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Al Qaeda, all the time

CBS airs its tapes; Fox chides CNN over paying for play 8/25/2002 08:00:00 PM Eastern

CNN's purchase of its al Qaeda videotape collection last week made the ad pages of The New York Times,
courtesy of Fox News Channel, which took an ad chiding CNN for its confusion over whether—and how much—it paid for its collection of al Qaeda videos. Elsewhere, CBS weighed in with its own cache.

"CNN....Caught?" the Aug. 22 full-page ad proclaimed. The spread quotes a Times
story in which CNN correspondent Nic Robertson, who uncovered the tapes in Afghanistan, and CNN execs deny paying for them. Another quote highlights CNN's admission later that it paid $30,000.

(A full-page ad in The New York Times
business section runs about $90,000, triple what CNN paid for the tapes.)

Both CNN and CBS, which also has a collection of tapes, paid for their videos. CBS execs said they paid a standard fee to a photo agency that held the licensing rights to its tapes, but would not elaborate.

Blaming internal confusion, CNN explained that it paid a third party for the tapes but not Robertson's source. CNN Executive Vice President and General Manager Teya Ryan said neither Osama bin Laden nor his organization profited.

But the money story didn't go quietly. Paying for video, news execs said defensively, is a common practice. After Sept. 11, footage of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center commanded five figures.

But there remain concerns. "[Payments] color the relationship and may raise some concern about how 'free' and independent the information is," said Aly Colón, head of the ethics faculty at the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank.

These al Qaeda tapes were worth paying for, says TV news analyst Andrew Tyndall, because they provide a rare glimpse inside the organization. "When all you've had are blind comments from unnamed Pentagon or CIA officials," he said, "getting footage moves the story forward significantly."

The network recruited experts to analyze and translate the tapes. "We wanted to put it all in perspective," said CNN's Ryan. "Anything less would have been irresponsible."

Until the tapes went on-air, both networks thought they had scoops. CBS was planning a prime time special using its 35 tapes.

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