- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2001

Using pervasive Western media to further terrorist tactics against Americans is an insidious possibility, one that prompted National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice yesterday to ask TV networks for some discretion.
Videotaped threats made by Osama bin Laden received so much airplay on cable and broadcast channels in the past 48 hours that White House officials became concerned.
The tape could be mere propaganda. But it also "could be a signal to terrorists to incite attacks against Americans," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
It was a collegial request, not a demand, he told the White house press corps repeatedly. "Editorial decisions can only be made by the media," he assured them.
The journalists, however, were sniffing out something more visceral.
"That is not censorship," Mr. Fleischer said after fielding multiple questions, advising persistent inquisitors that Miss Rice had not demanded the footage be yanked from the air altogether, only that networks "exercise judgment."
One reporter suggested it would behoove the White House to know "what is going on." Another asked how the networks had taken the request.
"The network executives, who are zealous defenders of First Amendment rights, just acknowledged that this is a time of national responsibility," Mr. Fleischer replied. "And they are willing to look at this in a responsible way."
Indeed, despite the angst of individual journalists, the networks banded together in a conference call yesterday and supported Miss Rice's request in deftly worded statements:
"CNN will not air statements from al Queda live and will review them first before deciding how to handle them. CNN's policy is to avoid airing any material that we believe would directly facilitate any terrorists acts. In deciding what to air, CNN will consider guidance from appropriate authorities."
"Dr. Rice did not suggest that ABC News (or any other news organization) should refrain altogether from broadcasting portions of such statements. ABC News has concluded that it will not air pre-recorded statements from al Qaeda representatives without first screening such statements in their entirety (which is consistent with ABC News' normal practice) and then exercising its editorial judgment as to whether portions of the statements should be aired and, if so, in what form."
"After the White House call, the networks agreed amongst themselves not to broadcast such statements from bin Laden or other al Qaeda spokesmen live. CBS News and the other news organizations on the call affirmed their commitment to responsible journalism that informs the public without jeopardizing American lives."
Fox and MSNBC also released statements. "We will no longer simply act as a transmission belt for the propaganda of the al Qaeda," said Fox News Channel's Brit Hume. "It's kind of a no-brainer we really do have to be concerned that we not just throw out stuff unfiltered, unremarked upon, un-thought about, on the air."
This is the second time networks imposed some restraint about sensitive video footage related to the Sept. 11 attacks. After ABC announced it no longer would air the images of airliners hitting the World Trade Center towers, the other networks followed suit. The images were at risk of becoming "video wallpaper" through overexposure, said one ABC executive.

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