ABC Apes Arnett

Some major television figures admirably continue to declare their support for war on the terrorists who attacked our homeland. Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Tim Russert, and even a suddenly gung-ho Geraldo Rivera can be found in those ranks. Predictably, however, some of their colleagues are aghast.

These leftist complainers without a country are currently steamed at CNN boss Walter Isaacson, who declared his network would balance Taliban-manipulated reports from Afghanistan with the unsubtle reminder that these forces use civilians as shields and their support for Al-Qaeda terrorists helped kill more than 5,000 Americans. "It's ill-advised," said Peter Arnett, the man who faithfully delivered Saddam Hussein's version of truth to the world during the Gulf War.

Despite Isaacson's balancing policy, CNN hasn't completely left the appalling Arnett era behind. They sent reporter Nic Robertson into the Taliban's control to assert claims of civilian casualties that Robertson later admitted he had no way of verifying. It's all in Alice-in-Wonderland order: story first, evidence afterwards. Isn't it profoundly annoying when these normally cynical, jaded journalists are so wide-eyed and accepting of enemy pronouncements?

But the real successor to the Arnett mantle in this war is ABC News. A review of every story reporting civilian casualties since U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan, from October 8 through the end of the month on the evening broadcast news shows proves it.

In the first few weeks of the air strikes, ABC's "World News Tonight" devoted nearly four times as much of its programs to allegations of civilian casualties as the "CBS Evening News," and almost twice as much as "NBC Nightly News." While all three newscasts have shown pictures of structures identified as damaged civilian buildings, ABC has repeatedly projected grisly images of wrapped bodies and injured people, including children with facial wounds.

At the same time, ABC downplayed the American military's dedication to keeping such casualties low, and the obvious benefits to the Taliban of exaggerating the number of deaths caused by U.S. bombs. The "CBS Evening News" spent twice as much airtime covering these points as did ABC's "World News Tonight."

On October 10, CBS reporter Mark Phillips relayed, "The Navy talks about delivering a short, sharp shock to the Taliban, but its desire to limit civilian casualties has always been a restriction on what the pilots and the bombs can do." That same evening, NBC's Charles Sabine similarly reported from an aircraft carrier that U.S. "planes returned with their bombs undelivered after airmen were instructed to abort missions where there was a risk of civilian casualties."

But on ABC that night, reporter David Wright didn't offer a single whisper of a hint that U.S. pilots were trying to be careful. "The skies above Kabul have thundered for four nights now, four very long days and nights for those on the ground." He could only find refugees to heap guilt on America: "Many who are leaving say it would be one thing if the Americans were only bombing the terrorist camps in Afghanistan, but they say the killing of innocents is not okay."

To be fair, ABC's appetite for Taliban tales has not been monolithic. On October 25, reporter Jim Wooten noted that bombing site visitors often find less casualties than the Taliban claims, "but by then the story is already out: the Taliban version. It happens nearly every day." Wooten conceded their claims of American atrocities often come with "no pictures, no proof." He is clearly the odd man out at ABC News.

ABC also is demonstrating its Arnett-like tendencies by ignoring civilian casualties that weren't caused by American bombing. On Sunday, October 28, terrorists massacred 16 Christians as they worshiped at a Catholic church in Pakistan. ABC's "World News Tonight" skipped this nightmarish massacre of innocents in its entirety. But they did find time that night for a full story on how two people in the Northern Alliance-controlled portion of Afghanistan were accidentally killed by U.S. bombs. "An old woman cried out to God in pain," David Wright relayed.

Pakistani Christians cried out to God in pain, too, but ABC was deaf.

CBS and NBC both reported the story on their next evening news broadcast, but World News Tonight never touched this target practice on Christians. You can bet that if the church was accidentally bombed by the U.S. instead of intentionally shot by fanatics, ABC would have been there with their cameras, for a close-up.

While the evidence of civilian casualties of Afghanistan remains cloudy, one thing is crystal clear. Americans who want balanced reporting instead of anti-American guesswork ought to be turning their remote controls away from Peter Jennings and his network of Taliban aid and comfort.