NETWORKS Cover McVeigh Differently

Monday, May 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Katie Couric and her former morning television partner, Bryant Gumbel, will both be on location next week covering the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

But they have no chance of running into each other.

Couric, the ``Today'' show host, will be stationed in Oklahoma City, where McVeigh's bomb killed 168 people six years ago. CBS ``Early Show'' host Gumbel will be in Terre Haute, Ind., where McVeigh is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection.

The biggest question for TV networks planning their McVeigh coverage has simply been where to deploy most of their resources _ in the city where his victims lived or the city where he draws his last breath.

Potentially stickier issues were taken out of their hands. Networks won't be able to show the execution, although 300 victims and relatives will watch via closed circuit television under extremely tight security. Restrictions on access to McVeigh in the weeks before his death mean networks likely won't face attacks for giving too much weight to his words.

McVeigh's May 16 execution is scheduled for 8 a.m. EDT _ in the midst of network morning news programs for most of the nation.

ABC, in deciding to send ``Good Morning America'' anchor Charles Gibson to Oklahoma City, said it wanted to send a message by spending more time with the ``heroes'' of the story _ the victims _ than with the villain.

``To put the anchor in another city than where the event is seems a bit out of whack,'' said Marcy McGinnis, vice president of news coverage for CBS. Some critics have suggested ABC should be worried about covering the news rather than sending a message.

CBS believes the story is in Terre Haute, McGinnis said. All networks will station personnel in each city.

``I guess people are certainly entitled to their cynicism,'' said ABC spokesman Jeffrey Schneider. ``This decision was not made with any cynicism at all. It was based on how we wanted to cover the story.''

NBC's decision to deploy Couric in Oklahoma is not being done to make a political point, but because there is more material there, said Bill Wheatley, vice president of NBC News.

``That's where the bombing happened,'' he said. ``That's where the families will be. There will be an opportunity to talk to a lot of people there. The coverage in Terre Haute will be quite restricted in terms of where we will be permitted to broadcast.''

Some of the victims' families will be in Indiana, but most will be in Oklahoma. Television will have no visual to mark the moment of death; it will have to run descriptions of the scene later based upon interviews from witnesses.

``We're going to try to put together a very complex picture of the event,'' said Catherine Crier, Court TV anchor, who will be based in Terre Haute for three days. ``We certainly won't be staring at a blank (prison) wall.''

CNN's Bill Hemmer will anchor the cable network's coverage from Terre Haute, joined by legal analyst Greta Van Susteren. Fox News Channel will also be Indiana-based, with hosts Shepard Smith and John Gibson.

MSNBC is splitting things down the middle. One host of its morning show, Gregg Jarrett, will be in Terre Haute and his partner, Chris Jansing, will be in Oklahoma City. Anchor Brian Williams will stay in the network's New Jersey studio.

Only two spaces to witness the execution have been alloted to reporters from the six national networks covering the event. The networks will likely draw lots or flip coins to see who gets in.

McVeigh has not been permitted to grant any interviews for broadcast on television or radio. Three days before the execution, CBS' ''60 Minutes'' is rebroadcasting an interview with McVeigh that was conducted by Ed Bradley in March 2000.

Several networks say they will use the coverage as an opportunity to examine controversies about the death penalty.

For now, the broadcast networks say they don't expect to extend coverage beyond the scheduled ends of their morning shows. Cable networks will spend more time on the story.