Nets toss Rice wall-to-wall

ABC, NBC plan to carry testimony in full

All the broadcast news networks will preempt regular programming Thursday to carry live coverage of national security adviser Condoleezza Rice’s appearance before the 9/11 Commission, giving her testimony the sort of national attention not seen since the Clinton impeachment hearings in 1998.

In recent times, news nets have limited preemptions to mega-news events such as those related to the Iraq war, presidential addresses and disasters. Otherwise, broadcast news divisions have left it to cable news nets to provide wall-to-wall coverage of unfolding stories.

Decision to air Rice’s testimony live — complete with NBC News’ Tom Brokaw, ABC News’ Peter Jennings and CBS News’ Dan Rather anchoring and plenty of analysis — underscores the escalating debate over what the Bush administration knew in the weeks leading up to 9/11.

Rice, who is set to begin testifying at 9 a.m. ET, balked at publicly testifying before the 9/11 Commission, with the White House repeatedly saying it wouldn’t be appropriate. The Bush administration reversed itself, however, after Rice was roundly criticized for appearing on CBS News’ “60 Minutes” and other news shows while at the same time declining the commission’s invitation.

B’casters’ plans

ABC and NBC plan on carrying Rice’s testimony in full, with Washington insiders expecting her testimony to last three hours.

CBS says it intends to cover a large portion of Rice’s testimony, but that it may break away if warranted and resume normally scheduled programming.

Cable news nets CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC intend to carry coverage of Rice’s testimony as well, with special news editions planned, headed up by top political anchors.

Fox News said it would offer a feed of its live coverage of Thursday morning’s session to Fox Television broadcast stations.

At ABC News, Jennings will anchor coverage from Washington, where he will be joined by colleagues George Stephanopoulos, White House correspondent Terry Moran, Capitol Hill correspondent Linda Douglas and Justice Dept. correspondent Pierre Thomas.

‘An important step’

“This is something that the whole country has been paying attention to. It is an important step in the process,” an Alphabet news exec said.

Rather will lead CBS News’ live coverage from New York, with input from the Eye’s Washington correspondents and political analysts.

Brokaw also will anchor from NBC News’ headquarters in Gotham, where he will be joined by NBC political analyst and Washington bureau chief Tim Russert. Commentary will be provided by White House correspondent David Gregory, chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell, Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski and Baghdad correspondent Richard Engel.

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