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Saturday, March 20, 2004


Amid Growing Fears of Failure, Networks "Soldier On"

According to reliable sources, television crews have surrounded Osama Bin Laden:
With U.S. and Pakistani military forces stepping up their search for Osama bin Laden and other top Al Qaeda leaders, U.S. television networks have been quietly maneuvering to get people and equipment into Afghanistan and Pakistan in case the terrorist mastermind is found.

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In the last couple of weeks, CBS News and ABC News have stationed correspondents and production teams in Kabul, Afghanistan, while an NBC correspondent arrived in recent days and a second CNN correspondent was en route. Fox News Channel said one of its correspondents was expected to arrive next week. ABC, NBC and CNN also have correspondent teams in Pakistan; in addition, CNN anchor Aaron Brown is in Islamabad, the capital, on a long-planned trip.
Still, while some characterize the massed reporters as “confident” others are raising legitimate concerns over previous failures by America’s news teams to do anything other than retransmit low quality Al Jazeera tapes to viewers eager for any news of "public enemy number one". A recurring complaint surrounds the failure of network intel, as they never seem to be in the right place at the right time. Repeated lapses in this area have forced some network execs into a defensive posture:
Predicting where news will happen is a tricky art. Last week, the cable news channels were criticized for being slow to cover the Madrid bombings, which killed 202 people. But this week, the networks reacted quickly to a Baghdad bombing because they already had large staffs in place. "I have no more intelligence than anyone else in the world, but instinctively as journalists, you think something is going on [in the Afghanistan region] and we ought to be in place to cover it," said Chris Cramer, who oversees CNN's international networks.
In addition to the “failed intel” complaint, several viewers have speculated that the networks may already have Osama, and are merely waiting for "May sweeps” or the "start of the new fall season" to reveal him to the public, perhaps in a series of his own.

Of course, increasing numbers of people are voicing concerns about the “cozy relationship” between certain networks and the government of Pakistan; some going so far as to accuse them of supporting a dictator simply to achieve their own ends. While some see the “give and take” as the lesser of two evils, others are quick to characterize the relationship as "suspect":
"We're totally reliant, everyone working this story, on what's coming out of the Pakistani government," Brown said by phone from Islamabad. In a stroke of good timing, Brown on Thursday had a long-planned interview with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who said he believed that troops had cornered a "high-value" target, later identified by other officials as Zawahiri.
Adding to executives woes, the growing cost of this media blitz is raising concerns that “Survivor” and “American Idol” may have to lower the total value of their prize packages. Some Hollywood insiders add that falling revenues and money spent on the Osama hunt may have contributed to the demise of the popular programs “Friends” and "Sex in the City" as depleted “war chests” may have been insufficient to retain the services of top notch talent. If such rumors were found to be true, many top network execs could have a tough time dealing with the likely backlash.
From a financial standpoint, the capture of Bin Laden can't come soon enough for some network executives. Last year's Iraq war led to technological advances that have made coverage from remote locations easier and less expensive, but it's still costly.

It's "too much," said Marcy McGinnis, senior vice president for news coverage at CBS News. "I'm dying - it's expensive to keep the team there. There's airfare for five people, equipment, hotel, per diems, cars and drivers, security. It's not in the budget, but we're doing what we have to do."
Still, the rising cost of the thus-far fruitless coverage is prompting many a stockholder to speculate aloud on the potential need for an independent investigation into management irregularities and fundamentals of network standards and practices.




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