Bin Laden may answer questions

Accused terrorist to speak on videotape

The American public might finally get some answers from Osama Bin Laden.

Someone claiming to represent Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network has asked CNN and Al-Jazeera to submit written questions for the accused terrorist in hiding. Bin Laden will answer the questions on videotape, which he’ll return to Al-Jazeera.

The proposal came to Al-Jazeera, the Arabic language news net, which then notified CNN.

CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer stressed on-air Tuesday night that “CNN has no information about where Bin Laden is or whether he is alive or dead. We do not know how Al Qaeda communicates with Al-Jazeera or how Al-Jazeera plans to get the questions to Bin Laden.”

Blitzer also said that the net has agreed to no prohibitions or preconditions from either Al Qaeda or Al-Jazeera. In addition, by submitting questions, the net hasn’t made any commitment to air Bin Laden’s response.

“We will look at the tape, if there is a tape, and decide how much or how little to run,” said Blitzer. “If we believe his comments are not newsworthy, we will not run any of them.”

CNN will claim no exclusivity over the tape and will allow other news orgs to make their own judgments about how to use Bin Laden’s answers.

Last week, national security adviser Condoleeza Rice held an unprecedented conference call with TV news prexys last week. During the call, she suggested that the news nets should think carefully before airing footage from Al-Jazeera, chiefly, statements by bin Laden or members of his Al Quaeda network. Following the call, the nets loosely agreed not to broadcast Al Qaeda messages without screening them first and possibly editing them.

Al Jazeera Washington bureau chief Hafez Al-Mirazi told Daily Variety that the satellite news channel is devoted to covering all sides of the issue, including statements by bin Laden or other members of the Al Qaeda network. He could not be reached regarding the bin Laden interview.

Americans have a skewed perception of Al Jazeera as being some sort of mouthpiece for bin Laden or Al Qaeda terrorist network, said Al-Mirazi. That is because most of the Al Jazeera footage carried on U.S. newsies has featured Bin Laden or Al Qaeda statements. Americans don’t see the U.S. officials who appear on the news channel contradicting Al Qaeda.

“It’s a harmful image for us that’s totally wrong,’ Al-Mirazi.

Trying to get the upper hand in beaming its message to the Middle East and Afghanistan, the Bush administration has been lining up top White House officials to appear on Al Jazeera. On Tuesday, Al-Mirazi conducted a 30-minute interview with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. That followed Monday’s sit down with Rice.

Al-Mirazi has been pressing the White House for a one-on-one with President Bush. He says he hasn’t heard either way, but that he’s hopeful Bush will agree to the interview.

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