Urging the media to be more responsible in its reporting of the war on terror, Sir Harold Evans said The Washington Times could be held partly to blame for the 9/11 attacks.
At a session of the International Press Institute world congress in Edinburgh, entitled "Journalism Under Pressure — Reporting Terrorism", the former Times and Sunday Times editor said that a "culture of complaint" had grown up in which the fundamental issues were obscured.
He said: "What is troubling is the tendency to concentrate a disproportionate amount of attention on antiterror laws — disproportionate by comparison with the safety of journalists and with our conduct of editorial power, our discharge of our responsibilities."
According to Evans, in many places most people agreed with the statement made by an American senator that the media enjoys a reputation "lower than quail's crap".
He said the media had invited public distrust with its failure to warn of the threat posed by terrorism before 9/11, its failure to expose the "weapons of mass delusion" and for its failure to "evolve a new consensus reconciling freedom of the press with the imperatives of national security".
He cited the example of how all the major news organisations in the United States ignored an authoritative report from the US National Security Commission — prior to 9/11 — which revealed widespread anti-Americanism and warned that, as a consequence, large numbers of Americans would die on home soil.
Evans added that it was conceivable 3,000 people died on 9/11 because right-wing newspaper The Washington Times leaked information that the CIA had found a way to listen in to Osama bin Laden's satellite telephone calls.
Al Jazeera's London bureau chief, Yosri Fouda, spoke about the pressure the network was under at the time of the invasion of Afghanistan when he claimed its offices were deliberately targeted by the Pentagon.
He said: "Maybe you guys in the west fall under pressure from [George Bush] but we don't even have the luxury to be given a notice to feel pressure, we only get missiles and bombs thrown at our heads."
Fouda warned of the threat posed by the war of "spin-doctoring" and added that in all his years as a journalist he had never witnessed such huge budgets being spent by government departments to deceive, mislead and manipulate journalists.
The session started with a minute's silence in memory of the two British journalists killed in Iraq.