Byline: Jennifer Harper
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.