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The following is a fact-check for the 5/9/2010 episode of Meet the Press: (transcript)

KATTY KAY (BBC) | Pres. Bush tried hundreds of terror suspects in civilian courts and wasn’t criticized | TRUE

MS. KAY: …some of, some of this is intensely political. Look, President Bush tried hundreds of terror suspects in civilian courts. He tried Zacarias Moussaoui, he tried Richard Reid in civilian courts. Nobody ever criticized his administration, either from the left or the right, for using civilian courts.

President Bush’s administration did try hundreds of terror suspects in civilian courts, but the exact number is up for debate. Multiple sources report different numbers. For instance, The New York Times reports that in the eight years of the Bush administration, at least 319 convictions for terrorism or terrorism-related crimes were done through the civilian justice system. The New York Times came up with this number from a 2009 budget request made by the Bush administration’s Department of Justice, and when contacted by, a media relations officer from DOJ could not verify the number. According to, NYU’s Terrorism Trial Report Card only identifies 174 individuals who were convicted in civilian courts for terrorism or national security violations. And according to Human Rights First, 190 suspected terrorists were prosecuted in civilian courts. Katty Kay was correct in stating that hundreds of terror suspects were tried in civilian courts by the Bush administration, but we don’t have an exact number.

We were unable to find any substantial criticism of the Bush administration’s civilian court trials of terrorism suspects. We deem Ms. Kay’s statement TRUE.

Fact Checking Isn’t a New Concept

Lets look back to the tools that the last century left us. For instance here are two ethical rules that apply directly to this case. They were adopted by the American Society of Newspaper Editors of April 28, 1928; and yes, the rules are written for and about newspapers, but we can surely apply them to today’s media as well. And Meet the Press should “heed the advice of the old man.”

Responsibility— The right of a newspaper to attract and hold readers is restricted by nothing but considerations of public welfare. The use of newspaper makes of the share of public attention it gains serves to determine its sense of responsibility, which it shares with every member of its staff.

Accuracy— Good faith with the reader is the foundation of all journalism worthy of the name. By every consideration of good faith, a newspaper is constrained to be truthful. It is not to be excused for lack of thoroughness, or accuracy within its control, or failure to obtain command of these essential qualities.

Meet the Press is held to a high standard, but so are all journalists. Providing accurate information to the public is fundamental and must not be excused for lack of thoroughness or control. When guests come on to Meet the Press knowing what they can get away with by distorting the facts, they will. When putting on partisans who only tell half of the story, and not correcting them or properly representing the facts – you leave the public to make an awkward decision.

An ill informed public may believe the disinformation and repeat it, and often if something is repeated enough, in a sense it does become true. Then to correct it is like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube. The public also might not believe what they’re hearing. Made angry by this, they might disconnect themselves from the political process entirely, uttering “the heck with them all.” A disengaged public hinders the nation’s voice, and everyone loses.

It’s the duty of the host to hold the guests accountable and it’s the duty of the public to hold the host accountable, and that’s exactly what this effort is trying to accomplish. Fact checking must be a mandatory second line of defense. Now as we enter a new era of journalism, will Meet the Press respect the principles on which journalism is based? Will they use the tools left to them by not only the newspaper editors of 1928 but by people like Tim Russert and David Brinkley? Or will they leave the work, like fact checking, to the people – to amateurs like us…