The media's Zacarias Moussaoui misstep.

The media's Zacarias Moussaoui misstep.

The media's Zacarias Moussaoui misstep.

Answers to your questions about the news.
May 21 2002 6:28 PM

Did the Media Misreport Zacarias Moussaoui's Suspicious Activities?

In the last week, Time, USA Today,and CNN all reported that accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui asked his Minnesota flight instructors to teach him how to steer a 747 but not take off or land. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd repeated the claim last Sunday. Is it fact or urban myth?

Urban myth. The facts are just the opposite: Moussaoui told his Eagan, Minn., instructors he wanted to learn only how to take off and land.

Advertisement

American newspapers began reporting the false story—usually sourced to anonymous government and intelligence officials—on Sept. 17. FBI Director Robert Mueller set the record straight at a Nov. 14 meeting with federal prosecutors, covered by the Associated Press and the Washington Post, and again in a Nov. 15 meeting with reporters, covered by the New York Times. An assistant director of the FBI reiterated Mueller's correction in his Feb. 6 statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

A spokesperson for the Pan Am International Flight Academy would not confirm anything Moussaoui discussed with his instructors. But the spokesperson said that if Moussaoui made any statements about takeoffs and landings, they "were not one of our red flags" that led the school to alert the FBI.

Explainer thanks the FBI and the PanAmInternationalFlightAcademy.

Kate Taylor is the arts reporter at the New York Sun and the editor of an anthology of essays about anorexia, Going Hungry, which will be published next spring.