Media reporting of the U.S. drone strike that allegedly killed an “ISIS-K planner” in Afghanistan is providing a fascinating insight into how news stories are often massaged and molded to fit certain political narratives. In this case – but not for the first time – Liberty Nation predicted how this event would be portrayed and how the public’s perception of it would be manipulated to benefit the Biden administration.
Hours after the Aug. 27 suicide bombings outside Kabul’s international airport took the lives of 13 U.S. troops, Joe Biden vowed those responsible for this act of terrorism would be hunted down and made to pay. It sounded like an entirely hollow threat since the administration is hastily abandoning Afghanistan, erasing America’s military footprint in that country, and largely discarding its network of local intelligence assets. Just how Mr. Biden intended to locate and punish those responsible for the bombings was, for most people, a real head-scratcher.
Less than 24 hours before Saturday’s drone strike, Liberty Nation editors, being the justifiably cynical bunch they are, speculated that it would not be long before U.S. forces conducted an airstrike somewhere in Afghanistan and then claimed the planners of the suicide attack – or more accurately, homicide attack – had been killed.
That speculation was reflected in an article by Liberty Nation’s editor-in-chief, Leesa K. Donner, written before the drone strike was reported but not published until the following morning, Aug. 28, after the event. Just before publishing time, an update was added to the article acknowledging the U.S. attack. As Donner wrote:
“That might not stop the Biden administration from trying to stage a future charade, in which it bombs the hell out of some square mile of rubble in the Afghan mountains and calls it a victory, as in, ‘We got ’em!’”
Again, these words were written before the drone strike was in the news.
Initial media accounts of the drone attack that, according to the latest news out of the Pentagon, killed two “high-profile” ISIS-K members and wounded a third, raised the possibility of a link between the Kabul attack and the drone-dispatched despicables – assuming, of course, that a strike was actually conducted and ISIS-K members killed. That these media reports were going to mention the suicide attack was inevitable – perhaps unavoidable. Liberty Nation indeed referenced the suicide bombing in its account of the drone attack. Still, no Pentagon source had confirmed any link between the terrible events outside the Kabul airport and the drone’s ISIS-K targets. Liberty Nation’s report dutifully reflected the absence of a known link.
But were media accounts of this “over-the-horizon anti-terrorist operation” going to evolve? After all, Mr. Biden, his State Department, and the Department of Defense desperately need a win of some kind in Afghanistan. The administration absolutely must be seen as resolute in its pursuit of justice for the 11 U.S. Marines, one Army Special Forces soldier, and one Navy Corpsman killed at the airport. Of course, it might not be just the media that decides to gradually reshape the reporting of the drone strike to make the administration look as if it did something meaningful in retaliation; it could be that the White House or the Pentagon will massage the story into an awesome act of swift revenge.
The Financial Times reported, “US kills Isis ‘planner’ behind Kabul airport attack,” repeating in the first paragraph of its article the claim that “[t]he US has carried out a drone strike in eastern Afghanistan against an Isis-K ‘planner’ behind the deadly attack on Kabul airport on Thursday.” Nowhere do the journalists responsible for this article present any evidence or source to corroborate the link they apparently created out of thin air.
A Fox News Channel host did the same thing on Saturday morning, saying the U.S. “[launched] a drone strike on the ISIS-K planner believed to be behind Thursday’s bombings that killed 13 US service members.”
Whether or not the Financial Times and FNC are simply guilty of shoddy reporting by assuming a link that had not been officially corroborated, that link – between the recently exploded ISIS-K terrorist, if indeed they ever existed, and the Kabul attack – is out there in the public space. Indeed, one could speculate that the very fact U.S. Central Command, in its statement on the drone strike, referred to an ISIS-K “planner” was a deliberate ruse to plant the seeds of a link to the earlier suicide attack.
Muddying the Waters
Here’s where things get even more interesting. During an Aug. 28 press briefing at the Pentagon, Major General William “Hank” Taylor used the term “planner and facilitator.” Now, the waters had really been muddied. Of the two ISIS-K casualties, reporters wanted to know which was the planner and which was the facilitator.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby, when questioned about a possible link to the Kabul attack, was careful not to imply the link existed – because, in all likelihood, the Pentagon has not established that link. At the same time, he clearly did not want to disabuse the reporters present of the notion that the two individuals targeted were in fact behind the suicide bombing. “I won’t speak to the details of these individuals or what their specific roles might be,” Kirby said. Shortly afterward, referring to ISIS-K, he said, “They lost a planner and they lost a facilitator and they got one wounded.”
Gen. Taylor was asked to clarify the planner and facilitator designations and failed to do so. “We’re not going to get into ‘this one was this, this one was this,’” he told a reporter. “They [had the] capability of facilitators and planners.”
So, were the ISIS explodees facilitators, planners – or both? Now, the wires have been crossed, the assumptions made, and the perceptions created. The likely end result? A great many Americans will believe the masterminds of the Kabul slaughter were swiftly dispatched by a strong and determined U.S. president who wasted no time in making good on his fighting words. Mission Accomplished – or so it is supposed to appear.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.