- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Several newly published social studies textbooks that include the September 11 terrorist attacks do not identify Osama bin Laden as the mastermind behind the deadly assaults. Instead, the new chapters describe bin Laden as a leader of the al Qaeda terrorist group that the U.S. government considers to be a "prime suspect" in the attacks, despite President Bush's repeated assertions that the ex-Saudi fugitive is behind the assaults and a videotape in which bin Laden details the attacks.
The books have been printed in time to arrive in social studies or history classrooms nationwide this fall. The books are published by Pearson/Prentice Hall and McDougal Littell, a division of Houghton Mifflin. The books are among several under review by the state education board in Tennessee, where students will be among the first in the country to use textbooks that detail the events of September 11.
The reasoning behind the decision varied among the companies, whose officials defended their decisions about their portrayal of bin Laden. They said their authors and editors debated for long hours on how to depict bin Laden's role in the attacks, while the war on terrorism was continuing.
Officials at McDougal Littell said they wanted to teach students that acts of terror were the doings of an organization, like the al Qaeda network, and not just one person, such as bin Laden.
"We did not want to create an impression that terrorism can be traced to one individual," said Chris Johnson, social studies editor for McDougal Littell. "We want students to know that it's more than one person, that it's a group or an organization that are at the root of the attacks."
Mr. Johnson also said the team of writers and editors were using the best information available to them at the time they were writing the chapter about September 11. Most publishers had to finish their final drafts of the September 11 chapters before the end of December.
Their counterparts at Pearson/ Prentice Hall said they were careful not to label bin Laden as the one who masterminded the attacks because they believed they didn't have enough evidence to make that assertion.
Wendy Spiegel, a Pearson/Prentice Hall spokeswoman, said the company must have "primary source material," such as a signed confession or testimony from the accused's associates in order for the company to state that assertion in its textbooks.
The Pearson/Prentice Hall editions, for example, include references to U.S. military strikes targeting bin Laden and the al Qaeda network without explicitly naming him as the perpetrator.
"The president has made that assertion, but that's not primary source material," Ms. Spiegel said.
The publishers' decisions on their portrayals of bin Laden raised eyebrows among educators, who said they couldn't understand why the companies would make such a call. They said it was evident that bin Laden was behind the attacks and this should have been stated in the textbooks.
"I'm not sure why publishers would make such a call, other than they are responding to public pressure," said Gilbert Sewall, director of the American Textbook Council in New York. "They want to be fair, not to point fingers, and not to jump to conclusions. Are we disarming students intellectually by providing lessons that evade the truth? That's a serious education question that should be open for discussion."
Other publishers such as Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, a division of McGraw-Hill, along with Holt, Rinehart and Winston, a division of Harcourt School Publishers, also printed new social studies textbooks. However, they identified bin Laden as the one who planned the attacks.
One of the books published by Glencoe/McGraw-Hill states that bin Laden in 1998 called on Muslims to kill Americans, and that the al Qaeda network was reponsible for a string of terrorist attacks, including the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. The book also pointed out that September 11 was not an attack by Islam upon America.
All the major school textbook publishers said they didn't give bin Laden as much line space as they did to America's recovery from the attacks. Some even had to compress historical events, including the Clinton years, to make room for the attacks.
Murray Giles, editorial director at Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, said his team devoted less than half of a total of seven pages that discussed the attacks and the aftermath because they didn't want "to dwell" on bin Laden too much.
"We felt we needed to present a more complete story," Mr. Giles said. "How America responded to this tragedy at home is much more appropriate than a biographical analysis of bin Laden."
Most of the textbooks take a similar approach in writing about the attacks. They mention the anthrax scare, quote President Bush's "We will not falter" speech and describe the nationwide rush to donate money and blood. Some books include brief biographies of former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and several firefighters killed in the attack on the World Trade Center.
The books also contain several photographs, including the one of the New York City firefighters raising the American flag above the rubble of the World Trade Center and of the candlelight vigils held days after the attacks.
John Lawyer, senior vice president of marketing at Holt, Rinehart and Winston, said textbook publishers must be balanced in their presentation of a historical event.
"Textbooks have to walk a pretty fine line," Mr. Lawyer said. "Textbooks are out there to inform and educate and to stay out of the arena of judgment."

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