In a scathing letter to Peter Jennings, anchorman of ABC’s World News Tonight, C. R. Beesley, American Gemological Laboratories’s (AGL) president challenged the intent of the investigative report prepared by Brian Ross, ABC’s investigative reporter.
The report aired on the nationally televised news program on Dec. 14.
“It is part of AGL’s corporate directive to assist the media to receive factual information that elevates the understanding of gem related issues for Buyers and Sellers. However, there are no guarantees that editing will not be substituted for balanced reporting,” Beesley said in the letter, dated Dec. 17.
“The mission was clear,” the letter continued. “The trial of the terrorists responsible for the embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, as well as, related documentation established a Tanzanite connection. The issue was not whether the connection existed, but rather its extent and how Buyers and Sellers can effectively deal with this type of situation in order to avoid supporting terrorist activities in any form.”
Beesley charged in the letter that the Brian Ross interview at ABC’s studio in New York deteriorated into an interrogation rather than an investigative pursuit of key issues. “Unfortunately, it became clear during the interview process that Mr. Ross had an agenda that required specific sound bites to support a particular position and create the illusion of completeness. Rather than investigative, the tenor and repetitive nature of specific questions during the exchange confirmed that Ross had an advocacy position for a preconceived point-of-view. In my opinion, he failed to exercise any regard for the impact of a skewed perspective that placed Tanzanite and Terrorism on an equal footing.”
In a lengthy critique to Peter Jennings, Beesley suggested, “The skewed presentation was tainted by Ross’s apparent agenda and was a disservice to ABC News and the miners, retailers and dealers that abhor any activity associated with terrorism.”
In a closing comment, Beesley suggested ABC missed a significant opportunity. AGL’s president referenced several alternatives when repeatedly asked if retailers and chains across America should follow Tiffany and QVC’s lead and abort Tanzanite sales. “That’s not the answer,” he said in the letter. “Tiffany and QVC did not stop selling diamonds when confronted with the reality of ‘conflict diamonds’ funding ethnic wars and terrorism in Africa. They dealt with the issue in a more responsible and effective way. Americans have not stopped buying oil products in the U.S. despite the eminently clear Saudi connection to terrorist support groups that taint our oil supply. Similarly, if we discovered that the bin Laden financial network owned stock in ABC’s parent company Disney, would we stop visiting Disney World and consider ABC’s handling of news suspect and suspend buying products from their advertisers?”
In the final analysis, Beesley suggests ABC missed the most important aspect of the story, “We are not dealing with a religious or racial profile, but a clear cut ‘criminal profile’ that has infiltrated our society and world markets. These facts require that all of us become more diligent in applying the template of that behavior on all our interactions and transactions. Everyone is looking for guidance since we were charged with the new responsibility of being more vigilant in the aftermath of September 11th.”
Following is Beesley’s letter to Jennings in its entirety:
17 December 2001
Mr. Peter Jennings
ABC World News
147 Columbus Avenue
New York, New York 10023
Dear Mr. Jennings,
During the last two weeks, we assisted your staff to investigate the veracity of the reported connection between Tanzanite and terrorist funding activity. The story was initiated as a result of an article that appeared recently in The Wall Street Journal which examined this issue in detail. For clarification, American Gemological Laboratories is a Gem Buyer’s Laboratory located in New York City with a 25 year history of protecting consumer interest. We have consistently supported media activity that addresses relevant gemstone issues and assist individuals and firms to make informed, intelligent decisions regarding gemstone acquisitions. To date, we have been a consistent source of information to a broad cross section of US and foreign media including Dateline, 20/20, Prime Time, CNN and the entire spectrum of news programs and talk shows across America. In addition to our international reputation in the field of gemstone analysis, we have been actively involved for fifteen years in various government and UN sponsored projects in Pakistan, India, Africa and the Afghan community.
We completed an extensive filming session at our laboratory for “B” roll material and subsequently videotaped the interview segment with Brian Ross at your studios in New York. As you know, the final story was aired Friday evening on your World News program. Before agreeing to work on this project, I made it absolutely clear to your Field Producer, Jill Rackmill, that AGL would not participate in a “witch hunt” or a presentation that compromised the investigative process. Unfortunately, her assurance was either unreliable or beyond her control. It became clear during the interview process that Mr. Ross had an agenda that required specific sound bites to support a particular position and create the illusion of completeness. Rather than investigative, the tenor and repetitive nature of specific questions during the exchange confirmed that Mr. Ross had an advocacy position for a preconceived point-of-view. In my opinion, he failed to exercise any regard for the impact of a skewed perspective that placed Tanzanite and Terrorism on an equal footing.
The specific problematic issue implied in this presentation was that Tanzanite sales equal terrorist funding. Your references to “may be connected” were obscured in a maze of visuals and edited implications that buying Tanzanite supports terrorism. The testimony of those individuals involved in the embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya established a link. Despite my insistence during the course of the interview, Mr. Ross ignored critical points concerning the extent of the connection and how consumers, retailers and dealers can effectively deal with this issue. Unfortunately, someone on your staff decided to trash some of the more meaningful content in the digital droppings of the editing room for the sake of newsreel glitz. Even the comments concerning Tiffany & Co. and QVC were slanted. Your staff clearly indicated during an off-camera exchange that Tiffany admitted they sell less than a fraction of one percent of Tanzanite and QVC reportedly does not have an ownership position, but simply returns products to their suppliers. Integrity without a price is not a measure of the depth of one’s commitment. Interestingly, neither Tiffany nor QVC discontinued selling diamonds when it was recently established that “conflict diamonds” are funding ethnic wars and terrorist activity throughout Africa. Your staff was also aware of these facts.
The implied outcome of ABC’s assessment suggests an ill-advised conclusion. For example, to apply the same logic, if we conclude that US dollars were used by the terrorists to support the events of September 11th, should we discontinue using US currency? Does the Saudi oil connection as a potential funding source for terrorism preclude the US from buying oil from Saudi sources. Similarly, if we discovered that the Bin Laden financial network owned stock in ABC’s parent company Disney, should we stop visiting Disney World and consider ABC’s handling of news suspect and suspend buying products from your advertisers?
The overly simplistic conclusion of this story disregards those individual miners, retailers and dealers that abhor any activity associated with terrorism. I believe that by deleting all the explanations that I provided after the “yes, there is a connection”, your staff compromised their responsibility and your own commitment to quality news reporting, based on serious news content and analysis.
As an informed source, I provided to the best of my ability, the following observations. We are not dealing with a religious or racial profile, but a clear cut “criminal profile” that has infiltrated our society and world markets. These facts require that all of us become more diligent in applying the template of that behavior on all our interactions and transactions. Everyone is looking for guidance since we were charged with the new responsibility of being more vigilant in the aftermath of September 11th.
Unfortunately, this was a lost opportunity to make a meaningful assessment of a difficult situation and provide much needed guidance and direction to a significant population of responsible buyers and sellers of gemstones and other products and services. Personally, I consider the obviously tilted presentation a discredit to you, Mr. Ross, ABC and the effort of your conscientious field producer Jill Rackmill.
I have been very proud of many of the stories to which we have contributed our gem sciences expertise, especially with projects for Dateline, Prime Time and 20/20. Unfortunately, this is not one of those moments. It is disconcerting that either Mr. Ross, or your editors lost their investigative direction that would have produced a balanced and relevant presentation.
C.R. Beesley, President
American Gemological Laboratories, Inc.
cc: Mr. Michael Eisner, Chairman and CEO, Walt Disney Co.
Mr. David Westin, President, ABC News
Mr. Robert Block, The Wall Street Journal
Mr. Brian Ross, ABC News
Ms. Jill Rackmill, Field Producer, ABC News