It wasn’t a U.S. news net that scooped Al-Jazeera Tuesday in breaking word of the latest purported Osama bin Laden tape — it was the Bush administration, which seemed eager for the tape to be played to the masses.
Not long after 9/11, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice requested that American news operations not run footage of the terror leader and his virulent anti-American message.
But Washington didn’t protest the airing of this tape, perhaps because its contents support the Bush administration’s allegation that bin Laden’s terrorist group Al Qaeda and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein are allied.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell revealed the existence of the latest bin Laden tape when testifying on Capitol Hill in the ayem. Referring to a transcript, Powell said the tape proves there is “a nexus” between terrorists and states such as Iraq.
One TV news exec questioned the administration’s turnaround and wondered whether Washington was taking advantage of journos.
The issue came up again and again during the daily White House briefing. Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said nothing had changed.
“I think the message remains just as we said before: that people should use their discretion and think twice about playing something in its entirety,” Fleischer said. “Those are judgments we leave up to the news media to make the final decisions on. We’re not in a position to dictate or to say.”
Each cable newsy in the U.S. had its own approach to the tape.
At 3 p.m. Eastern Time, Fox News ran the entire tape in simulcast with Al-Jazeera, with which it has had a licensing agreement since the 9/11 attacks.
Senior veepee of news editorial John Moody said Powell’s claim that the tape would provide a link between Al Qaeda and Baghdad made it “quite newsworthy. ”
Both FNC and Al-Jazeera ran a follow-up interview with State Dept. spokesman Richard Baucher.
CNN ran snippets of the tape while it aired file footage. Spokesman Matthew Furman said the net cherrypicked through the tape.
“We struck a balance between what we need to know vs. propaganda,” he said.
MSNBC didn’t run tape
MSNBC, on the other hand, did not run the tape at all. Instead, it chose to run commentary on it.
“We thought that it was a more prudent decision to have a translator go through it first,” spokesman Alan Winnikoff said.
Powell said the tape had been received by the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera. The news satcaster had previously been rebuked by the Bush administration for playing bin Laden messages. Turns out Al-Jazeera hadn’t even played the tape before Powell’s revelation. The news net said it received the tape just as Powell was making his comments.
On the audiotape, the purported voice of bin Laden threatened more attacks if Iraq is invaded and encouraged Iraqis to engage Americans in hostilities.
“We stress the importance of martyrdom operations against the enemy, these attacks that have scared Americans and Israelis like never before,” the voice said.