Wisconsin Paper’s Faux Pas: Mistaking 9/11 ‘Applauder’ for 9/11 ‘Plotter’

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By: E&P Staff

Mike Menzter, the managing editor of the Fond du Lac Reporter (Wis.), wrote a column July 31 explaining how the paper mistook a September 11 “applauder” for a September 11 “plotter.”

Last week, the newspaper covered a presentation of awards to local police officers who helped the U.S. Department of Homeland Security apprehend a Pakistani man allegedly involved in a marriage scam.

During the event, Homeland Security special agent Jeff Stillings made a speech in which he stated that the accused, Faryad ?Frankie? Hussain, had been an ?applauder? of terrorist Osama bin Laden.

But the reporter from the paper, and apparently several other city staff members and reporters, heard Stillings say ?plotter? instead.

Based on the faulty interpretation of Stillings’ remarks, the paper ran a story with the headline “Suspected terrorist linked to Fond du Lac: Former gas station owner may have been 9/11 plotter.? What’s more, the lead paragraph on July 28 incorrectly reported Hussain’s background. Although he was allegedly involved in illegal activities, he had no role in planning the September 11 attacks.

Two area radio stations also incorrectly reported that Hussain was a ?plotter? instead of an ?applauder,? according to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnists Cary Spivak and Dan Bice, who took no small pleasure in pointing out the local media’s mistakes.

Mentzer places much of the blame on Stillings, who refused to answer clarification questions following his speech, saying he could say no more or his job might be in jeopardy.

He also mentioned that the Reporter posted an audio tape of Stilling’s remarks on its Web site and a transcript from the speech in the newspaper’s July 29 issue. While Stillings was misquoted, he said, the message was the more or less the same.

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