- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 13, 2001

Osama bin Laden's home movie has the entire broadcast media on hold.
The White House has yet to release an amateur video of the terrorist gloating over the September 11 attacks with his cronies. Its 40 minutes of footage could incriminate him; it is also a pivotal though elusive component of the news story.
Intent on curbing speculation and ensuring authenticity, the Pentagon brought in four translators to divine bin Laden's comments, "to be thorough, to be accurate, before anything is released to the world," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday.
The networks are ready to pounce on what officials called the "smoking gun," which may be the tape in full, as excerpts or even a transcript.
"There are a thousand different scenarios already in place," said MSNBC spokesman Mark O'Connor. "Now we wait."
"The challenge is that we don't know what format we'll get. It could be in pieces or audio only, like we got during the Supreme Court decision on Election 2000 a year ago. Whatever we get, it will air in its entirety," said a CNN spokeswoman.
"Our decision will be a quick one," said Sandy Genelius of CBS. "We already have a rough idea of what's on the tape, we already know it's newsworthy."
It might make good theater as well. There is buzz aplenty about the tape, which could provide much fodder for the ever-present news hole. Though grainy and in Arabic, the tape has prompted visceral reactions from President Bush and lawmakers were revolted by its callous "evil."
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was ahead of those who wondered if the tape itself was yet another bin Laden media manipulation, purposefully produced and left for American forces to find in an abandoned apartment in Jalalabad.
The tape was not staged, he said yesterday.
Which would in theory take it out of the propaganda category, and thus lift constraints for broadcasters who were asked by the White House in October to exercise discretion when airing bin Laden's videotaped messages for the sake of national security.
"The White House and State Department previously voiced concerns about the previous bin Laden tape, which our news directors agreed to preview before airing. This tape would be different," said Ms. Genelius of CBS.
The tape is not necessarily dangerous propaganda.
"There are not many fence-sitters on this story. This tape would not change any minds, but further enrage Americans who equate bin Laden with the face of evil," said Bob Lichter of the Center for Media and Public Affairs.
"This could in turn increase support for Bush's terrorism policy by reminding us who the enemy is," he said.
Meanwhile, another bin Laden video has surfaced, this one with a correspondent from the Qatar-based independent network Al Jazeera. Seen only by British and American intelligence agencies, the tape made on Oct. 20 shows bin Laden saying that the war "has been moved inside America." The network opted not to air it, and denied rumors that the terrorist controlled the interview and made their own correspondent look bad.
Another persistent scenario percolates through the media food chain as well. An estranged bin Laden wife told Russia's TV 6 that the terrorist hopes to commit suicide on live TV as his grand finale; the claim was later picked up by the British and Asian press.
While broadcast and cable networks refused to comment if they would air such disquieting material, talk radio analyst Michael Harrison said a televised suicide would not yield bin Laden's hopes to make a big "statement."
"He'd end up entertaining millions instead," Mr. Harrison said.
* Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.

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