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MacCallum Gets Caught Fact-Less

Reported by Judy - November 16, 2006 -

Martha MacCallum got caught claiming last week that Iraqi insurgents were "cheering in the streets" after Democratic election victories when her only source for the statement was her boss's email. Now, she's been caught making unfounded statements that Al Jazeera broadcast video of terrorists beheading people.

In her "Live Desk" show on Thursday (Nov. 16, 2006), MacCallum did a segment on the launching of an English language version of Al Jazeera, interviewing a former Al Jazeera producer, Afshin Rattansi.

Interviewing someone who actually knows something about Al Jazeera was MacCallum's first mistake. She should stick to interviewing people from the Christian Broadcasting Network, who have no facts at their disposal, only opinions that are the same as hers.

The first thing Rattansi did was point out that the English language Al Jazeera is being distributed in the United Kingdom by Fox News' parent company. Probably not the way the boss's memo said the interview should start.

But MacCallum let that pass, no doubt hoping her audience wouldn't pick up on it, and went to the heart of her "story. "So far the exposure to this channel has really been the gruesome beheadings that have been carried, the messages from bin Laden. What do you think that is in there that is valuable to us … in terms of understanding the enemy so to speak?"

Rattansi ignored the question and attacked its faulty premise.

"Al Jazeera has never actually broadcast a beheading," he said.

"One must realize there’s a lot of propaganda about the station. After all, the United States government bombed two of its bureaus, one in Afghanistan and one in Kabul, and one must admit that the tapes that they get are then broadcast on Fox, on CNN, and other stations, but anyway, there hasn’t been a tape to coincide with the launch."

Not realizing she was over-matched, MacCallum insisted that "the Arab version certainly did air a lot of video tapes. It would come across the wires within moments, when there was beheading videotape. It was always coming through on Al Jazeera."

Rattansi refused to back down. "Well, they never showed any beheadings, I have to tell you that," he said "But they did, you’re right, show videos released by kidnappers in Iraq and so forth, but these were anyway carried by other networks."

Wisely, MaCallum let it drop. She'd done her duty again, probably taken an assertion from her boss's memo as fact and gotten caught fact-less again.

But why should people believe Rattansi rather than MacCallum? First of all, he used to work at the network and probably is more familiar with its product than MacCallum. He might actually know what he is talking about.

And second of all, Al Jazeera has offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who can prove that it has aired video of an actual beheading. One would think the right-wing pundits would line up for a shot at the money to prove the news channel wrong.

Al Jazeera has received videotapes from kidnappers showing beheadings, and has aired portions of them without showing the actual murder. That was how it handled the kidnapping and murder of a South Korean translater.

In a story on its website, Al Jazeera officials said the news channel "decided to spare its audience the execution scenes" because it was not necessary to show them.

"The editorial management considered, after watching them very closely, it should not put out the scenes of the hostage's murder because they are hurtful for viewers," Jihad Ballut said.

So where does the beheading video myth come from?

The website AsiaMedia reported last spring in an interview with an official of the English language station that she was constantly battling the beheading rumor.

"'It's unfortunate that there are certain misconceptions like that that do exist in America. I'm tired of saying it, but it needs to be said: al-Jazeera has never shown a beheading, and it would never show a beheading.' However, it certainly shows a higher body count than is usual on Australian television news.

"One of the propagators of the beheading myth was the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who also accused the network of colluding with terrorists. He said that al-Jazeera 'seems to have a wonderful way of being Johnny-on-the-spot a little too often for my taste.'"

Interestingly, Fox News itself was eager to get its hands on footage showing the beheading of American Nicholas Berg and even beat Al Jazeera.net to the punch in getting it.

A story on Al Jazeera.net notes:

"However, the circumstances of the video release are also strange. A Reuters journalist in Dubai first named the Muntada al-Ansar al-Islami website as the source for the video – at www.al-ansar.biz.

"Although the site has now been shut down, Aljazeera.net looked at the site within 90 minutes of the story breaking – and could find no such video footage.

"But Fox News, CNN and the BBC were all able to download the footage from the Arabic-only website and report the story within the hour."

So Fox News downloaded footage of a beheading from a an Arabic-only website so it could report the story of Berg's beheading.

Wonder if MacCallum knows how to spell "hypocrisy"?