- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 16, 2002

Less than 30 seconds of videotape has created a hubbub among those convinced that CBS will do anything to improve its ratings.

The network, however, says it's all in the name of good journalism.

In a Tuesday news broadcast, CBS aired footage gleaned from what has come to be called "the Daniel Pearl execution tape" a homemade video shot by Islamic militants who kidnapped the Wall Street Journal reporter in January and later decapitated him on camera. The tape was sent to U.S. officials in late February as evidence that Mr. Pearl was dead.

The CBS report features no gore, no violence the footage in question was not even from the execution portion of the tape. It was instead culled from what the network described as a terrorist recruitment ad, found posted on the Internet by dissident Saudi Arabian journalist al-Ahmed, who advised viewers that "the United States is out of the game in the PR war in Saudi Arabia."

CBS mixed the sporadic facial shots of Mr. Pearl with commentary and graphics. Anchor Dan Rather told viewers the network had undergone "great deliberation," and was only trying to warn Americans about dangerous propaganda.

"The video illustrates how far an enemy will go to spread its message of hate," Mr. Rather said.

"We stand by that journalistic decision," a CBS spokeswoman said yesterday.

The network was nevertheless denounced by a spectrum of critics, including Mr. Pearl's family, who called the CBS rationale "heartless" and "beyond comprehension," adding that the network had fallen "without shame into the terrorist plan."

A "disappointed" White House and State Department also asked CBS not to show the footage. In recent months, both have warned cable and broadcast networks about the dangers of terrorist-made videotapes, which could contain propaganda or hidden messages.

The network has also annoyed at least one news publication.

"We made it clear to CBS that we believe no good purpose would be served in airing this video, and we stand by that," Wall Street Journal spokesman Steven Goldstein said yesterday.

Meanwhile, CBS news ranks third behind ABC and NBC in viewer popularity, causing some to dismiss Tuesday's broadcast as a shameless tactic to gain ratings and publicity. The segment was, after all, titled "Terror, Lies and Videotape."

There was considerable buzz yesterday. The story played prominently on other networks, though none would weigh in on CBS' decision to air what some viewers feel is "inviolate" September 11-related video images not meant to be seen under any circumstances.

"We don't have the footage, so we're not faced with answering that question," an NBC spokeswoman said yesterday.

"If we'd gotten the tape, it would be subject to our standard editorial review," said ABC spokesman Todd Polkes. "But we don't have the tape, so it's not a factor."

A CNN spokeswoman said the network "has no plans to air any portion of the tape of the execution of Daniel Pearl." But Barbara Cochran of the Radio and Television News Directors Association credited CBS with revealing their decision-making process.

"They explained themselves," she said. "That's helpful."

Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected]washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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