Fox News report draws Pentagon denials

Talk on network turns from intelligence to war

February 27, 2002|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

A Fox News Channel report of clandestine U.S. activities in northern Iraq led to heated denials by the Pentagon yesterday of an American invasion.

The Associated Press even attributed a sharp drop in the Dow Jones industrial average early yesterday to Monday's report by correspondent Carl Cameron.

Cameron filed a memo to the cable network's internal "urgent" file, saying his sources had confirmed the activity of a U.S. "special operations group" in northern Iraq. The small group was working with Kurds to arrange intelligence activities and to begin efforts to destabilize the regime of Saddam Hussein, he wrote.

In the internal memo, portions of which were read to The Sun, Cameron specified that the effort was "not coordinated by the Pentagon," implying that it was a CIA effort.

Anchor Brit Hume discussed Cameron's report on the air, and it was included in the "crawl" that briefly recounts stories in text at the bottom of the screen. But by yesterday morning, the talk had turned from intelligence to possible war - although Cameron had not explicitly reported on any military action, or even appeared on the air.

"In the absence of real news, broadcasters tend to rely on other ways to get our attention," said Marty Kaplan, associate dean at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Southern California. "Sometimes, these things have consequences that go beyond the news."

According to one transcript, for example, Fox anchor Jon Scott posed a series of provocative questions yesterday morning. "Does our presence there mean military action is imminent?" Scott asked viewers. A few minutes later, he asked a retired military official: "Does it look like we're about to take on Iraq if we have these guys on the ground now?"

Scott also referred to "special forces," a term often used to suggest the involvement of highly trained troops such as Green Berets, the Delta Force or Army Rangers. Lost was the emphasis on intelligence gathering included in Cameron's reports. Intelligence experts say similar small groups have been infiltrating Iraq for the past 11 years.

Fox News stands by Cameron's report, according to spokeswoman Danielle Gorash. She said the cable network took pains to describe the people involved in a way to indicate that they were not military figures. But she acknowledged that questions such as those Scott posed on Fox's morning broadcasts may not have offered the necessary context.

The Associated Press noted the report in the Dow's 140-point decline in early trading yesterday. But the drop also occurred in the minutes after a federal report found a surprising reduction in consumer confidence. The Dow later regained some of the lost ground.

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