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Bin Laden Document Reveals Sophisticated U.S. Media Strategy

  • Heather Maher

A journalist studies original documents recovered from Osama Bin Laden's compound that were released May 3 by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy.

A journalist studies original documents recovered from Osama Bin Laden's compound that were released May 3 by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy.

Among the newly released trove of documents found by U.S. forces during their raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound last year is one that reveals what until now was an unknown interest of his Al-Qaeda terror network: the U.S. media landscape.


More specifically, U.S. television news networks.

A fascinating letter attributed to Al-Qaeda's U.S.-born media spokesman, Adam Gadahn, lays out the pros and cons of each of the major American television news networks and speculates about which of them will give the most coverage to the group’s message on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The document is undated but appears to have been written either in late 2010 or early 2011.

Gadahn gives the nod to the United States' three main network TV news organizations -- ABC, CBS, and NBC -- as well as to CNN.


Of ABC News, he writes, “Actually it could be one of the best channels, as far as we are concerned.” The network’s investigative reporter Brian Ross is praised for specializing "in terrorism."


(A check of Ross’s Twitter feed for his reaction revealed only ABC News-related tweets.)


MSNBC, Gadahn writes, used to be “good and neutral” but “has lately fired two of the most famous journalists -- Keith Olberman and Octavia Nasser, the Lebanese.”

(In fact, Nasser was fired from CNN for tweeting her admiration of the late Lebanese cleric and Hizballah leader Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.)


CNN is praised for its Arabic-language broadcasts, which the Al-Qaeda flack says “brings good and detailed reports" about Al-Sahab, Al-Qaeda's specialist media arm.


Gadahn demonstrates a sophisticated knowledge of the U.S. media scene by considering adding to the list PBS, the public television network known for in-depth news programming.


But he gives a vigorous thumbs down to FOX News, the unabashedly pro-America, right-leaning cable news network. The network rose to its current standing as the nation’s most-watched news channel during former President George W. Bush’s eight years in office, attracting fans who loved its patriotic tone and critics who called it a mouthpiece for the White House.


Let FOX News “die in anger” for being left out of the media loop, Gadahn advises Al-Qaeda’s leaders. It “falls into the abyss, as you know, and lacks neutrality, too.”

Gadahn concludes by saying "there is no single channel that we can rely on for our message," warning that any of them could "ignore the message" or "[smear]...the individuals."

"You know about their cunning methods," he says.

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