- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 2001

On Media

The long-awaited Osama bin Laden home movie may indeed be the "smoking gun." But it was also a tedious, infuriating chunk of lousy video that got mixed treatment on the networks yesterday.
ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox made quick work of their broadcast obligations, scuttling normal morning fare to broadcast 40 minutes' worth of grainy images and translation subtitles.
The amateur tape of bin Laden and his cronies lounging on floral mattresses was a fitting target, however.
The terrorist had "twisted, perverted pride" said NBC's Tom Brokaw and a "disgusting, outrageous smile," according to CBS' Dan Rather, who wryly observed that the tape was not the forbidden propaganda that the White House had warned broadcasters about back in October.
In airing the tape, "we are doing exactly what the Bush administration specifically requested we not do earlier during the war," he said.
Will the visions of unscripted bin Laden warrant a parody on "Saturday Night Live?"
"We're not sure yet," said a spokeswoman for the NBC show. "We'll make that decision Saturday morning."
For something that was only hearsay and rumor Wednesday, the tape is now instantly available for those who want to judge it for themselves, posted unedited and with English transcript at multiple news Web sites, including C-SPAN (www.c-span.org).
"The tape is underwhelming, crude. But is it credible, or is it manipulative play-acting? That's hard to say," observed Warner Watson of the American Press Institute. "The accuracy of the translations is the important key here. Most Americans can't judge the intent or the credibility of the tape because of the language barrier."
The tape was reinvented on cable news repackaged, highlighted and commented upon, ad infinitum.
It made for some odd pairings. At one point, CNN ran a split screen featuring a live interview with New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani on one side and shots of bin Laden gesticulating and grinning on the other.
"I wonder how deep and evil his soul really is," Mr. Giuliani said flatly, while bin Laden was being shown in a white-framed box to the mayor's right, surrounded by stock exchange figures, an American flag graphic, on-screen comments and a ticker tape of breaking news events.
"The only thing that surprises me, and actually I find in a way encouraging, is how conceited and undisciplined Osama bin Laden is. To make a full confession on videotape was not the smartest thing to do," Steven Push told CNN in an interview. He lost his wife, Lisa, in the Pentagon attack on September 11.
"He seems like a defeatable enemy," Mr. Push said.
Some Middle Eastern news reports are already weighing in on the accuracy of the translations of bin Laden's conversation.
"What you were listening to was a dinner conversation. He wasn't performing," said Lebanon's As-Safir newspaper.
Officials at Al Jazeera, meanwhile, are peeved. The contentious Qatar-based independent network has already broadcast one bin Laden video and is said to have several more at hand.
News Editor Ibrahim Helal believes Western intelligence has "intercepted some of the tapes" even as the White House warns broadcasters not to air them.
"They use their technology to get the tapes and their influence in Washington to press us," Mr. Helal told the Associated Press. "They want to destroy our image in order to close this free window in the region."
Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected]washingtontimes.com or 202-636-3085.

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