Terrorist Attacks: Media Judgement Coming Faster Than Facts

NEW YORK -- The smoke is heading my way in lower Manhattan. I can see it. And I can no longer see either of the World Trade Towers that were clearly visible from my block as I walked home last night.

That's about all I can tell you about this morning's attack in New York. In CNN's News Center in Atlanta, they know even less, but that isn't stopping their talk.

Two hours after attacks on two U.S. cities, it's not clear how the coverage will develop. There's no question, however, that TV speakers will be filling the rest of the day with talk about an event that none of them can explain. As the hours progress, "experts" will no doubt be interviewed. Greta Van Sustern was already asked for her analysis. CNN's legal expert talked from her vantage point at Washington's National Airport.

We can't predict the coverage, but we can recall the past. Here, thanks to our friends at FAIR, from 1995:

"Seldom have so many been so wrong -- so quickly. In the wake of the explosion that destroyed the Murrah Federal Office Building, the media rushed -- almost en masse -- to the assumption that the bombing was the work of Muslim extremists. "The betting here is on Middle East terrorists," declared CBS News' Jim Stewart just hours after the blast (4/19/95). "The fact that it was such a powerful bomb in Oklahoma City immediately drew investigators to consider deadly parallels that all have roots in the Middle East," ABC's John McQuethy proclaimed the same day.

"`It has every single earmark of the Islamic car-bombers of the Middle East,' wrote syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer (Chicago Tribune, 4/21/95). "Whatever we are doing to destroy Mideast terrorism, the chief terrorist threat against Americans, has not been working," declared the New York Times' A.M. Rosenthal (4/21/95). The Geyer and Rosenthal columns were filed after the FBI released sketches of two suspects who looked more like Midwestern frat boys than mujahideen."

There's been a tragedy. May all of us in the media not add to it today.

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