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That Foxy CNN

The ConWeb's annoyed that CNN wants an interview with Osama bin Laden. Where were they when Fox News got an interview with Timothy McVeigh?

By Terry Krepel
Posted 10/19/2001

ConWeb hypocrisy does border on the amazing sometimes.

Take, for instance, the current example of CNN's attempt to submit questions to terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. The ConWeb is all over this, working up a nice fit of indignation.

Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center issued a press release Oct. 17 about CNN's "outrageous gambit," quoting himself as saying, "One finds it absurd to believe that if CNN existed 60 years ago it would give an audience to Adolf Hitler or Emperor Hirohito who ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor. This is truly outrageous, it is harming the war effort and it’s a slap in the face to the American people." He then offers his own questions to CNN, including:

  • Knowing that terrorists thrive on media exposure to spread their propaganda, and that the interview was instigated by al Qaeda, why would you allow your international network to be used by a wanted terrorist and known killer?
  • Given that bin Laden is a liar – he first denied having anything to do with the terrorist attacks on the U.S. -- why do you think he will be honest with CNN?

MRC's Brent Baker repeats the press release in his Oct. 18 Cyber Alert, adding that "I’m pretty confident CNN has a much better chance of getting Osama bin Laden to answer its questions than the MRC has of having CNN address ours."

NewsMax, in its usual understated way, suggests in an Oct. 18 article that CNN, "widely known as the Clinton News Network, may now be dubbed the Criminal News Network" for its "craven pandering" to bin Laden, citing Bozell's press release as evidence. The article goes on to note that "CNN's rival Fox News Channel denied it would have done the interview under CNN's conditions. 'The only way we would do it is if we could have a sit-down interview with bin Laden and we were allowed to ask follow-up questions,' a Fox spokesman told the Times."

Let's look at the record, shall we?

As originally reported on Jim Romenesko's MediaNews, Fox News Channel got an exclusive with domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh shortly before his execution earlier this year in a manner not unlike CNN's pursuit of bin Laden: by submitting written questions without an opportunity to follow up. Nobody seemed bothered by that, least of all the ConWeb and Fox News.

NewsMax ran not only its own story April 27 on the exclusive, being careful to point out that McVeigh was "responding to questions from FNC's Rita Cosby," it ran an additional UPI wire story on it as well as the text of McVeigh's letter in response to Cosby's questions. The MRC didn't say a word about it -- no haranguing about Fox News being used by a "terrorist and known killer."

Cosby responded in a letter to MediaNews by saying that there are differences between the bin Laden and McVeigh contacts: Fox wasn't the only news organization after McVeigh, and she says she had a face-to-face interview with McVeigh set up with no preconditions until the U.S. Justice Department banned broadcast interviews with him. "At that point, I decided on my own accord to send a series of questions to McVeigh determining that was the only possible option since we physically could not sit down with him, which is still an option with bin Laden if he chose to do that." The fact that Cosby didn't get her sit-down interview didn't keep her from running on the air with what she had, which was exactly the same thing CNN is trying to get from bin Laden. Cosby had no way of determining McVeigh's honesty, even if he was a rather pleasant fellow for someone who blew up a federal building and killed 168 people.

Does Cosby think bin Laden, subject of perhaps the most intensive, widespread manhunt in history, will take time out of his busy schedule of avoiding detection as he shuttles between Afghan mountain caves to fly to New York to chat for an hour with Larry King? What sane reporter would permit himself to be led blindly (al-Qaida would certainly not permit it otherwise) into the bowels of Afghanistan to find the guy, even if it would be one hell of a scoop? As long as bin Laden is the most wanted man on the planet, nobody is doing a sit-down interview with the guy unless they're willing to suck the pipe along with Osama when that cruise missile hits.

As he has proven, bin Laden is not that stupid -- though Bozell may very well be for thinking that anybody, CNN included, will assume that a response to written questions that have no opportunity for follow-up would have much value beyond propaganda. If "terrorist," "known killer" and "liar" McVeigh can get airtime for his views under the same conditions without a fuss from the MRC, why not bin Laden?

A mass murderer is a mass murderer. If killing 168 people -- as inconceivable when it happened as the Sept. 11 attacks are now -- isn't reason enough to keep a person's opinions off the airwaves permanently, why would killing 6,000 be?

It wasn't all that long ago that the ConWeb was gloating over Fox News' growth at the apparent expense of CNN, which caused CNN to contemplate borrowing a few things from the upstart. Arguments to the contrary, CNN's solitication of bin Laden really is no different than Fox News' solicitation of McVeigh. And Fox did it first, so one could claim that CNN was simply imitating them.

Isn't that what the ConWeb wanted -- a CNN that was more like Fox News? Now that they have it, what's the problem?

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