An intervention of FAIR
Teun A. van Dijk
teun at HUM.UVA.NL
Sun Nov 4 21:14:34 UTC 2001
I append a recent intervention of FAIR about the CNN coverage of the war
in Afghanistan because it has very direct implications for any critical
discourse analysis of the news about that war, including actual
proposals for the formulation of news. Fascinating (though not
surprising) facts. Also, for those who did not know FAIR, an example of
their useful work and testimony that fortunately, also in the USA, the
consensus is not total hegemony.
Teun A. van Dijk
CNN Says Focus on Civilian Casualties Would Be "Perverse"
November 1, 2001
According to the Washington Post (10/31/01), CNN Chair Walter Isaacson
ordered his staff to balance images of civilian devastation in Afghan
with reminders that the Taliban harbors murderous terrorists, saying it
'seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in
Post media reporter Howard Kurtz quotes a memo from Isaacson to CNN's
international correspondents: "As we get good reports from
Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, we must redouble our efforts to make
do not seem to be simply reporting from their vantage or perspective. We
must talk about how the Taliban are using civilian shields and how the
Taliban have harbored the terrorists responsible for killing close to
The memo went on to admonish reporters covering civilian deaths not to
"forget it is that country's leaders who are responsible for the
Afghanistan is now in," suggesting that journalists should lay
responsibility for civilian casualties at the Taliban's door, not the
Kurtz also quotes a follow-up memo from Rick Davis, CNN's head of
and practices, that suggested sample language for news anchors:
" 'We must keep in mind, after seeing reports like this from
Taliban-controlled areas, that these U.S. military actions are in
to a terrorist attack that killed close to 5,000 innocent people in the
U.S.' or, 'We must keep in mind, after seeing reports like this, that
Taliban regime in Afghanistan continues to harbor terrorists who have
praised the September 11 attacks that killed close to 5,000 innocent
in the U.S.,' or 'The Pentagon has repeatedly stressed that it is trying
minimize civilian casualties in Afghanistan, even as the Taliban regime
continues to harbor terrorists who are connected to the September 11
that claimed thousands of innocent lives in the U.S.' "
Davis stated that "even though it may start sounding rote, it is
that we make this point each time."
The New York Times reported (11/1/01) that these policies are already
implemented at CNN, with other networks following a similar, though
not as formalized, strategy. "In the United States," the Times noted,
"television images of Afghan bombing victims are fleeting, cushioned
anchors or American officials explaining that such sights are only one
of the story." In other countries, however, "images of wounded Afghan
children curled in hospital beds or women rocking in despair over a
corpse" are "more frequent and lingering."
When CNN correspondent Nic Robertson reported yesterday from the site of
bombed medical facility in Kandahar, the Times reported, U.S. anchors
disclaimers aimed at reassuring American viewers that the network was
siding with the enemy." CNN International, however, did not add any such
During its U.S broadcasts, CNN "quickly switched to the rubble of the
Trade Center" after showing images of the damage in Kandahar, and the
"reminded viewers of the deaths of as many as 5,000 people whose
crime was going to work and getting there on time.'"
If anything in this story is "perverse," it's that one of the world's
powerful news outlets has instructed its journalists not to report
civilian casualties without attempting to justify those deaths. "I want
make sure we're not used as a propaganda platform," Isaacson told the
Washington Post. But his memo essentially mandates that pro-U.S.
be included in the news.
ACTION: Please tell CNN to factually report the consequences of the U.S.
in Afghanistan without editorializing. Including a justification for the
bombing with every mention of civilian casualties risks turning CNN from
news outlet into a propaganda service.
CNN, Walter Isaacson, Chairman and CEO
Phone: (404) 827-1500
Fax: (404) 827-1784
mailto:community at cnn.com
As always, please remember that your comments are taken more seriously
you maintain a polite tone. Please cc fair at fair.org with your
For further details, see Howard Kurtz's full Washington Post story:
Feel free to respond to FAIR ( fair at fair.org ). We can't reply to
everything, but we will look at each message. We especially appreciate
documented example of media bias or censorship. And please send copies
your email correspondence with media outlets, including any responses,
at: fair at fair.org .
FAIR ON THE AIR: FAIR's founder Jeff Cohen is a regular panelist on the
News Channel's "Fox News Watch," which airs which airs Saturdays at 6:30
and Sundays at 11 pm (Eastern Standard Time). Check your local listings.
FAIR produces CounterSpin, a weekly radio show heard on over 130
the U.S. and Canada. To find the CounterSpin station nearest you, visit
Please support FAIR by subscribing to our bimonthly magazine, Extra!
For more information, go to:
http://www.fair.org/extra/subscribe.html . Or call 1-800-847-3993.
FAIR's INTERNSHIP PROGRAM: FAIR accepts internship applications for its
York office on a rolling basis. For more information, see:
You can subscribe to FAIR-L at our web site: http://www.fair.org , or by
sending a "subscribe FAIR-L enter your full name" command to
LISTSERV at LISTSERV.AMERICAN.EDU . Our subscriber list is kept
You may leave the list at any time-- just send a message with "SIGNOFF
FAIR-L" in the body to: LISTSERV at LISTSERV.AMERICAN.EDU .
E-mail: fair at fair.org
list administrators: FAIR-L-request at american.edu
More information about the Critics-l