<\body> Stories in America: Media Ignores 9/11 Report Card

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Media Ignores 9/11 Report Card

Two days ago, the former Sept. 11 commission gave the Bush administration and Congress "more Fs than As" in a report card that grades efforts to prevent another terrorist attack from happening in the United States.

"We believe that the terrorists will strike again -- so does every responsible expert that we have talked to. And if they do, and these reforms that might have prevented such an attack have not been implemented, what will our excuse be?" asked former commission chairman Thomas Kean, a Republican and former New Jersey governor. "We're frustrated, all of us, frustrated at the lack of urgency in addressing these various problems.

Spending for radio spectrum for first responders, risk-based homeland security funds, airline passenger pre-screening and unclassified top-line intelligence budget all received Fs. Checked bags and cargo screening, government-wide information sharing , maximum effort to prevent terrorists from acquiring WMDs and Saudi Arabia all recieved Ds. The only A on the list of 41 grades was an A- and it went to terrorist financing.

"Some of the failures are shocking. Four years after 9/11, it is a scandal that police and firefighters in large cities still can't talk to each other reliably when they are hit with a major crisis," Kean said.

"The 9/11 Commission's final report card is an indictment of the continued failure by the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress to meet the security needs of our nation and make Americans safer," added House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. "Security gaps at our ports, our nuclear power plants and chemical production facilities, in our first responder communications, and airline cargo have long been identified; closing these gaps has not been made a priority by President Bush or Republican Congressional leaders. Even the woefully inadequate federal response to Hurricane Katrina did not produce a sense of urgency commensurate with the importance of correcting obvious problems in emergency preparedness.

An editorial in the Lincoln, Nebraska, Journal Star, correctly points out that report "cannot be dismissed as a partisan attack. The project has five Republican members and five Democratic members. The Republicans voiced some of the most stinging criticism.

"The American people ought to demand answers. Why aren't our tax dollars being spent to protect our lives? What's the rationale? What's the excuse? There is no excuse," said James R. Thompson, a former Republican governor of Illinois.

The panel pointed to one quick way for Congress to improve its report card. It could turn one F into an A if the Senate would accept a House proposal for basing homeland security spending on risk and vulnerabilities.

That's the least that should be done. Congress and the Bush administration have let the country down. They need to get their priorities in order. Americans have every right to expect and demand better performance on the fundamental task of protecting the country."

So why hasn't a report of such critical importance received the same amount of coverage as the first human face transplant? An Editor & Publisher survey of 40 major U.S. newspapers found that on Tuesday only six in this cross-section featured the story on their front pages:

The San Francisco Chronicle had the most lavish treatment, with a huge replica of a school report card included. The others were: San Jose's Mercury-News, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Houston Chronicle, on the other hand, carried the headline: "Concerns Over Face Transplant Grow."

It's true that the unhappiness of the commissioners started to leak out Sunday, and some papers, such as the Boston Globe, carried front-page dispatches on Monday. But most didn't put it on the front page either day, including The New York Times.

The new CBS News blog, Public Eye, reports, "All three networks featured packages on the news, but NBC's 'Nightly News' was the only broadcast to lead with the story. ABC's 'World News Tonight' and the CBS 'Evening News' led with stories about Saddam Hussein's trial."

But maybe I'm just over-sensitive about this. Like many in New York, I did lose a good friend in the attack on the World Trade Center.

In an online chat Tuesday at The Washington Post, a visitor asked the paper's longtime political reporter Tom Edsall, "The 9/11 report card obviously is big news here in D.C., but do you think that the average American is going to pay attention to this? And what effect will this have?"

Edsall replied: "I was surprised to see this morning that our competitor, The New York Times, played the story inside. Insofar as the press drives a story, that will diminish public reaction. I only saw the beginning of CBS News last night and don't recall an early mention of the 911 commission findings, which would also weaken the lasting power. The NYT has a wider national distribution than the Post. We gave the story top of the front page story, which I think is the correct play. All this is to say -- I don't know if the issue has legs or not. It should."

Has legs? What 9/11 wrought certainly does have legs -- from severe budget deficits to a stretched-thin military to a continuing war in Iraq. It's the height of hypocrisy for the administration to downplay the fresh concerns about readiness while declaring that we are in a worldwide and open-ended war on terror to allegedly make the homeland safe. Newspapers share in treating this as just another issue of-the-day.

The commissioners asked if maybe we need another wake-up call. Apparently, the answer is: yes.


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