CyberAlert -- 12/19/2001 -- Worried About Walker's Rights

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Worried About Walker's Rights; Journalists Suddenly Concerned About Rivera's Credibility; Letterman's Osama bin Laden Complaints

1) During Tuesday's White House press briefing ABC's Terry Moran repeatedly pressed Ari Fleischer over John Walker's access to a lawyer, arguing: "As an American citizen, he has a constitutional talk to a lawyer." Moran followed-up: "Should the authorities refrain from interrogating him and placing him in jeopardy of incriminating himself?" Helen Thomas lectured: "Lawyers aren't that few around. You could get one to him."

2) Tuesday's World News Tonight devoted a story to concerns about how John Walker is not being given access to a lawyer, but in worrying about his rights, ABC ignored how Newsweek had learned that Walker "admitted to being a member of Al Qaeda and training at its camps, where he participated in terrorist exercises" and met Osama bin Laden.

3) After years of ignoring his liberal antics, now that he's with FNC the CBS News Web site jumped on a charge in the Baltimore Sun that Geraldo Rivera could not have seen what he claimed to have eyewitnessed. An ABC News VP proclaimed: "If credibility is important to you as a news organization, you'd want to correct any mistake immediately." Yet ABC never retracted its stories which gave credibility to specific Taliban claims about civilian deaths caused by U.S. bombing.

4) Weekly Standard publisher Terry Eastland noticed Geraldo Rivera in the background of a color photo run in Monday's Washington Post of Eastern Afghanistan security chief Hazrat Ali walking "with soldiers near the front line at Tora Bora."

5) As announced by Osama bin Laden himself, Letterman's "Top Ten Osama Bin Laden Complaints."


During Tuesday's White House press briefing Ari Fleischer was tag teamed by ABC's Terry Moran and Helen Thomas of Hearst Newspapers over why American Taliban John Walker hasn't been provided with access to a lawyer. Moran demanded: "As an American citizen, he has a constitutional talk to a lawyer. He hasn't. Why not?" Moran followed-up three times, worrying: "Is this an indication of the kind of due process that people caught up in these terrorist investigations are going to face?"

Walker, at least, was a bit more than just "caught up" in terrorism.

Moran continued pressing the interests of the man who likely committed treason: "Should the authorities refrain from interrogating him and placing him in jeopardy of incriminating himself?" In the midst of Moran's questioning, Thomas sarcastically interjected: "Lawyers aren't that few around. You could get one to him."

MRC analyst Ken Shepherd caught the exchange which occurred about mid-way through Fleischer's December 18 briefing carried live by the cable news networks starting at 12:40pm EST.

Moran, the ABC News White House correspondent, raised Walker's cause: "John Walker's now been in custody, in U.S. custody, for more than a week and interrogated pretty regularly. As an American citizen, he has a constitutional right -- in that he's facing very serious criminal charges -- to talk to a lawyer. He hasn't. Why not?"
White House Press Secretary Fleischer replied: "Terry, on questions like this, the facts are still being gathered to ascertain what, if any, charges will be brought, and that needs to be addressed to the Department of Defense or the Department of Justice. As they gather those facts, they will take the appropriate action."
Moran worried: "Does the President, is this an indication of the kind of due process that people caught up in these terrorist investigations are going to face? Because as an American citizen facing -- as the Attorney General and others have said -- very serious criminal charges, he has a constitutional right to see a lawyer and he hasn't."
Fleischer: "I don't think this is the typical case."
Moran piped up: "He's an American citizen."
Fleischer continued: "This is a case where an American citizen was found in a country abroad which was doing battle with the United States. It's not as if there was a lawyer on the street corner who was available at that moment. Of course, constitutional rights will be obeyed. But I think you need to talk to the specific agencies involved with this, and that's the Department of Defense or the Department of Justice."
Thomas then demanded: "But, is he being denied legal help?"
Fleischer tried to respond: "Helen, again, this is all up-"
Thomas talked over him, lecturing: "Lawyers aren't that few around. You could get one to him."
Fleischer kept going: "-to the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice to make determinations about how to hold people and when people should be accessible."
Moran jumped back in: "Wait, wait, wait. One more: Is the Administration then thinking of stripping him of his American citizenship and he wouldn't have those rights because of his allegiance to the Taliban?"
Fleischer reminded the reporters there's a war going on: "No. No. I just indicated that there aren't exactly -- there are different arrangements that have to be made in order to provide somebody who was a battlefield detainee access to the same, immediate availability of an attorney, as is the case here with somebody arrested on our shores."
Undeterred, Moran pressed again: "And in that interim should the authorities refrain from interrogating him and placing him in jeopardy of incriminating himself?"
Fleischer: "Terry, these questions all need to be addressed to the proper agency which is responsible and is knowledgeable of the legalities involved."
CNN's John King then joined the debate: "You speak for the government, Ari, and the President's involved in a lot of these deliberations, obviously you know these questions are coming. I mean, are you aware of his status? Has he waived his right to counsel?"
Fleischer: "John, speaking for the President, the President is more than satisfied that all rights are being fulfilled and that the Department of Defense and the Attorney General are doing the appropriate thing in accordance with the Constitution and given the on-the-ground practicalities and realities of the situation with Mr. Walker."

I'd bet Walker is enjoying a lot better physical conditions and food on the Navy ship than he did wandering the desert with the Taliban.


ABC's interest in John Walker's access to legal counsel, expressed by Terry Moran at the White House press briefing as described in item #1 above, carried through to Tuesday's World News Tonight. Pierre Thomas, not Moran, however, handled the story prompted by a complaint from Walker's lawyer.

But in worrying about Walker's rights, ABC didn't tell its viewers how Newsweek had learned that in interviews with U.S. officials Walker "admitted to being a member of Al Qaeda and training at its camps, where he participated in terrorist exercises -- including learning to use explosives and poisons -- and met with visiting Qaeda officials, including Osama bin Laden."

Anchor Peter Jennings set up the December 18 story on a subject not considered newsworthy by either the CBS Evening News or NBC Nightly News: "The attorney for the American John Walker, who was found among Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan, insisted today that he have access to his client. The young man has now been held by the U.S. for more than 16 days without access to lawyers while the government decides if or how it will prosecute him. ABC's Pierre Thomas joins us tonight. Pretty insistent was his lawyer today, Pierre."

Thomas explained, as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "Yes, he was. John Walker's parents still have not been able to talk to their son so far. They're increasingly concerned and they argue he should be given the same constitutional rights as any American.
"An attorney hired by the Walker family released this statement demanding access to his client. 'All we've heard is speculation and rumor,' he wrote. 'No one from the outside, other than the Red Cross, has seen John. Whatever the accusation, John has constitutional rights.' Legal scholars are uncertain of what Walker's rights are because the U.S. military. Holding him on board a ship in the Arabian Sea, has not yet defined his status."
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer: "I don't think this is the typical case. This is a case where an American citizen was found in a country abroad which was doing battle with the United States."
Thomas picked up: "The military has given no indication of when they will hand Walker over to civilian authorities."
Tom Connolly, former Assistant U.S. Attorney: "At some point, Mr. Walker's constitutional rights do kick in, and I think the military will be concerned about holding him too long."
Thomas: "All the Pentagon will say is that Walker is being provided food, water, shelter, and medical attention."
Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense: "He's being treated consistent with the Geneva protections for prisoners of war, so he enjoys all the protections that would go with prisoner of war status."
Thomas concluded: "Peter, the military has been trying to figure out exactly what Walker did while he was in Afghanistan. A decision is expected soon on his fate."

"Walker is being provided food, water, shelter, and medical attention." That's a lot better than what Walker's Taliban and Al Qaeda buddies provided a few thousand Americans.

ABC failed to mention evidence of how Walker was personally involved in terrorist training. Newsweek's Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman reported in the December 24 issue out this week that in interviews with U.S. officials:
"Walker acknowledged a lot more than fighting for the Taliban: according to administration sources, he also admitted to being a member of Al Qaeda and training at its camps, where he participated in terrorist exercises -- including learning to use explosives and poisons -- and met with visiting Qaeda officials, including Osama bin Laden. Walker also admitted having been instructed in how to act in airports so as not to attract police attention. 'He was no innocent bystander,' said one official. 'This wasn't like learning to be a soldier in Patton's Army. He was training to commit terrorist acts.'"

To read the Newsweek story in full, go to:


Now that Geraldo Rivera is with the Fox News Channel CBS News has suddenly decided to critique his reporting, something I don't recall CBS ever doing during Rivera's years of liberal advocacy and Clinton promotion at CNBC and NBC News. The December 17 story on the CBS News Web site cribbed from a couple of Baltimore Sun stories from last week which seem to have fairly solidly nailed Rivera for claiming he was a witness to a scene he could not have seen.

"Where's Geraldo? Nowhere Near Site Of U.S. Casualties, As He Claimed," announced the headline over the CBS story highlighted by the The unbylined CBS News Web site story began:
"Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera, who couldn't bear being away from the action in Afghanistan, was hundreds of miles from the site of a friendly fire incident he reported on, the Baltimore Sun said in a Dec. 15 report.
"Rivera reported in a Dec. 6 piece that he became emotional and choked up while standing on the 'hallowed ground' in Afghanistan where 'friendly fire took so many of our, our men and the mujahedeen yesterday.' Rivera said he had recited the Lord's Prayer.
"But, according to a report on the Baltimore Sun's Internet site, Rivera admitted that he was several hundred miles from the site -- outside Kandahar -- where three Americans were killed on Dec. 5 by an errant U.S. bomb."

For the entire story, go to:,1597,321552-412,00.shtml

Actually, on December 12 Baltimore Sun TV reporter David Folkenflik first broke the story of Rivera interjecting himself into events. Folkenflik disclosed: "The day after three American servicemen and several Afghan opposition troops were accidentally killed in a U.S. bombing raid last week, Fox News Channel war correspondent Geraldo Rivera told viewers that he had said the Lord's Prayer over that 'hallowed ground,' where 'the friendly fire took so many of our, our men and the mujahedeen yesterday.'
"But Rivera now acknowledges that he never visited the site where the U.S. servicemen died last Wednesday, just north of Kandahar in the southern region of Afghanistan. In an interview by satellite phone yesterday, Rivera said he had been mistaken in his report, which aired last Thursday."

Indeed, MRC analyst Patrick Gregory tracked down Rivera's December 6 report which aired at about 8:30am EST during Fox & Friends. With the on screen graphic listing his location as Tora Bora, Rivera emotionally recalled: "We walked over what I consider hallowed ground today. We walked over the spot where the friendly fire took so many of our, our men and [could be "in"] the mujahedeen yesterday. It was just, the whole place just fried really, and bits of uniforms and tattered clothing everywhere. I said the Lord's Prayer and really choked up. I can almost choke up relating the story to you right now, it was so melancholy, so sad."

An excerpt from Folkenflik's December 12 story:

....For 72 hours, Rivera said, the "fog of war" had obscured the fact that there had been two separate "friendly fire" incidents. One was a misguided U.S. bombing raid in Kandahar Wednesday, he said. Another was a run by bombers over Tora Bora, hundreds of miles to the northeast, that took the lives of several Afghan fighters.

Rivera said he had visited the site of Afghan casualties in the mountains of Tora Bora Thursday in the mistaken belief that the Americans had died there rather than Kandahar. Throughout his two to three weeks in Afghanistan, Rivera said, he has been courageous and accurate in his reporting, and called last Thursday's dispatch an aberration. He indirectly alluded to the matter on the air late Monday night. Robert Zimmerman, a spokesman for Fox News, called it "an honest mistake."

But a timeline offered by the Defense Department appears to contradict that explanation. Marine Lt. Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said yesterday that the deaths in Tora Bora took place sometime after Sunday morning, or at least three days after Rivera's report was broadcast....

Tunku Varadarajan, a cultural critic for the Wall Street Journal, mocked another Rivera report last Thursday in which the correspondent ducked in the face of apparent sniper fire. Rivera is "really the subject of the story," Varadarajan wrote Monday, "lest you thought, in a moment of stupidity, that it was about Afghanistan."...

Yesterday, in a 20-minute interview peppered with profanity, Rivera railed against those who would question his work.

"It's time to stop bashing Geraldo," Rivera said. "If you want to knife me in the back after all the courage I've displayed and serious reporting I've done, I've got no patience with this [expletive].

"Have you ever been shot at?" Rivera demanded. "Have you ever covered a war?"...

So far in Afghanistan, he said, he has been the first television reporter to have covered the fall of Kunduz and the fighting in Tora Bora.

Later in the interview, however, Rivera also displayed an acute self-awareness of how he frames the stories he tells.

"There is an interesting journalistic debate over patriotism and covering the war on terrorism," Rivera said. "I have said publicly that I do not believe there's a moral equivalence between the two sides. But I don't change the facts of the war because of ideology.

"There's been an aspect of boosterism that I would cop to," he said later. So al-Qaida becomes "the forces of evil," in Rivera-speak, and their network of caves are described as "the rats' nest." Tallies of deaths are described as "good guys" vs. "bad guys."

"I clearly have indulged in, not the [style of] Geraldo of syndicated days, but a more impassioned presentation," he said, adding, "It doesn't affect my factual presentation."...

Although he had shown video footage from the Tora Bora ranges in other stories on Thursday, he did not identify where he had seen the site of the so-called "friendly fire" incident.

A few minutes earlier, Fox News had run captions across the bottom of its screen describing the previous day's events, with some details about the deaths Wednesday of the three American special operations troops. The captions said they had been killed outside Kandahar.

As Rivera had been seen live on the air from Tora Bora both Wednesday and Thursday, journalists, Defense Department officials and international aid workers expressed skepticism that anyone could make a round-trip across such treacherous, distant terrain in that time. It would take 20 hours to 36 hours by car across ravaged roads each way, people with knowledge of the region said. They said helicopter flights were almost unheard of and would have afforded dubious safety.

Late Monday, after he had been told this newspaper raised questions about the report, Rivera briefly referred to the incident on the air. He noted the American deaths occurred in Kandahar but said that he had paid a visit to the site of the Tora Bora deaths.

"You know," he told viewers, "I know that Kandahar is the place that suffered that dreadful friendly fire incident involving our special operators and some of the mujahedeen. But we had one here as well. You know, I walked that hallowed ground. At least three mujahedeen fighters [were] killed because of the fluidity of the front line."...

END of Excerpt

For the entire Baltimore Sun story, go to:

Folkenflik followed up with another article on December 15 which featured NPR's Ombudsman suggesting Rivera be fired ("If it's found that a reporter hasn't let the facts get in the way of a good story, then I think that's a firing offense") and ABC News VP Paul Friedman proclaiming: "If credibility is important to you as a news organization, you'd want to correct any mistake immediately."

That's some chutzpah coming from an ABC News executive given that ABC reporters gave credibility to questionable claims, to put it mildly, from the Taliban.

On the October 14 World News Tonight, for instance, ABC reporter David Wright relayed: "The Taliban claims some 200 civilians in a village near Jalalabad were killed by a stray U.S. missile. If that's true, it would be the deadliest strike so far in the war. The Islamic militia escorted the press to a residential area littered with shrapnel. Inside one house, a blood-stained pillowcase. Outside another, dozens of dead sheep and goats, as well as what appeared to be body parts." Four days later, on October 18, Wright again reported as established fact that "for the ninth time, American bombs hit residential areas in Kabul. At least 14 people were killed, including five members of one family."

For more about ABC's reporting on civilian casualties, refer to the November 5 Media Reality Check by the MRC's Rich Noyes:

ABC has yet to retract those stories, though on December 4 World News Tonight aired a piece by Jim Wooten on how those in a village destroyed by U.S. bombs were pleased the bombing drove out the Taliban. See the December 5 CyberAlert:

Folkenflik added: "Someone from Fox made a huge error in not making sure the facts were there before going on the air," said NPR's Dvorkin. "Mistakes will be made by all journalistic organizations. Making sure that you 'fess up is also part of the profession."

Now that's a standard to apply to all of the networks.

For the entire December 15 article by Folkenflik, go to:


Geraldo in action. Weekly Standard publisher Terry Eastland noticed Geraldo Rivera in the background of a color photo which ran in Monday's Washington Post above this caption: "Eastern Afghanistan security chief Hazrat Ali, center, walks with soldiers near the front line at Tora Bora. Ali said 500 al Qaeda fighters may have escaped."

Eastland asked online beneath the photo: "Do you see what I see? Look carefully at the photo above, which ran in Monday's Washington Post. It was taken by Kevin Frayer of the Canadian Press and transmitted by the Associated Press. The Post used the photograph to illustrate its lead story -- about how al Qaeda forces are fleeing to Pakistan. The photo actually appeared on the jump page for the story -- A16 -- where, taking up no fewer than 50 square inches, it could hardly be missed. And plainly visible in the photograph is Waldo, I mean Geraldo, as in Geraldo Rivera....Rivera is right there on the left, looking (for once) not into the lens of a cameraman (here the Canadian Press's Frayer) but at someone or something else we can't see. Above his head is a boom microphone. He's ready, man."

Eastland observed: "The war on terrorism is deadly serious. Diversions are few. Kevin Frayer has -- with or without Geraldo's help -- provided one."

To see the photo as posted by The Weekly Standard, go to:


From the December 18 Late Show with David Letterman, as announced by an Osama bin Laden impersonator over video of the real bin Laden in a cave, the "Top Ten Osama Bin Laden Complaints."

10. "Can't get premium channels in the cave, only basic cable"
9. "New laundry guy using too much starch on my turbans"
8. "I wash and wash and wash, but at the end of the day I still smell like a camel"
7. "You try to remember four wedding anniversaries"
6. "Itchy beard"
5. "With Giambi, the Yankees are going to win another four damn World Series!"
4. "You just can't trust those unfaithful Pashtun tribesmen, am I right, people?"
3. "MTV never plays videos anymore"
2. "Mullah Omar answers the phone, 'Yello'"
1. "What the hell do I have to do to get on 'Oprah'?"

A RealPlayer video clip of Osama bin Laden reading this list is now up on the Late Show home page where it will remain until early evening today:

To find it after it's replaced by a fresh clip, go to Dave TV:

#1 is a reference to Letterman's ongoing quest to get invited on Oprah's show. -- Brent Baker

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