Television mostly in the dark looking for pictures of war

Tuesday, October 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Looking at a grainy, green and black picture with a light glowing in the distance from Afghanistan, CNN's Aaron Brown explained, ``It is not, obviously, a television war.''

That didn't stop CNN from showing the image repeatedly Monday, on the second night of American-led attacks. Rivals Fox News Channel and MSNBC used similar images much more sparingly.

Broadcast networks interrupted regular programming for several brief special reports Monday, but their coverage wasn't nearly as extensive as when the attacks were launched Sunday.

CNN's videophone image, taken from Taliban-controlled territory about 20 miles north of the Afghanistan capital of Kabul, was so omnipresent for about two hours midday Monday that it was like the pictures shown constantly on a security guard's monitor.

There was virtually nothing recognizable. On a handful of occasions, the screen erupted with brief flashes of light.

At one point, Brown seemed almost to apologize for it. ``This is the best shot we can get,'' he said.

``It is not, obviously, a television war,'' Brown said. ``It was not designed that way. It's never going to be and the last couple of days have made that pretty clear.''

NBC has three cameras equipped with night vision inside Afghanistan, said Erik Sorenson, vice president and general manager of MSNBC. The cable news network showed the green-screened pictures for several minutes, then backed away from their use.

Sorenson said he's a little frustrated as a television programmer that there are relatively few pictures from Afghanistan, but there's enough going on in Washington to keep everyone busy.

``We were told and warned for four weeks that we weren't going to see much of the military effort,'' he said, ``so it doesn't come as much of a surprise to our viewers and it doesn't come as much of a surprise to us.''

Fox News Channel occasionally showed pictures, taken from a satellite feed of the Qatar-based television network Al Jazeera, of tracer fire through the black skies of Afghanistan. Fox has night vision cameras en route to the scene but none available yet, said Sharri Berg, vice president of news operations.

She didn't think Fox News Channel viewers were missing much.

``You can leave up that picture that looks like the bottom of an aquarium all day,'' Berg said, ``but I don't know what that gets you.''

Without many pictures, television networks covered official briefings from Washington, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's daily presentation. They employed retired military officers to explain likely actions.

The Al Jazeera network sent several American networks a fax on Monday repeating that it had signed a deal with CNN giving the cable network exclusive rights to its pictures for six hours before other networks.

CNN's rivals ignored that arrangement on Sunday, using Al Jazeera's pictures from inside Afghanistan, particularly the videotaped message from Osama bin Laden.

Al Jazeera's managing director, Mohammed Jasim Al-Ali, said in the faxed letter that the other networks were guilty of an act of piracy. He said Al Jazeera made a decision to ``ignore it for one day only.''

Although lawyers for CNN contacted their counterparts at other networks about use of the Al Jazeera video on Monday, a CNN spokeswoman said the network was not enforcing the arrangement at this time.