With no new evidence, Fox continues to ask: Did al Qaeda burn California?
For the second straight day, Fox News stood virtually alone in advancing thinly supported speculation to raise fears that the wildfires ravaging California are not the result of a confluence of arid heat and high winds but were set deliberately by al Qaeda terrorists bent on destroying America.
Fox & Friends, the conservative cable channel, was panned Wednesday for breathlessly reporting a sketchy, four-year-old FBI memo as if it offered new information linking America's enemies in the "Global War on Terror" with a plot to burn down southern California.
The morning team was back at it Thursday, as anchor Alisyn Camerota introduced a segment on the fires that again mischaracterized and over-inflated warnings from a 2003 interview with an al Qaeda detainee.
Camerota said Fox's fear-mongering was "based on some information the FBI sent to local law enforcement in California and other Western states ... that there was a plot afoot to set three or four different" fires. Left unsaid by the Fox news-reader was that the FBI warning was sent more than four years ago, described a potential plot that made no mention of California, could not be proven accurate and did not raise alarms from forrest-fire officials at the time. (Such caveats all were included in an Associated Press report on the warning at the time.)
"How do they determine what's arson and what's terrorism?" she asked, noting accurately that authorities believe arsonists were responsible for at least "some of these fires." (Authorities say arson has been shown to have caused only two of more than a dozen fires so far.)
Terror analyst Erick Stakelbeck served as Camerota's foil in boosting the terror fears. Although he did clarify that the FBI memo was from 2003, the vintage of the intelligence didn't squelch his terror speculation; Stakelbeck warned that the fires appeared to be the result of a "coordinated effort ... over a large area."
"In a post-9/11 world, we have to consider all possibilities," Stakelbeck intoned.
Even if al Qaeda isn't involved -- and no one but Fox seems to be seriously suggesting they were -- the fires are still an example of "domestic terrorism," Stakelbeck said, although he was sure to note that law enforcement would be checking to see if arson suspects in custody fit the "terrorist profile."
Whoever is responsible for the fires, Stakelbeck couldn't help but note the ease with which such devastation can be wreaked with just some matches, kerosene and dry brush:
"What a cost-effective means of terrorism," he marveled.
The following video is from Fox's Fox & Friends, broadcast on October 25, 2007.