- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 9, 2001

Some lousy TV footage and a tight-lipped administration have caused a hubbub among journalists eager to score compelling coverage of the war on terrorism.
Things got downright explosive among broadcasters Sunday afternoon after CNN claimed exclusive rights to grainy video images of an American nighttime missile attack on Afghanistan, supplied by independent TV network Al Jazeera in Qatar.
There were no thundering guns or fireworks, just flickering lights for the most part. Still, the Qatari network announced it had awarded six hours of the stuff to CNN alone; anyone else who aired the live but murky green footage "could face prosecution in a court of law," according to an Al Jazeera advisory faxed to several CNN rivals.
Needless to say, the on-air camaraderie of shared resources nurtured after the Sept. 11 attacks was gone. CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox and MSNBC broadcast the footage anyway, accompanied by the standard overload of whirling graphics and speculation. "Fair use," the networks reasoned, entitled them to pick up and broadcast the material during a national emergency.
An incensed network spokesman called CNN petty and competitive, among other things.
Though the network still ran a "CNN Exclusive" notice on more attack footage yesterday, the fisticuffs were gone.
"Given the magnitude of today's events, we do not plan to enforce our limited exclusivity," a CNN spokeswoman said yesterday.
In many ways, it was much ado about nothing. CBS and Fox both returned to previously scheduled football coverage, and CNN padded out its fare with manufactured drama.
Warplanes "screamed like a dragon belching fire in the dark of the moon," exclaimed correspondent Walter Rogers over some file footage of F-18s barreling off an aircraft carrier. The network identified it as old material.
This was not the first video skirmish. Last week, ABC rumbled with Minnesota reporters after barring them from covering Gov. Jesse Ventura's walk through the World Trade Center disaster site. The moment was "exclusive," ABC claimed.
The reporters thought otherwise and quibbled with Mr. Ventura's press secretary a sterling moment caught on Minnesota Public Radio. The governor vowed he would never talk to the press again but has since relented as long as reporters don't use tape recorders.
There was other quibbling, though. Faced with taciturn, unflappable White House and Pentagon spokespersons in past weeks, righteous journalists claimed they were forced to choose between the First Amendment and the nation's security. Some hinted they were being censored; those accustomed to the freewheeling Clinton years called the new, terse tactics a sign that public affairs liaisons were "inexperienced."
Others just barreled on as if they were covering a sports event. In an appearance on C-SPAN yesterday, Bloomberg News defense reporter Anthony Capaccio offered so many statistics on American military prowess that anxious active duty and retired personnel called in and begged him to cease and desist.
He did not, claiming much had already been made public. Mr. Capaccio acknowledged he caused viewer "angst," but claimed Americans had the "need to know where their tax dollars are going."
The media's wartime footing also spawned some quirky items. Variety reported yesterday that the U.S. Army had enlisted top Hollywood filmmakers and writers to "brainstorm about possible terrorist targets and schemes in America and offer solutions to these threats."
The group, said to have held video conferences with top Army brass, included "Die Hard" writer Steven De Souza and Joseph Zito, who directed "Delta Force One." The Army had no comment.

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