CNN ends up with “much egg on its face”
By Khalid Hasan
Washington: After according saturation-type coverage to the al-Zawahiri story most of the day Thursday, CNN, realising it had raised worldwide expectations of the imminent capture or death of Osama bin Laden’s deputy, suddenly dropped the story Friday.
“There should be many red faces at CNN which calls itself the ‘world’s news leader’ today because of what it did Thursday,” said a New York-based South Asian journalist who like millions of people across the world stayed glued to his television set most of the day, waiting for the drama to come to an end.
The excitement began because of an interview President Pervez Musharraf had granted to visiting CNN anchor, Aaron Brown. The President told him in answer to a question about the military operation in progress in South Waziristan that the resistance being offered by the besieged militants suggested that they might be defending a “high-value target” who had “very likely” been surrounded. He said the fierce resistance being experienced led him to believe that it was a senior al-Qaeda leader. “Who, I don’t know,” he added.
Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, Pakistan’s chief military spokesman, said he could not confirm that Ayman al-Zawahiri was the leader who had been surrounded. “We don’t know,” he said. “No one from Pakistan government has given this name.” An American counterterrorism official said in Washington, “They believe they have cornered a high-value target, but no one can be certain at this point.”
However, CNN, taking its cue from the President’s carefully-worded remarks, “ran with the bit in its mouth and kept running until late into the night,” as the New York-based journalist put it. The principal reason CNN went over the top with the al-Zawahiri story was the presence of its anchor Aaron Brown in Pakistan, who had actually arrived to cover US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s visit. It is the practice at American television networks that if one of their high-profile stars arrives in a country, they consider that arrival by itself newsworthy and deserving of extensive coverage. Top news anchors like Aaron Brown are expected to file a major story wherever they go. Therefore, when President Musharraf told the American TV news anchor what he told him about the South Waziristan operation, CNN decided that it had a world exclusive and it night be the first to report the biggest story since the capture of Saddam Hussein.
CNN has actually ended up with a lot of egg on its face and shown the immaturity and lack of professionalism of its news managers. On Friday morning, its top news executives decided that the al-Zawahiri story had to be downgraded. Other networks showed more maturity than exhibited by CNN. They took due note of the story but did not go over the top as CNN had.