Subject: US Media overlook Embassy Bombing
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Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting
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U.S. Media Overlook Expose on Chinese Embassy Bombing
October 22, 1999
A detailed investigative article in the October 17 London Observer reported
that NATO deliberately bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade last May,
after discovering that the embassy was relaying Yugoslav military radio
The report contradicted the public assurances of NATO leaders that the
missile attack had been an accident. The Observer's sources included "a
flight controller operating in Naples, an intelligence officer monitoring
Yugoslav radio traffic from Macedonia and a senior [NATO] headquarters
officer in Brussels."
So far, the reaction in the mainstream U.S. media has been a deafening
silence. To date, none of America's three major network evening news
programs has mentioned the Observer's findings. Neither has the New York
Times or USA Today, even though the story was covered by AP, Reuters and
other major wires. The Washington Post relegated the story to a 90-word news
brief in its "World Briefing" (10/18/99), under the headline "NATO Denies
Story on Embassy Bombing."
By contrast, the story appeared in England not only in the Observer and its
sister paper, the Guardian (10/17/99), but also in their leading rival, the
Times of London, which ran a follow-up article on the official reaction the
next day (10/18/99). The Globe and Mail, Canada's most prestigious paper,
ran the full Reuters account prominently in its international section
(10/18/99). So did the Times of India, the Sydney Morning Herald and the
Irish Times (all 10/18/99). The prominent Danish daily Politiken, which
collaborated with the Observer on the investigation, was on strike, but ran
the story on its website.
The difference in perspective with which American journalists have greeted
this story can be observed by comparing the headlines over several
international news agencies' dispatches about the Observer expose:
Reuters (U.K.): "NATO Bombed Chinese Embassy Deliberately--UK Paper"
Agence France Presse (France): "NATO Bombed Chinese Embassy Deliberately:
Deutche Presse-Agentur (Germany): "NATO Bombed Chinese Embassy Deliberately,
Observer Claims" (10/18/99).
Associated Press (U.S.): "NATO Denies Deliberate Embassy Hit."
The U.S. media may today be uninterested in evidence that the attack was
deliberate, but they had no trouble last May accepting NATO's explanation
that the bombing was a mistake. Even before U.S. officials emerged with a
full account of how the embassy could have been "mistakenly" targeted--an
"outdated map" of Belgrade played a prominent role in the official
explanation--the U.S. media began regularly referring, without evidence, to
the "accidental bombing" of the embassy.
When Chinese officials disputed the U.S. account, protesting that the attack
could not have been a mistake, establishment journalists immediately took
sides in this debate. New York Times diplomatic correspondent Jane Perlez
(5/10/99) referred to "the accidental bombing, portrayed in China as
deliberate." A Washington Post editorial (5/17/99) that discussed China's
reaction to "NATO's unintentional bombing of China's embassy" was indignant
that the official Chinese press was "milking the bombing for propaganda
value" by reporting that the missile strike had been intentional. USA Today
continues to refer to the "accidental bombing" of the embassy (10/20/99).
Since the New York Times hasn't published the new information about the
embassy attack, it's unclear whether the paper stands by its earlier
reporting. Since May 7, the Times has referred to the "accidental bombing of
the Chinese embassy" a total of 20 times. The last reference was in its
October 17 edition--the day the Observer published its report. Since then,
the Times has run an AP article on the Chinese president's visit to London
(10/19/99), which mentioned only that "China broke off talks with Washington
and the European Union after NATO bombed the Chinese embassy in
Yugoslavia"--taking no stand on the intention behind the attack.
Even before the Observer's expose, there was no lack of evidence that
China's suspicions were correct. A few days after the bombing, German
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder took the highly unusual step of publicly
questioning NATO's explanation of the attack. "The explanation given by NATO
on the tragic incident so far is far from enough and the Chinese government
has every reason to demand a comprehensive, thorough, and in-depth
investigation into the incident and affix the responsibility for it,"
Schroeder said in Beijing (AFP, 5/12/99).
The London Daily Telegraph reported in June (6/27/99) that NATO's
precision-guided missiles "carefully singled out the most sensitive section
of the embassy complex for attack"--the intelligence directorate. "That's
exactly why they don't buy our explanation," a Pentagon official was quoted
In July, CIA director George Tenet testified in Congress that out of the 900
targets struck by NATO during the three-month bombing campaign, only one was
developed by the CIA: the Chinese Embassy (AP, 7/22/99).
What is perhaps most baffling about the major news outlets' indifference to
the Chinese embassy story is that the same outlets regularly devote a great
deal of attention to other stories concerning China and its relations with
the U.S. Elite media report extensively on China's possible entry into the
World Trade Organization, the political struggle between its "reformers" and
conservatives, and allegations of Chinese nuclear spying and electoral
influence-buying in the U.S. The op-ed pages abound with debates about
China's intentions toward America: Is the country a threat to be contained
or an opportunity for trade and investment?
The Times of London noted in an October 21 book review that "the bombing of
the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade might yet turn out to be an important
episode in a new Cold War." One might think that a well-sourced
investigative article in a respected foreign daily providing evidence that
the bombing was deliberate would be viewed by editors in the United States
with the same interest they have shown in other aspects of China's relations
with the West.
ACTION: Please call national and local media and ask them to follow up on
the Observer's investigation of the China embassy bombing. Mention that news
outlets should present the idea that the embassy was bombed by accident as a
claim made by NATO, not an objective fact.
New York Times
Chief Foreign Correspondent
NetZero - Defenders of the Free World
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