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Journalists covering foreign powers walk a fine line between reporting the facts and repeating propaganda, especially during wartime. MSNBC and CNN may have crossed that line in their coverage of the precipitous fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. Both networks appeared to carry messages crafted by the Islamist group’s spin doctors for consumption in the West.
CNN essentially acknowledged that it conveyed material the Taliban urgently wanted to broadcast to an international audience on Saturday’s “CNN Newsroom,” which featured Clarissa Ward touring a former U.S. military base now used as a base of operations by the Taliban. Host Michael Holmes introduced the segment by saying, “The Taliban [is] making a full use of American military equipment” that “American troops, as they withdrew, simply left behind.”
“They are eager to show off their spoils of war,” he said. “They granted our Clarissa Ward exclusive access to a former U.S. base, that they now hold.” The fall of valuable and sensitive military equipment of this sort into enemy hands “is raising disturbing questions about what America achieved in 20 years of conflict.”
Ward said that “the hollowed-out skeletons of sprawling military bases now under the control of the Taliban” are all that “remains of the U.S. presence in much of Afghanistan.”
The footage undeniably has news value, but the Taliban presumably granted CNN access to dispirit Americans and to encourage Islamists that a group of Islamist guerrilla fighters can overcome the world’s leading military superpower. As a Taliban commander told her during the interview, “One day, Mujahideen will have victory and Islamic law will come not to just Afghanistan but all over the world. We are not in a hurry. We believe it will come one day. Jihad will not end until the last day.”
Ward deserves credit for noting that the Taliban promises peace but has waged “a bloody offensive,” as well as pointing out concerns that the regime will deny women’s rights and prevent girls from attending school.
Ward became an object lesson in change brought about by the radical Islamists on Monday, when she traded her reporter’s clothes for a hijab in the new, Taliban-controlled city of Kabul.
MSNBC also appeared to further Taliban propaganda aims on Monday, as host Ayman Mohyeldin interviewed Suhail Shaheen, an official spokesman of the Taliban. Mohyeldin asked if the Taliban was really entering homes one by one to seek out former U.S. collaborators and enemies of the restored regime.
“If someone go[es] from door to door, and they are posing as Taliban, they are not Taliban,” Shaheen said. “They may be from the former [regime] … posing in order to create a bad name for us, to malign us.”
Shaheen insisted that “there will be no attacks on the Americans” and, when asked if he would “punish those who worked with the Americans” if they try to leave Afghanistan, he replied, “We want them not to leave the country, to lead a normal life.”
Mohyeldin offered remarkably little pushback to Shaheen’s comments, although widespread accounts seem to indicate that the Taliban have engaged in executions and forced child marriages in their reconquered territory.
Shaheen’s video link cut out about nine minutes into the interview.
Again, an interview with the spokesman of a new regime clearly has news value. But while Mohyeldin did not ask softball questions, he allowed the spokesman to spread disinformation without correction. Mohyeldin was far less aggressive toward the spokesman of a movement that harbored al-Qaeda and sexually enslaved children than he was during his heated interview with the former Israeli ambassador to the U.K., Mark Regev.
You can compare the two interviews below:
In both cases, the left-of-center cable news networks presented matters of real news value but, at least to some degree, they denied their viewers “context.”
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.