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Fear, Fear, and More Fear

Reported by Judy - August 2, 2004 -

Fear dominated Fox and Friends this morning (August 2) as the co-hosts focused on reports that al Qaeda had done intensive surveillance on financial institutions in New York and Washington.

The information, in the hands of Fox News, became specific threats and called for all-out "team coverage," meaning one person after another repeating the same information. Fox and Friends had begun the terror threat coverage in its first hour (7 a.m. EDT, see Eleanor's post), continued it during its second hour (8 a.m. EDT), and then turned it over to Jon Scott on Fox News Live (9 a.m. EDT) to keep the fears alive.

Fox and Friends stressed that information from the laptop computer of an al Qaeda operative captured in Pakistan had listed the New York Stock Exchange as one of the terror targets (8:02 a.m. EDT) and went to Dagen McDowell (8:06 a.m. EDT) outside the exchange to hear about heightened security. Howard Safir, former New York Police Commissioner (8:15 a.m. EDT) discussed security precautions and then tried to calm things down by noting that with the information revealed, "I would think they are looking for other targets."

Current New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly (8:45 a.m. EDT) tried to calm things down, too, noting that, "This is not an operational plan. It is a vulnerability analysis." In other words, al Qaeda operatives were casing these joints, but were not on the point of breaking in.

On Fox News Live, Jon Scott kept the fear level high, saying, "the feds say they know exactly where al Qaeda might strike next" (9:01 a.m. EDT), ignoring Kelly's statement that this is not an operational plan, as well as Safir's comments that al Qaeda probably will now have to look for other targets.

Scott (9:07 a.m. EDT) stressed that the information is "very specific" in opening his interviews of Reps. Peter Hoekstra, R-Michigan, and Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-New Jersey. Pascrell echoed Kelly's caution, saying, "This is not an operational plan. This is a vulnerability plan."

Scott ignored that comment, and went on, "We know what the targets are. We just don't know when they intend to strike." This allowed Hoekstra to say, "We know they want to do something before the election."

Fox News continued to make it sound like the federal government definitely knew that al Qaeda had devised a plan to attack these sites, ignoring the cautions that the information is a description of such things as location of guard posts, traffic near the building, building materials used, building capacity, and so on. Scott refered to a "newly revealed terrorist threat" (9:18 a.m. EDT); Stuart Varney (9:28 a.m. EDT) referred to "new and specific terror threats" (9:28 a.m. EDT). Patti Ann Brown referred to emails with "plans for new attacks" on the U.S. (9:30 a.m. EDT).

Jonathan Hunt interviewed people going to work at Citigroup (9:32 a.m. EDT) despite these specific threats. Kelly Wright reported that "al Qaeda has been gathering information on the World Bank for years, even before 9/11" (9:42 a.m. EDT). Those bits of information -- that Citigroup didn't think these so-called specific threats were specific enough to call off work today and that some of the surveillance of the buildings is more than three years old -- were drowned out by the other hype.

Fox News also brought up Howard Dean's statement on CNN that Bush has used terror as a "trump card" when things go bad for him. Boyden Gray, former adviser to George H.W. Bush, told Scott that such statements were "very cynical" and accused Democrats like Dean of giving "cavalier treatment" to the threats.

Bob Borosage, from the Committee for America's Future, said that Democrats have to take the administration on their word (about the terror threat) but the Bush White House "has made it clear they want to use terror politically," creating a credibility gap. The information did not have to release the information when they did, he said, because there was no timing for an attack in the intelligence information and the observations have been going on for years.

A new Gallup Poll shows Bush might have reason to hype the terrorist threat unnecessarily. The latest poll shows Bush leading Kerry 50 percent to 47 percent among likely voters (but trailing him in samples of registered voters and national adults). When asked whether Kerry or Bush would be better at handling each of several issues, those polled chose Kerry over Bush on four of the five issues (economy, Iraq, health care, and taxes). Bush beat Kerry only on handling terrorism (Bush 54 percent, Kerry 42 percent).

Bush has every incentive to make the election hinge on the issue of terrorism.