A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
by Kristina Borjesson
Late in December 2007, The Associated Press reporter Salah Nasrawi wrote a story about a Bin Laden audiotape that had just been released. Headlined “Bin Laden Threatens Israel, Warns Iraqis,” Nasrawi’s piece details Osama’s dire threats to expand al Qaeda’s jihad in Israel and to “liberate Palestine, the whole of Palestine from the (Jordan) river to the sea,” threatening “blood for blood, destruction for destruction.”
Then, 11 paragraphs down, Nasrawi writes: “The authenticity of the tape could not be independently confirmed. But the voice resembled that of bin Laden. The tape was posted on an Islamic militant Web site where al-Qaida’s media arm, Al-Sahab, issues the group’s messages.”
If the tape can’t be vetted, it shouldn’t be used. That’s Journalism 101. At the very least, the fact that it can’t be authenticated should be mentioned in the story’s title and continuously mentioned throughout the story as the quotes are being used. Worse, all the mainstream TV outlets picked up on Nasrawi’s story and liberally quoted “bin Laden” without bothering to use the word “purported” or another adjective indicating they had no proof it was Bin Laden on the tape. Collectively, what these journalists are doing is worse than outright lying to the public. They are literally helping dangerous people with deadly hidden agendas create a virtual reality by unquestioningly conveying their messages.
Nasrawi didn’t just bury the authentication problem in his story. He also referred to earlier, equally questionable “bin Laden” communiqués. “The tape was the fifth message released by bin Laden this year, a flurry of activity after he went more than a year without issuing any tapes. The messages began with a Sept. 8 video that showed bin Laden for the first time in nearly three years. The other messages this year have been audiotapes.”
Reporting on unauthenticated bin Laden tapes as if they were real is, shamefully, getting to be an old practice. In November 2002, a “bin Laden” audiotape surfaced and a senior State Department official explained to CNN that the voice on the tape was indeed Bin Laden’s, but that “we don’t know yet whether anybody put it together, spliced or computer-generated it.”
Just how could “anybody” computer-generate bin Laden’s voice and create an entire bogus statement?
On February 1, 1999, William Arkin, writing for washingtonpost.com, described a voice-morphing technology that government scientists at Los Alamos laboratory in New Mexico had developed.