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Media Downplays Bush's Admission on Iraq


Editor & Publisher, Sep. 19, 2003

For months leading up this year's war on Iraq, the Bush administration implied that Saddam Hussein had a hand in the Sep. 11, 2001, attacks. The argument was well-received by Americans, and might have been the single leading factor behind public support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. An oft-cited poll conducted by The Washington Post last month revealed that 69% of Americans continue to believe it likely that Hussein was personally involved in 9/11.

No real evidence to support this has emerged, however, leading some (including E&P, just last week) to declare that the media had failed in its duty to correct the public misperception.

So when President George Bush admitted on Wednesday, for the first time, that there was 'no evidence that Hussein was involved with the Sep. 11th' attacks, one would assume that would be big news and an opportunity for the press to make up for past failings.

And according to some newspapers, it was a big story. The Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune (both owned by the Tribune Co.) ran front-page stories on the revelation Thursday. But an analysis of most major American newspapers found the story either buried deep within the paper - or completely absent.

Of America's 12 highest-circulation daily papers, only The L.A. Times, Chicago Tribune, and The Dallas Morning News ran anything about it on the front page. In The New York Times, the story was relegated to page 22. U.S.A. Today: page 16. The Houston Chronicle: page 3. The San Francisco Chronicle: page 14. The Washington Post: page 18. Newsday: page 41. The New York Daily News: page 14.

The New York Post and The Wall Street Journal didn't mention it at all.

Large papers outside of the top 12 that ran the news on Page One include The Boston Globe, The Seattle Times, and Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

The story was even more dramatic because Bush's remarks came on the heels of an assertion to the contrary made by Vice President Dick Cheney Sunday on N.B.C.'s 'Meet the Press.' When asked about the poll that shows Americans overwhelmingly believe Hussein was involved in 9/11, Cheney replied that he thinks 'it's not surprising that people make that connection. . . . If we're successful in Iraq then we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11.'