Nets opt not to air latest Al Qaeda tape

It 'was not news, it was rhetoric,' Fox News spokesman sez

Bowing to White House pressure, the nets balked over the weekend at airing a new statement by an Al Qaeda spokesman threatening further terrorist attacks.

CNN waited about an hour after the statement was received to broadcast a brief portion of the taped message, in which Abu Gheith repeated threats of more terrorist attacks. Fox News Channel and MSNBC opted to air a still photo of the spokesman along with a summary of his comments.

“We made the decision it was not necessary to air the video,” an MSNBC spokesman said.

A Fox News spokesman said the tape “was not news. It was rhetoric,” adding that the net has no plans to air the statement.

CBS aired about 10 seconds of the tape in its Saturday evening newscast to introduce a story about propaganda and whether Al Qaeda was manipulating the American media. Due to college football games, the “CBS Evening News” aired only on the West Coast on Saturday night.

The other broadcast nets aired college football without breaking to mention the new Al Qaeda statement. ABC is reviewing the tape to determine if portions will be shown in the coming days. NBC said there is little chance it will air the tape.

The latest statement from Al Qaeda was the first tape delivered since the Bush administration asked the nets to think twice before airing them. In an unprecedented huddle last week, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice held a conference call with net news prexies, hoping to “sensitize” them to the idea that such statements are dangerous propaganda and could contain a coded signal to terrorists.

Dismissing any suggestion that Rice was playing censor, newsies said they already were concerned about airing of tapes featuring Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network. Following the conference call, they loosely agreed not to broadcast Al Qaeda messages without screening them first and possibly editing them. Until the White House call, most nets had rushed to play the statements, unabridged.

The statement was broadcast on Qatar’s Al-Jazeera network, the only media outlet that has been allowed access into Taliban-controlled territory.

On Sunday, the Bush administration quickly dismissed the latest Al Qaeda tape as “more propaganda.” There also were reports that the CIA was reviewing the tape to see if the message was coded in any way.

On another front in the battle to control the airwaves, the Taliban took a group of journos on their first tour of destruction caused by U.S. strikes.

Time magazine’s White House correspondent, John Dickerson, told CNN that the White House wasn’t happy about the Taliban’s public relations move, since the U.S. has no footage to counter images of U.S.-led destruction and civilian injuries.

“The best (the White House) can do is talk about food drops and relief money for Afghani children,” Dickerson said.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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