- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2000

Janet Reno says that "one of the beauties of television is that it shows what the facts are." In direct contrast to that facile statement, consider how much has been left out of television coverage of the taking of Elian Gonzalez especially on Ted Koppel's widely respected "Nightline."

For instance, Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe whose books on constitutional law have been quoted by the Supreme Court more than those of any other expert said in the New York Times that Miss Reno's raid "strikes at the heart of constitutional government and shakes the safeguards of liberty." Mr. Tribe, it should be known, believed that the boy should be reunited with his father.

On April 27, Mr. Koppel's "Nightline" on ABC tried to bring light to this continuing constitutional controversy by presenting, for the first time, the man who led the raid: James Goldman, the Immigration and Naturalization Service's (INS) assistant director. Mr. Tribe's analysis of the raid was not mentioned.

Unlike most "Nightline" shows and I've watched them since the program started, when American hostages were taken in Iran Mr. Koppel and reporters Chris Bury and Michel McQueen asked Mr. Goldman no searching questions. What they said on that program simply confirmed Mr. Goldman's story and the accompanying statements of Janet Reno and her deputy, Eric Holder. Clips of the other side's point of view were shown, but those who were in the house during the raid were not allowed on camera to ask questions of Mr. Goldman during his taped interview. Mr. Koppel told me the next day that his intent was to be fair, but the result made "Nightline" a public relations arm of the Justice Department during that crucial program.

For instance, Michel McQueen said flatly that the INS SWAT team had a warrant. Not a word about a point made by the internationally respected Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland and others that Miss Reno engaged in "blatant magistrate shopping to find someone willing to authorize the grabbing of Elian on a search warrant rather than through a court order." Mr. Hoagland, too, wanted the boy reunited with his father. Moreover, there was no mention on "Nightline" of the charge by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz and others that to be lawful, the raid would have had to have been preceded by a court order and an "adversarial hearing."

"Nightline" did not comment on Mr. Dershowitz's statement that Miss Reno's action, which was approved by the president, "endangers the rights of all American citizens."

"Nightline" omitted the fact that only three days before the raid, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused the Clinton administration's request to have Elian removed from the home of his relatives. Instead, the court scheduled Elian's first full day of due process in an American court for May 11. And on April 19, the 11th Circuit said that the boy's request for asylum in the United States "presented a substantial case on the merits."

None of this was mentioned on "Nightline," including the reasonable question of whether Miss Reno acted so hastily because she feared losing her right to grab the boy after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case 13 days later. On "Nightline," the head of the raid said that a show of force was necessary, but he was not pressed on whether there was an excessive use of force. Michel McQueen also used the benign term "show of force."

"Nightline" might have interviewed NBC cameraman Tony Zumbado, who was kicked in the stomach by the INS raiders and was later hospitalized. "My soundman," Mr. Zumbado says, "got hit with a shotgun butt, dragged out to the fence, left there, and told that if he moved, they'd shoot." "Nightline" went so far as to avoid asking James Goldman an eminently logical question when he said, of the AP photograph shown all over the world, that the finger of the border patrol officer holding the menacing gun was not on the trigger. Remember Elian's terrified face? Does Ted Koppel believe that the boy was watching where the trigger finger was?

To confirm Mr. Goldman's version of the raid, Chris Bury said on the program that "Nightline" had shown the photograph of Elian at bay to an independent firearms expert, "and he confirms what the INS says that the safety is on." Mr. Koppel considered it essential to place that claim in a fuller context, however irrelevant to the reality of Elian's perception. But he saw no reason to include in the program the most fundamental context of the raid. Was it constitutional? Was the raid as Laurence Tribe says a decision by Miss Reno "to take the law as well as the child into her own hands?"

I believe Ted Koppel intended to be fair. He's earned that reputation. But this is not the first time that a journalist has been eager to break a "scoop." In order to be the first one to present the story of the man in charge of the raid in his own words, Mr. Koppel rushed, as the INS agents did, to put this exclusive on the air shorn of the context viewers needed to know in order to judge for themselves the statements of Messrs. Goldman, Bury, McQueen and Mr. Koppel himself. Mr. Koppel told me that he was focusing only on the raid. There was so much more to the taking of Elian than met the eye.

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