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Feb 11, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Fox News runs complete ‘bin Laden’ tape

Fox News Channel broke with tradition today when it telecast an audiotape purporting to be a new message from Osama bin Laden in its entirety at the same time it was being carried for the first time on Al-Jazeera, the Arabic satellite network. On the 16-minute tape, thought to be in the voice of bin Laden, Iraqis were urged to carry out suicide attacks against American citizens, were reminded of “the importance of martyrdom operations” and were urged to prepare to fight off American troops.

In the past, the Bush administration has urged U.S. news networks to air messages thought to be from bin Laden only in pieces and only after they had been translated and edited to reduce the potential for propaganda. Both CNN and MSNBC did that today. Both said they would continue to air only highlights. Fox broke from the pattern shortly after Secretary of State Colin Powell told a Senate panel that he had read a transcript of the statement said to be from bin Laden and that it connected Iraq to bin Laden’s al Qaeda organization — a link that many feel the Bush administration has not made conclusively as it prepares for a war on Iraq.

The tape shows “how [bin Laden] is in partnership with Iraq,” Mr. Powell said. Fox News Channel’s decision to air it in its entirety once again raised questions at other news organizations about the network’s political motivations. While some argued that Fox was helping the administration make its case for war, others argued that Powell’s statement lent additional news value to the tape. A spokesman for Fox News would not respond to Electronic Media’s questions about why it ran the tape without delay and at full length.

Fox to air Michael Jackson rebuttal: A videotape Michael Jackson made during his extensive interviews with British interviewer Martin Bashir is scheduled to air on Fox Broadcasting Feb. 20. The two-hour special’s working title is “Michael Jackson, Take Two: The Interview They Wouldn’t Show You.”

The special, being packaged by Fox Entertainment, is expected to include material from an interview with Debbie Rowe, the former wife who bore Mr. Jackson’s two elder children and who came to his defense after the Bashir-Granada interview aired last week on ABC and attracted more than 25 million viewers. The Fox deal also is said to secure Mr. Jackson’s tape for use on Fox News Channel.

New 24-hour news channel for African Americans: A new 24-7 cable news channel targeting African American viewers is on its way, and its prominent African American backers promise that MBC News will bring a new “urban” voice to the cable news wars.

Like its parent network, 4-year-old Atlanta-based Major Broadcasting Cable Network, the new news network, which is expected to launch by the end of the year or early 2004, will focus on family-friendly programming that brings its viewers a positive message about urban America.

MBC News will be a “voice for the voiceless,” said Willie Gary, the prominent trial attorney who is MBC’s CEO and chairman. In addition to covering crime, it will cover minority honor-roll students, he said, adding that the new network will “focus on the kind of news that will enhance the images of African Americans.”The parent network is available in more than 24 million homes in 48 states, and the new cable-news network will draw on the parent network’s distribution and its relationships with multiple system cable operators to gain and expand its own carriage, Mr. Gary said. He told ELECTRONIC MEDIA that he expects the new network to launch with “at least” six million homes. “Our job is to get the advertisers,” he said, and to build out the news network’s distribution.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson was among the African-American political and cultural leaders flanking Mr. Gary at the MBC News launch announcement, made Feb. 11 in Manhattan. He observed that there were no black or brown faces among the TV news commentators and analysts who weighed in after the President’s recent State of the Union speech. It was a “whiteout,” Rev. Jackson said. “It’s time to take the cultural blinders off.”

Asked how much the news channel launch would cost, Mr. Gary replied, a “whole lot of money … millions and millions.”

Asked if he was at all daunted by the formidable odds, Mr. Gary replied that he had been “climbing the rough side of the mountain” all his life.

Parsons: Reality TV is just a fad: Others may tout the transformative impact of the red-hot reality genre on the way the television industry will do its programming business in the future, but as far as Richard Parsons, the CEO and chairman-elect of AOL Time Warner, is concerned, reality TV is simply a passing fad.

“Anytime anybody tells you something is transforming, duck,” Mr. Parsons deadpanned to a lunch-hour audience of cable and advertising executives at the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau’s advertising conference today in Manhattan. The audience, of course, laughed uproariously at the reference to the 2001 merger between America Online and Time Warner that itself had once been touted as “transformative.”

Already the reality genre is scraping the bottom of the barrel for new ideas, he said. His own favorite recent pitch, Mr. Parsons said, tongue firmly in cheek: “Who Will Marry Hans Blix?”

As for the company’s current difficulties, they remind Mr. Parsons of a Beatles song lyric: “Yesterday my troubles seemed so far away,” he said. “Now it looks as if they’re here to stay.” To which the conference audience laughed and applauded.

Michaels re-ups with ABC: Sportscaster Al Michaels has signed a new multiyear contract that is expected to keep him at ABC at least through the end of the network’s “Monday Night Football” contract at the close of the 2005-06 season. Mr. Michaels has been in the “MNF” booth for 17 seasons. The network said that during his 26 years at ABC, he has logged a total of 1,723 hours in prime time, 918 of them with “MNF.”

Barnes takes Hearst-Argyle D.C. post: Peter Barnes will become Hearst-Argyle Television’s Washington bureau chief March 3. Mr. Barnes, who fills the spot left open when Gary Griffith retired in December, has worked at TechTV, JAGfn.com, CNBC and ABC News as well as in local TV news and for newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal.

Willow Bay to leave CNN: CNN and Willow Bay, who lost her “Moneyline” anchor spot to the return of Lou Dobbs and her “Pinnacle” duties to weekend lineup changes, have made it official: She will be leaving the all-news network when her contract expires in a few weeks.

Olbermann back in NBC family saddle: Thanks to a contract to anchor numerous hours of 2004 Olympics coverage on cable each day and a separate deal to fill in for three days this week as the host of “Nachman” on MSNBC, Keith Olbermann is back in the NBC family he left in a wave of vituperative headlines in 1998.

Mr. Olbermann alluded to his hopscotch job history as he and NBC Sports and Olympics Chairman Dick Ebersol opened what Mr. Olbermann called “the semiannual ‘Keith Olbermann gets a new job’ conference call.”

“Now I get a second chance, and there’s not much more you can ask for but that,” said the sportscaster and commentator, who since 1980 has become as well known for landing and leaving dream jobs as he is for his way with words. Mr. Ebersol said he had been “dogging” Mr. Olbermann to come back since before the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and said he tried to salvage the NBC Sports baseball element of Mr. Olbermann’s contract that was ripped up after he publicly balked at focusing on the Monica Lewinsky scandal on “The Big Show,” the news program he hosted on MSNBC in 1997 and 1998.

Mr. Ebersol, who already has announced that Bob Costas will be back in 2004 as the prime-time NBC host for Athens Olympics coverage, said negotiations are under way for Jim Lampley to host network coverage and for Pat O’Brien to host some cable coverage.

Mr. Ebersol recently sketched out plans for 8061/2 hours of Athens coverage carried on NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo and Bravo on a schedule that will allow for Olympics telecasts 24 hours a day.

CNBC, Westwood
One join for ‘Business Reports’: Westwood One and CBNC will launch “CNBC Radio Business Reports” on March 31. The project will present 18 hourly one-minute business reports on weekdays and 10 recaps or previews for weekend use. Subscribers also will have the opportunity to use excerpts from CNBC interviews and to simulcast opening-bell and closing-bell market reports under the deal, which is thought to be for three years.

ABC continues its Monday free fall: ABC’s Monday night drama lineup fell to its lowest numbers yet, averaging a 2.4 rating and 6 share among adults 18 to 49 and 6.8 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate data. “The Practice,” which had been winning its Sunday 10 p.m. time slot before it moved to Mondays, also fell to its lowest numbers yet, with a 2.4/5 in the demo and 7.7 million viewers.

Two weeks earlier, in its first week with the lineup of “Veritas,” “The Practice” and “Miracles,” ABC scored a 3.2/8 in the demo and 8.9 million viewers for the night. Those numbers fell to 2.8/7 and 7.7 million viewers the following week.The penultimate episode of Fox’s “Joe Millionaire” was the highest-rated show Monday night, with a 12.9/28 in adults 18 to 49 and 23.9 million viewers. That gave “Millionaire” its best ratings ever in adults 18 to 49 and total viewers and gave Fox its best numbers ever in both categories in the 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. Monday time slot and its highest-rated Monday night in the demo in seven years.Fox won the night in adults 18 to 49 by a huge margin with an 8.6/20, ahead of second-place NBC and CBS, which tied at 5.4/13. NBC got a boost from a couples edition of “Fear Factor” at 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., which won the hour in adults 18 to 49 with a 7.7/19. CBS had a strong performance from “CSI: Miami” at 10 p.m. to 11 p.m with a winning 6.5/16 in the demo.

In total viewers, Fox won the night with 16.8 million, followed by CBS (15.8 million), NBC (13.4 million) and ABC (6.8 million).#