mall outside Chicago. It's far too early to tell into which category today's case will fall, but there's little doubt in today's world dangerous words and questionable actions bring a big government response, Katie."
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center