The mainstream U.S. media outlets have failed to report a major terrorist plot against the U.S. - because it would tend to support President Bush's use of NSA domestic surveillance, according to media watchdog groups.
News of a planned attack masterminded by three Algerians operating out of Italy was widely reported outside the U.S., but went virtually unreported in the American media.
Italian authorities recently announced that they had used wiretaps to uncover the conspiracy to conduct a series of major attacks inside the U.S.
Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said the planned attacks would have targeted stadiums, ships and railway stations, and the terrorists' goal, he said, was to exceed the devastation caused by 9/11.
Italian authorities stepped up their internal surveillance programs after July's terrorist bombings in London. Their domestic wiretaps picked up phone conversations by Algerian Yamine Bouhrama that discussed terrorist attacks in Italy and abroad.
Italian authorities arrested Bouhrama on November 15 and he remains in prison. Authorities later arrested two other men, Achour Rabah and Tartaq Sami, who are believed to be Bouhrama's chief aides in planning the attacks.
The arrests were a major coup for Italian anti-terror forces, and the story was carried in most major newspapers from Europe to China.
"U.S. terror attacks foiled," read the headline in England's Sunday Times. In France, a headline from Agence France Presse proclaimed, "Three Algerians arrested in Italy over plot targeting U.S."
Curiously, what was deemed worthy of a worldwide media blitz abroad was virtually ignored by the U.S. media, and conservative media watchdog groups are saying that is no accident.
"My impression is that the major media want to use the NSA story to try and impeach the president," says Cliff Kincaid, editor of the Accuracy in Media Report published by the grassroots Accuracy in Media organization.
"If you remind people that terrorists actually are planning to kill us, that tends to support the case made by President Bush. They will ignore any issue that shows that this kind of [wiretapping] tactic can work in the war on terror."
"The mainstream media have framed the story as one of the nefarious President Bush 'spying on U.S. citizens,' where the average American is a victim not a beneficiary," commented Brent Baker, vice president of the Media Research Center, a Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to encouraging balanced news coverage, "so journalists have little interest in any evidence that the program has helped save lives by uncovering terrorist plans."
The Associated Press version of the story did not disclose that the men planned to target the U.S. Nor did it report that the evidence against the suspects was gathered via a wiretapping surveillance operation.
Furthermore, only one American newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, is known to have published the story that the AP distributed. It ran on page A-6 under the headline "Italy Charges 3 Algerians." The Inquirer report also made no mention of the plot to target the U.S. - although foreign publications included this information in the headlines and lead sentences of their stories. Nor did it advise readers that domestic wiretaps played a key role in nabbing the suspected terrorists.
One obvious question media critics are now raising: Did the American media intentionally ignore an important story because it didn't fit into their agenda of attacking President George Bush for using wiretapping to spy on potential terrorists in the U.S.?
"It's clear to me," says AIM's Kincaid, "that they're trying their best to make this NSA program to be an impeachable offense, saying it is directed at ordinary Americans. That's why they keep referring to this as a 'program of spying on Americans' - whereas the president keeps pointing out it's a program designed to uncover al-Qaida operations on American soil."