Bhutto Killing Shakes Nets

Christmas vacation ended
early for several anchors at CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC, as they scrambled to cover the assassination of leading Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto Thursday.

For some on-air talent that had interviewed Bhutto in recent months, the story became personal.

CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer revealed Thursday afternoon that he had received an e-mail message written by Bhutto in October, which was forwarded to Blitzer by Mark Siegel, one of Bhutto's aides.

The e-mail warned of lax security for the former Pakistan prime minister. But Blitzer decided to sit on the scoop after he was asked by Siegel not to reveal the contents of the e-mail unless Bhutto was killed.

“Nothing will, God willing, happen. Just wanted you to know, if it does, in addition to the names in my letter to [Pakistan president Pervez] Musharraf of Oct. 16, I would hold Musharraf responsible,” Bhutto wrote in the e-mail. “I have been made to feel insecure by his minions. And there is no way what is happening, in terms of stopping me from taking private cars or using tinted windows or giving jammers or four police mobiles to cover all sides, could happen without him.”

Blitzer told viewers Thursday: “At Bhutto's request, Mark Siegel forwarded that e-mail to me the day he received it, back on October 26. But he told me I could not report on it unless Bhutto was killed.”

The Bhutto assassination caught the all-news networks off-guard, on a week when many of its anchors and reporters were on vacation.

MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann cut his vacation short to deliver a live broadcast of Countdown Thursday night.

Fox News Channel anchor Bill O'Reilly, who goes head to head against Olbermann in the 8 p.m. slot, also cut his vacation short, as did Fox's Greta Van Susteren and Shepard Smith.

Van Susteren hosted her show Thursday from Tampa, Fla, where she was vacationing, and Smith shot his program from Memphis, Tenn., since he couldn't make it back in time to New York from his vacation.

Fox focused a good chunk of its coverage Thursday to reaction from presidential candidates, running interviews with Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, John McCain and Fred Thompson, and broadcasting comments from Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.

The network cut live into its overnight programming at 4:48 a.m. Friday to cover the funeral procession for Bhutto.

CNN said it was the first network to report news Thursday of the attack at the Bhutto rally in Pakistan, with CNN producer Moshin Naqvi at the scene of the rally. The network has more than 20 correspondents and staffers deployed in Pakistan.

BBC America ran a news special featuring an interview anchor Matt Frei did with Bhutto in September, in which she declared: “I'm not a threat to anybody who's a democrat. I'm a threat to the extremists.”

Affected networks said ratings information would not be available until after press time on Friday.