BOB GARFIELD:: Last year, the bipartisan 9/11 Commission issued a number of recommendations it said would help prevent another terrorist attack here at home. Well this week, the Commission issued its final report card on the government's performance so far. In 41 categories, the Administration and Congress received 5 Fs and 12 Ds and averaged only a C-minus overall. Was it big news? Should it be? Greg Mitchell is editor of Editor and Publisher magazine. He surveyed 40 major dailies across the country and found that only 6 had featured the story on the front page. He joins me now. Greg, welcome back to OTM.
GREG MITCHELL:: Thank you, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD:: Now, some of the largest circulation papers in the country, including the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune and the L.A. Times, did give this story front-page treatment. Not good enough for you, eh?
GREG MITCHELL:: Well, here was a report on, I guess, you might say what we're fighting for, to protect the homeland, and yet the media treated it as a little less coverage than Saddam's tantrums in court received and Tom DeLay's latest problems, and even in some places, the first human face transplant got equal coverage. So I think that's what I was raising concerns about.
BOB GARFIELD:: I don't want to dwell too much on the substance of the report itself, but just give me a list of some of the items that you think probably belong on front pages and leading news reports around the country.
GREG MITCHELL:: Well, one of the things, of course, was statements about the continuing threat we have of weapons of mass destruction, of controls on nuclear material around the world and on safeguarding nuclear and chemical plants here at home. We did go to war in Iraq largely over the alleged threat of weapons of mass destruction, and yet the commissioners are screaming alerts about the continuing threat of weapons of mass destruction to America. It's offensive, I think, particularly to have a report card such as this deliver such poor scores when 9/11 has been used politically but yet the lessons have not been learned and they have not taken the action that many people think they should take.
BOB GARFIELD:: Now, the report was issued on a Monday, but by Monday there had, over the weekend, been a number of leaks that gave us a pretty good idea of what the report was going to say. By the time the story broke, a lot of the surprise had been sucked right out of it. Isn't that a big part of what is at work here?
GREG MITCHELL:: Well, it was a funny kind of breaking story, admittedly, that sort of began with leaks and then the Commissioners Keane and Hamilton appeared on TV talk shows on Sunday. And even though the report card had not been released, you know, people say, "Oh, yeah, I heard about that a day and a half ago." Now, the question, of course, is how much do they know? What I'm afraid happens is that newspapers and nightly news more quickly went to turn the page. And most times that's fine, but I think there are cases like this where people should not turn the page so quickly.
BOB GARFIELD:: Is this not one of those situations where the newspaper runs the story and in many cases gives it [CHUCKLES] very prominent placement - it led in many papers - but there's nothing further it can do to convey the seriousness of the message?
GREG MITCHELL:: After all, this report was aimed at the government, both the Congress and the White House, so, of course, they can write blistering editorials, and not just one of them but maybe a succession of them for days or weeks. They can also assign individual stories on the issues raised - you know, a checklist. Okay, we're going to look at all 17 of these areas where we got Ds and Fs, and once a week we're going to present a story looking at it. So, I mean, there's a lot of things you can do to keep after it. You know, as long as there's a good healthy debate over it and it pushes this back to the front pages, I think that's all to the good. It's the shoveling dirt on it that is really the problem.
BOB GARFIELD:: All right, Greg. Thank you very much.
GREG MITCHELL:: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD:: Greg Mitchell is editor of Editor and Publisher, which covers the newspaper industry. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
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