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White House instructs TV networks not to air bin Laden videos
October 11, 2001 12:47 AM   Subscribe

White House instructs TV networks not to air bin Laden videos
posted by andrew cooke (50 comments total)

 
This continues from here, but was, I thought, important enough to be front page news. Apologies if not (and I'll see you in the shiny new MetaTalk).
posted by andrew cooke at 12:50 AM on October 11, 2001


But he's soooo dreamy!


I'll bet Timex is pissed.
Spokesterrorists don't just grow on trees.
posted by dong_resin at 12:50 AM on October 11, 2001


OK, my problem with this is, most of the mondo controversial Bin Laden videos I've seen have a very brief period of the actual speaker speaking in his native language, almost immediately overwhelmed by the translator talking over him, so, how is the message getting through, other than the obvious "launch Plan B after they start bombing the hell out of us" message that the Plan B guys could just pick up on their own by watching CNN without relying on a poorly-translated rebroadcast of the alegedly secret-message-containing speech itself?
posted by kirkaracha at 1:13 AM on October 11, 2001


Slate had an interesting opinion piece on this tape. Contrary to most media reports, the tape isn't just a call to kill Americans. It is a specific political document outlining grievances. The meat of the Saletan's argument is that Bush has not taken the Bin Laden message seriously enough. The tape was designed to resonate with Muslims, and W has offered no counterargument other than it is "propaganda".

Perhaps Dubya is afraid of legitimizing the message by countering its statements.
posted by phatboy at 1:23 AM on October 11, 2001


...because, like, bin Laden's putting out propaganda, and we only want people to hear OUR propaganda, not theirs.
posted by skylar at 1:28 AM on October 11, 2001


we only want people to hear OUR propaganda, not theirs

Exactly, it's war. Freedom of the press etc goes down the drain when a war is on. The thing that annoys me about this 'first war of the millenium' is that I can't believe a single thing I see or read. Once the war propoganda machine starts working the 'bad' truth gets filtered out.
posted by twistedonion at 1:33 AM on October 11, 2001


Once the war propoganda machine starts working the 'bad' truth gets filtered out.

Really? Sure this isn't one of those times where media outlets work their sources as hard as they can, to sqeeze out as many leaks as possible? One of Mark Kingwell's arguments in What Sept. 11 was not about is that "In times of crisis, debate gets quickly polarized and nuance, not truth, is the very first casualty of war." Metafilter, among other community-created-content sites, promises is gathering of information that people might not otherwise see in the mainstream press. And I think it largely delivers on that promise.
posted by youthbc1 at 2:11 AM on October 11, 2001


Wasn't there a continuing war in 1984 just for the purpose of justifying the propaganda, loss of freedoms, etc. ?
posted by jeblis at 2:18 AM on October 11, 2001


This is going to be a long, rotten war.

If you're an American within range, there's uncensored TV news coming in from the north.
posted by pracowity at 2:21 AM on October 11, 2001


do you even know what freedom of the press is? All he did was urge the networks not to air it. He's not saying they can't, which means any references to "freedom of the press" is simply irresponsible paranoia.

I swear, logic in this place has gone by the wayside. Bin laden's statements are the same old arguments that have been refuted for years, there's nothing new in there that's even worth replying to. Bin Laden isn't looking to have a civilized debate about middle eastern foreign policy, he wants to blow out brains out unless we do everything the islamic extremists want.
There's not even a "bad truth" to what he's saying, just poor logic. I know there's plenty of ralph naders and and stanley cohens on this site who'd disagree. It's no secret

Propaganda is hardly something you have to worry about since there are so many people in the U.S. who question or dispute every single thing the government says or does as being a conspiracy, lies etc. We do need these types of people to keep the government in check, but no need to give them anymore credibility than they deserve.
posted by rabbit at 2:23 AM on October 11, 2001


bin laden is a consumate politician, i am not supprised that the western governments are afraid to broadcast his speeches uncensored.
posted by asok at 2:46 AM on October 11, 2001


Thank you rabbit. Rather than being a haven for people looking for the truth, Metafilter is more often than not a chorus line of rapidly jerking knees all twitching in response to their pet paranoia...in this case a mild government request for media restraint. This hardly constitutes a dire threat to freedom of speech.
posted by MrBaliHai at 2:53 AM on October 11, 2001


Free speech isn't important when you're saying nice things. There's no need for a right to speak freely when nobody objects to what you say anyway. The reason free speech is important is because, even when the chips are down, you can still access all the information and make up your own mind.

So I'm not sure I understand people who say "well, normally this would be OK, but now we're at war." What's the point in fighting for freedom if you're not free enough to know whether you're being lied to or not? Freedom of information is crucial, especially in times of war.

And whether it's self-imposed media restraint by patriotic companies, or a government order enforced by men in jackboots makes no difference - the effect is the same (in fact, this is very nicely spun by the government to make it seem like "not censorship" -the point Declan was making by placing the quotes in the main link).
posted by andrew cooke at 3:25 AM on October 11, 2001


FACK. I was just flicking through Sky Digital and found Al Jazeera. Can't understand a word of course.
posted by Summer at 3:43 AM on October 11, 2001


What's the point in fighting for freedom if you're not free enough to know whether you're being lied to or not?

What's the point of listening to Osama bin Laden speeches over and over again? What crucial information am I being denied if the media voluntarily stops running clips of him broadcasting inflammatory propaganda meant to incite muslims into fighting a jihad and cow US citizens with more threats of terrorism? How does denying al Queda and the Taliban access to US news outlets equate to the the US government lying to me?

Condaleeza Rice is not exactly Joseph Goebbels in pantyhose, m'kay?
posted by MrBaliHai at 5:19 AM on October 11, 2001


a chorus line of rapidly jerking knees all twitching in response to their pet paranoia
oh man! a new olympic category. synchronized kneejerk. to the tune of yngwie malmstein shredding the star spangled banner. the gold medal is such a sure thing!
posted by quonsar at 5:25 AM on October 11, 2001


Freedom of the press etc goes down the drain when a war is on. The thing that annoys me about this 'first war of the millenium' is that I can't believe a single thing I see or read.

The claim that there's nothing reliable out there is demonstrably false. Thanks to the Web, you have access to more world media outlets than ever before. If you're under the mistaken impression that nothing from the U.S. media is reliable, try Agence France Presse, the English-language newspaper Dawn in Pakistan, or dozens of other outlets that are available.

The original New York Times link is broken, but from the summary, it appears the government will participate in the media's decision-making process on what to edit out of future videos coming from Osama Bin Laden.

That ought to raise a red flag. The media has to remain independent of government to serve its purpose -- especially in times of crisis.

I wasn't comfortable with how the media gave Bin Laden an unfiltered outlet to the world on Sunday -- I can't imagine NBC radio was running Hitler speeches in full during World War II. However, the decision to limit Bin Laden video coverage should be made by the media alone, if at all.
posted by rcade at 5:41 AM on October 11, 2001


> Condaleeza Rice is not exactly Joseph Goebbels
> in pantyhose

You're wandering close to Godwin's Law territory and using cliche ad hominem language ("kneejerk") just to argue that you don't want to hear all of the news, that you see nothing wrong with the US president recommending that the country's major news outlets to stay away from things he doesn't want Americans to hear, and that you aren't dismayed that those news outlets all readily agreed to his recommendation.

The president should stay out of the news business.
posted by pracowity at 5:46 AM on October 11, 2001


i'm generally with the people that say "it's just a request, not censorship." but this "bin laden is sending coded messages" excuse is flimsy at best and does make me wonder what the true motives of bush's request are. i mean, c'mon, the man is a millionaire who has built a world-wide terror network....surely he doesn't need CBS to get his word out.
posted by danOstuporStar at 6:11 AM on October 11, 2001


If you're an American within range, there's uncensored TV news coming in from the north.

I wouldn't count too much on the CBC for uncensored news. They may play bin Laden videos but it's still reasonably likely that they'll concede the "not worth relaying terrorist messages" point (however valid) as well.

A different opinion, a different bias, certainly, but expect the party line to be followed up here as well.
posted by cCranium at 6:12 AM on October 11, 2001


And whether it's self-imposed media restraint by patriotic companies...

I'm not sure exactly what this has to do with "patriotism." It is not mere patriotism to want to be able go to sleep at night without the nagging suspicion that you might have just contributed to the imminent maiming and killing of untold numbers of innocent people just for the sake of a couple of hours' worth of slightly higher ratings. (Citizens who, by the way, may not necessarily be American. There's no guarantee at all that the next terrorist act won't be in London, or Toronto, or Allah knows where. About all we know is it probably won't be anywhere in the Middle East.)

or a government order enforced by men in jackboots makes no difference - the effect is the same.

Which part of "freedom of the press" don't you understand? There HAS BEEN NO government order. There CANNOT BE any government order.

(in fact, this is very nicely spun by the government to make it seem like "not censorship" -the point Declan was making by placing the quotes in the main link).

I'm not really sure that's precisely the point he was trying to make, but in any case, if he was he's wrong. Not only is it not censorship, they didn't even agree not to ever air any of his stuff. All they said is they'll probably not run the full motion video, or allow the untranslated Arabic speech to be heard on the air.

By the way, I might also point out that the network news divisions are not providing wall-to-wall coverage of every single moment any US government official hold a press conference, either. Not even the 24-hour news channels run those things in their entirety. If that's not "censorship" (self-imposed or otherwise), then neither is cutting the percentage of Al-Qaida BS that they put on the air.
posted by aaron at 6:18 AM on October 11, 2001



i mean, c'mon, the man is a millionaire who has built a world-wide terror network...

who? Bush or Bin Laden?
posted by tolkhan at 6:21 AM on October 11, 2001


Here is a news report. It was voluntary and it does not suppress any information.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 6:22 AM on October 11, 2001


I agree that the "secret messages" pretext for the Bush request is flimsy. With Al Jezera and other foreign outlets broadcasting Bin Laden's words, why would the bad guys need NBC?

Maybe the theory is that there are bad guys in the US, who would have ready access to NBC, but not foreign channels. This still seems weak. Wouldn't a simple e-mail or a message on some yahoo group be a much easier way to pass secret messages?

I think the request to stop re-playing OBL is probably more about domestic politics. Bush does not want Americans to see pictures of OBL calmly doing his karaoke thing while we are supposed to be bombing him senseless. I know the OBL tape was "canned," but Americans just watching the tape (or people watching future tapes) might still wonder if our military campaign is really effective.
posted by Mid at 6:24 AM on October 11, 2001


the man is a millionaire who has built a world-wide terror network... who? Bush or Bin Laden?

heh...good question. i mean OBL. george w. couldn't build a sand castle in miami. dubya inherited reagan's network.
posted by danOstuporStar at 6:31 AM on October 11, 2001


pracowity - from your link: However, there is also a widely- recognized codicil that any intentional triggering of Godwin's Law in order to invoke its thread-ending effects will be unsuccessful.

However, I agree with you - it troubles me that the government would be asking for media restraint. Even if it is a request, and not a demand, it has a chilling effect.

But I do think it is acceptable to ask (or even demand) that the news media not report on things like: troop locations, campaign details, and other items that would constitute intelligence for our enemies.

The question is, is the explanation that there may be coded instructions in the speeches to operatives in the US or elsewhere, a plausible one? I don't know. dan0stuporStar makes a good point..... but one of the critical characteristics of terrorist cells is that they don't communicate with each other, and there is no "general" who has knowledge of (or communicates with) those cells. This is why they are so hard to find, observe, infiltrate, and subject to counterintelligence.

What I would like is a clear and concise explanation of the parameters of media limitations (whether requested or demanded) That is: what, where, when, who, and for how long - clearly spelled out. I'll be much more willing to accept restrictions if I know these things, especially the expiration date. Asking me to trust the government that the restrictions will be lifted "at some later date," "when appropriate," is not acceptable.

I do not and will not trust the government. I prefer the relationship we have now, in which trust is not an issue.
posted by yesster at 6:33 AM on October 11, 2001


Which part of "freedom of the press" don't you understand?

The part where our television media intentionally gives up some of that freedom to let the government into their editing bay.
posted by rcade at 6:45 AM on October 11, 2001


All he did was urge the networks not to air it. He's not saying they can't, which means any references to "freedom of the press" is simply irresponsible paranoia.

Although Ari Fleischer has already made it clear to certain members of the White House press corps that their current level of access is a privilege, and not a right. Which makes it a request rather akin to Microsoft's "requests" to OEMs concerning pre-installed software and desktop icons. Annoy the press spokesdroids, and the Other, More Pliant Networks will get the juicy off-the-record titbits.
posted by holgate at 6:48 AM on October 11, 2001


bin laden is a consumate politician
If he's that great, he should come to the US and run for President. If we're as idiotic as you think we are, he should have no problem getting elected; we'll all be taken in by his suave, savvy charm and firm grasp of the issues.
posted by darukaru at 6:56 AM on October 11, 2001


he should come to the US and run for President.

he can't silly. he's not a natural born citizen of the US.
posted by tolkhan at 7:05 AM on October 11, 2001


Although Ari Fleischer has already made it clear to certain members of the White House press corps that their current level of access is a privilege, and not a right.

And he's absolutely correct. Nobody in the White House has any obligation to bow to the demands of any reporter, period.
posted by aaron at 7:05 AM on October 11, 2001



And he's absolutely correct. Nobody in the White House has any obligation to bow to the demands of any reporter, period.

Because people have to be careful what they say and what they do? Someone's got to keep the bastards honest. You are Ari Fleischer, and I claim my ten euros.
posted by holgate at 7:10 AM on October 11, 2001


Nobody in the White House has any obligation to bow to the demands of any reporter, period.

As a member of the media yourself, I'm surprised you abandon the idea that reporters are serving the public (not just themselves) when they make demands of information to the White House.

If the White House isn't obligated to the press, can it shut down all press conferences, clear out the reporters from their workspaces in the building, and communicate only via press release?

Annoy the press spokesdroids, and the Other, More Pliant Networks will get the juicy off-the-record titbits.

This is always true in Washington. The reporters who write "source-greasers" are the ones who get fed the good not-for-attribution stuff.
posted by rcade at 7:17 AM on October 11, 2001


It's somewhat ironic, too, that people get more worked up today than ever about supposed "press censorship," given that people have far more access to far more sources of news than ever before, and that the news media has never been less willing to self-censor itself. Before the mid to late 1960s, network news reporters and editors would never even THINK about giving the enemy's PR any more than token coverage in the first place, and would have gone out of their way to cut out anything that made them feel the least bit, yes, "Un-American" before letting it on the air. And back then, when they did that, you really DIDN'T have any other way to see it, or even read about what it said.

That we are spending so much time nitpicking such a minor coverage decision, which won't really affect our ability to obtain the debated "information" at all if we really want to see it, is rather inherent proof as to the utter, total lack of true censorship in this country.

Because people have to be careful what they say and what they do?

No, because freedom of the press does not mean government subjugation TO the press.

As a member of the media yourself, I'm surprised you abandon the idea that reporters are serving the public (not just themselves) when they make demands of information to the White House.

No, I believe they do both. But having done tours at two network news divisions, I'll always know that the two competing desires (personal gain vs. actual serving of the public) command at least equal amounts of the reporters' attention at all times, and that the former often wins out. They are not holy servants of the public trust. They ought to be, but they're not. They want all the privileges, but none of the responsibilities.

If the White House isn't obligated to the press, can it shut down all press conferences, clear out the reporters from their workspaces in the building, and communicate only via press release?

If that was ever what the Administration wanted to do, absolutely. (Though it would of course do irreparable damage to their public support.) The only legal OBLIGATION they have is to provide the information that federal law says they must, and that is information they must provide to ANY member of the public that asks for it. Members of the White House press corps have no right to any exclusive access to White House staffers. They only get it because it is in the interest of the White House to use them. Just like they use the White House.
posted by aaron at 7:41 AM on October 11, 2001



Besides, I'm not a "member" any more. I was deemed worthless enough to "lay off" twice, and now I'm sitting in West Virginia waiting to die.
posted by aaron at 7:45 AM on October 11, 2001


Good point, tolkhan. Mayor of NYC, then?
posted by darukaru at 8:10 AM on October 11, 2001


Every network response to the request that I've seen says pretty much the same thing: "We won't air his tapes without previewing them." That's really not much of a promise. Does anybody think the news shows don't preview everything they show anyway? It is a non-committal response to a silly request, and it seems like everybody walks away happy, while nothing really changes at all.

Plus, I think the notion of coded messages is pretty silly. You can never hear the actual words he's saying, just the translation, and the translation is different on every channel that airs it. The only room for secret code might be, "If I appear in the shackles of a large mechanical sundial product made by the infidel Timex army, go forth young noblemen and release the Anthrax spores of destiny!"

...and I'm sorry, but I think OBL and his peeps are a bit more sophisticated than that.
posted by spilon at 8:32 AM on October 11, 2001


As several people mentioned, the networks are doing this voluntarily. No surprise, really. Remember that these "news outlets" are beholden to much larger interests than mere journalism: CBS (Viacom), ABC (Disney), NBC (GE), CNN (AOL/Time Warner)...they have product to sell and shareholders to please. No wonder they cave in and call it "patriotism."
posted by mapalm at 8:47 AM on October 11, 2001


This is a very different type of war then has ever been waged before. Its means include spectacle and attention getting. The use of the media is an important platform for Bin Laden. Part of his strategy no doubt includes polarizing the west against Arab nations and vice-versa.

What's the most effective way of dealing with a bully that wants to sling insults at you? Ignore him. What could he possibly have to say that he has not had ample opportunity to say already? If something newsworthy is there - great, publish it, but let's not empower Bin Laden with constant attention.

The media is a weapon. More so now than ever before.
posted by xammerboy at 9:55 AM on October 11, 2001


good point xammerboy
posted by yesster at 10:02 AM on October 11, 2001


For the record, Bin Laden didn't kill 5000+ people with insults. And we aren't exactly dropping 'bad words' on the Al Qaeda and Taliban.

So, if it's okay for our government to *ask* the media to gag itself for 'national security' reasons, then I'm sure it's okay for the government to *ask* all citizens to voluntarily surrender certain civil rights for national security reasons, hmm?

Would you?

Not me. America's government is of the people, by the people, and for the people. Anybody in our government --anybody-- is just a citizen like you and me, a human working for a paycheck guaranteed by you and me, and has no more or no less rights than you or me as an American.

And we're fighting for freedom... not security. Bush himself even said it's an "attack on freedom."

But we're in this mess partly because of bad government decisions made in the past by ordinary citizens --in service of our country-- who honestly believed that rubbing off a little freedom here and there wouldn't hurt anything if it helped to make 'national security' shine.

But sometimes it's better to live with tarnish than to rub the silver until it disappears.
posted by blackholebrain at 2:28 PM on October 11, 2001



So, if it's okay for our government to *ask* the media to gag itself for 'national security' reasons, then I'm sure it's okay for the government to *ask* all citizens to voluntarily surrender certain civil rights for national security reasons, hmm?

As a nation, it is going to be necessary to stop standing with our head up high and allow our pride to come down in order to defend ourselves. I believe it is going to be necessary to limit our freedoms in the pursuit of victory. We are going to see things change; just what it is that is going to change I do not know. But either you can humble yourself and recognize that our lives and country are at stake, or you can stand up high with pride with your head visible for all the world to see.
posted by crog at 2:50 PM on October 11, 2001


crog: Then our leaders need to stop talking BS about fighting for our "freedoms" then, and how Osama, et. al. are scared of freedom and democracy. Or at least they do if they agree with you 100 percent, which I don't believe the majority of them do. If you mean non-Constitutional "freedoms," OK (although, y'know, I don't see how taking a 20-year-old brass mirror out of my mother's carry-on bag and saying it'll be mailed back eventually is going to prevent another 9.11, exactly - she's a middle-aged southern woman, already), but the Bill of Rights is still on the books in war time.
posted by raysmj at 4:44 PM on October 11, 2001


the problem with airing terrorist statements - even if the grievances are legitimate - is that it signals to other would-be terrorists that they too can successfully command the attention of the American media through violence. Any group that feels marginalized (rightly or wrongly) would be encouraged to use violence to get people's attention. (Think Unabomber).
posted by lizs at 4:48 PM on October 11, 2001


And we're fighting for freedom... not security. Bush himself even said it's an "attack on freedom."

We have to have security *in order* to have freedom. We've been able to live very comfortably in this country, and unfortunately, much of the public seems to have confused "privileges" with "rights." Many people also seem to forget that we enjoy these comforts precisely because we also enjoy superpower status, and that somewhere in history we paid prices for these liberties.
posted by lizs at 5:01 PM on October 11, 2001


The stuff about press suppression reminds me of Nixon. His press secretary, Ron Zeigler, would make the press watch speeches and press conferences from another room, via closed circut cameras.

In the end, though, this kind of effort only makes the press work harder (Watergate.) Bush would do well to remember that.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 5:11 PM on October 11, 2001


lizs: The rights in the Bill of Rights are rights seen by those who put the list together as being self-evident rights, not privileges. If you want emergency powers while fighting for "freedom," even if that takes an indefinite amount of time, lobby your members of Congress for a new Constitutional Convention or move. The Supreme Court ruled a long time ago, during the Civil War actually (think of the blood in WTC/Pentagon disaster, and multiply it by thousands), that the rights guaranteed in the Constitution are *not* suspended in war time. Pure privileges, however, are a different story. I doubt the Supremes would ever agree to people be stopped in traffic, say, unless it's a serious emergency. They don't like random traffic stops now. But telling reporters what to write (unless it's a dire matter of national security, which is miles away from being proven in this case), or what religion to choose or not, etc., or denying a citizen the right to a trial by a jury of his or her peers, etc., or totally restricting habeas corpus, etc. should never be tolerated.
posted by raysmj at 10:26 PM on October 11, 2001


It is funny how, from a distance, Bin Ladin's face could be mistaken for my privates.
posted by houndyboy at 4:19 AM on October 12, 2001


Bite me, houndyboy.
posted by dong_resin at 2:04 AM on October 13, 2001


> and now I'm sitting in West Virginia waiting to die.

At least you can take comfort in the fact that you're not alone.
posted by pracowity at 2:43 AM on October 13, 2001


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