ABC News management told stations Tuesday of its new policy of no longer airing the video of the planes impacting the World Trade Center, the resulting fireball or the eventual collapse of the buildings.
Such footage had dominated the coverage of the tragedy on all the news outlets over the past week. Saying that gratuitous use of the footage is inappropriate, ABC News management said that still pictures should be used unless the video is "critical" to the piece. Management will review those instances on a case-by-case basis, the memo said.
The policy applies only to the network. ABC made the decision Monday and had just informed stations of the policy Tuesday. It has so far received a "limited but positive" response from them, according to a networks spokeswoman.
According to ABC officials, the decision to limit the images was made by ABC News President David Westin after discussions with members of his senior management team, in particular Kerry Marash, vice president of editorial practices. Marash argued that the constant replaying of the images would dilute their meaning and turn them into video "wall paper."
An ABC news official insisted that neither viewer feedback nor input from corporate higher ups (at ABC or parent Disney) had anything to do with the decision.
At NBC News, a spokeswoman said that the network does not have an official policy limiting use of the images but that news division producers understand they are to be used only if they are "germane" to the particular story they are producing. The first couple of days after the attack every network seemed to be using the images "over and over again. You won't see that now," she said. CBS News had a similar response. "There's no corporate edict," said a news official.
While ABC said that high level management would review any case where a producer wanted to use the images, NBC and CBS said show producers would make such decisions as they arise.
A CNN spokesman said the network will be using the footage "judiciously," but that the shots aren't leaving the air entirely. - John Eggerton & Steve McClellan