- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 11, 2001

It would be a bizarre chapter of the Osama bin Laden endgame: Tales of another television scheme are rattling their way up the media food chain.
The terrorist hopes to die on live TV according to his estranged wife, Sabiha, who made her claims Dec. 8 during an interview with TV 6, a Moscow-based independent network.
"His elder sons will kill him, and that will be the signal for a new wave of terror. The targets this time would be the Capitol in Washington, Big Ben in London and the Eiffel Tower in Paris," she said, claiming that Qatar-based network Al Jazeera would broadcast the death.
These revelations were picked up yesterday by the Internet's Drudge Report and provided titillating fodder for talk radio and print. "Bin Laden's son will kill him on TV," heralded Britain's Mirror newspaper while Scotland's Daily Record billed it "Osama suicide pact."
"Media commentators said the claims were startlingly vulgar but could perhaps be eerily consistent with the Saudi dissident's understanding of the Internet and the satellite TV age," observed the India Times, which linked "Bin Laden's desire to die in the flickering blue light of more than a billion television sets" with the televised September 11 terrorist attacks.
Indeed, providing credible coverage of violence and propaganda in the past three months has taxed journalistic ethics of print and broadcast news organizations, though video footage of a dead suicide bomber in Israel body aflame was seen on prime time news Sunday.
And while networks analyzed the latest incriminating bin Laden video yesterday, none was ready to address questions posed by his possible suicide before TV cameras: Would they air the video footage if it were available?
"It's too early to even think about this terrible theory," said one broadcast network spokeswoman. "I heard it on the radio this morning and just wanted to turn to Christmas music. Personally, I don't think anyone would air it."
Two other networks also offered no comment. "We're not going to touch that one right now," said another spokesman.
"The media used to worry about showing Timothy McVeigh's execution," said Michael Harrison of Talker's Magazine, an industry analysis of talk radio. "Now this. We never would have encountered this kind of outrageous, sensational idea before 9-11."
"Bin Laden would not succeed in making any kind of statement if he died on the air. He'd probably end up entertaining millions instead. It would have zero impact on our psyches and zero impact on bin Laden's cause," Mr. Harrison said. "What's important is that he would be dead. And if he's dead, he's done."
According to press reports, the Al Jazeera network knows nothing about the plan. The estranged bin Laden spouse who made the original claim is reported to be 45, the mother of three of the terrorist's 19 children and "abandoned him after he took another wife aged 17."
As for Russia's TV 6, the network is seen by an estimated 80 million viewers in 300 cities and is best known for "Behind the Glass," Russia's provocative version of the reality series "Big Brother," broadcast from a set in a Red Square hotel.
Though half of all Russian viewers tuned in, the series caught much flak. A communist member of the Duma said the show "was done to disgrace Russia" while a Muslim leader declared, "We are trying to turn sweaty idiots into TV stars."

Contact Jennifer Harper at jharper@washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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