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NEW YORK – News organizations are defending airing the grim video of deposed Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s lifeless, bloodied body being kicked and dragged through the streets near his hometown of Sirte. The cell phone video was obtained by Qatar-based Al Jazeera on Thursday morning before widespread reports of Gadhafi’s death. And while U.S. news organizations were careful to note that Gadhafi’s death was not confirmed by NATO or the U.S. government, they quickly began airing the video, warning viewers that what they were about to see was disturbing.
A CNN spokesperson said the network’s editorial policy is to use graphic video “sparingly” and in this case “only to make the editorial point that Gadhafi appears dead.”
The video also carries an advisory on the CNN web site, where a black screen warns: “This report contains graphic content. Viewer discretion is advised.”
An NBC News statement also defended the network’s internal controls.
“We are reviewing everything that’s coming in and are not putting anything on the air that hasn’t been carefully screened,” the news division said in a statement. “We want to give our audience the most accurate reports possible without crossing a line into offensive or unnecessarily graphic material. We feel the footage that has aired meets those boundaries, and we’re constantly in touch with producers about what is and is not acceptable.”
Fox News anchors Jon Scott and Jenna Lee – who co-host the network’s Happening Now – warned viewers before each airing of the video. A Fox News spokesperson did not return an email seeking comment.
Coverage of the death of Gadhafi began early Thursday morning with unconfirmed reports that the reviled former dictator was injured and possibly captured. But without confirmation from the Pentagon or the State Department, U.S. news organizations stopped short of confirming the reports. Gadafi is believed to have survived a strike on his convoy near Sirte by French fighter jets and a Predator drone, a NATO official told CNN. Reports from Libya said that he then crawled into a large drainage pipe on the side of the road to hide and was pulled out and killed by rebel forces. By 8 a.m., network morning shows delivered updates that the Libyan leader was reported dead. At approximately 10:30 a.m. Eastern time, the Al Jazeera video surfaced. And hours later Libyan Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril told reporters in Tripoli that Gadhafi was dead.
ABC, CBS and NBC broke into regular afternoon programming to cover President Obama’s address from the White House Rose Garden, which began shortly after 2 p.m.
Addressing the Libyan people, Obama said: “You have won your revolution. One of the world’s longest-serving dictators is no more. The dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted.”
George Stephanopoulos anchored ABC’s report with Christiane Amanpour and Jake Tapper in Washington. Amanpour interviewed Gadhafi in February. On CBS, Bob Schieffer anchored with Norah O’Donnell reporting from Washington and David Martin at the Pentagon. Brian Williams anchored NBC’s special report with Richard Engel in New York and correspondent Adrienne Mong on the scene in Libya.
Appearing on CNN, Middle East expert Fouad Ajami, a Lebanese Shiite and scholar at Stanford University, lamented “it’s too bad” that such “despots” like Gadhafi, Benito Mussolini and Saddam Hussein “only die once.”
Ajami noted that Gadhafi’s many victims, including the Libyan people and the families of those killed on Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988, would apparently be deprived of the opportunity to see Gadhafi answer for his crimes in an international criminal court. But he concluded: “No tears need be shed for this man.”
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