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A Fair Report Of Failings?

As we noted earlier, there were some interesting decisions made by news organizations regarding the placement of stories on the report card issued by members of the former 9/11 Commission yesterday. Over at the ever-vigilant, always-in-doubt NewsBusters blog, Noel Sheppard has a different complaint about how CBS covered the story. Sheppard is unhappy that the story, reported by correspondent Bob Orr and producer Ward Sloane, didn't mention some of the good grades the members gave the U.S. for improving homeland security.

Here's Sheppard's beef:

The three broadcast networks all did segments this evening on the former 9/11 commission's report card released today. Though all three focused on the negatives, only the "CBS Evening News" ignored the good grades given by the commission, while also failing to mention that a key problem highlighted in this report is already being addressed by legislation pending in Congress. …

Bob Orr quickly gave a rundown of the "F's" and the "D's" given by former commission members for the government achieving a set of priorities they deemed necessary to avert another terrorist attack. However, as can be seen in the full report card, Orr chose not to mention any of the 12 "B's" given by the commission, or the "A-" obtained for "Terrorist Financing." Orr also reported:

"The botched response to hurricane Katrina recently revealed another glaring security hole. Despite $8 billion spent nationally to train and equip first responders, police and fire crews in New Orleans still could not talk to one another by radio. The same disconnect crippled crews at ground zero four years ago."

Unlike his brethren at the other networks, Orr chose not to inform his viewers that this is being addressed by legislation pending in front of Congress.

Finally, what none of these news organizations chose to do was calculate an average score from this report card. Assuming that legislation addressed by this commission pending in front of Congress passes, a cumulative grade would be roughly a "C," which is clearly better than all three networks depicted.

I asked Orr and Sloane for a response and here it is:
The "news" in the former 9/11 Commission's briefing was not that the U.S. is doing a very few things right, but rather that four years after the attacks, the U.S. government is largely failing in its very expensive $100 billion attempt to prevent another one.

The co-chairman of the panel, respected former Republican Governor Tom Kean, called the post-9/11 response "scandalous." And every member of the commission, Democrats and Republicans, echoed that sentiment in a grim and sobering news conference that lasted more than 90 minutes.

This might be hard to believe in Washington, but this briefing was not about partisan sniping. It was about accountability. It was not about trying to "get" the Bush Administration, it was a reminder that all of us, conservatives, liberals, and political mutts, must learn from the tragic lessons of September 11th. The commission members unanimously agreed the failure is universal ... on Capitol Hill and in the White House. And leaders in both parties are accountable.

Anyone who takes the time to review the statements and report card will find repeated and plaintive warnings that continued inaction puts all of us at risk. If there was "good news" in the briefing, it was relegated to footnotes.

We did not cherry pick the report card to single out failings, but we did feel it was critically important to highlight four continuing failures:

  • The lack of risk-based funding
  • The lack of interoperative radios
  • The lack of a unified terror watch list
  • The failure to secure known WMD

    We actually only talked about three of five F's and one of the 12 D's the commission handed out. The tone of our report might actually be viewed as charitable compared to the comments of Kean, Fred Fielding, Governor Jim Thompson, and former Naval Secretary John Lehman – all Republicans. We would add the Democrats on the panel were equally harsh in their criticism.

    Finally, the so-called "remedy" NewsBusters refers to is no remedy at all. There is a pending budget bill that would help fix the radio communications problem, but not until 2009. Even then, the F would change only to a C. Even if it passes, 2009 would be eight years after 9/11. Does NewsBusters know something about the timing of the next attack that the rest of us don't know?

  • Everyone can decide for themselves what they think of this exchange but, for my money, a "C" average on homeland protection still wouldn't be making any honor rolls.