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N.Y. Returns to Work, Networks Stay Course

New York— Less than a mile from what's called ground zero, Fox News Channel producer Ann Woolsey pulled a gas mask over her face and glanced at an assignment schedule on Wall Street last Monday.

Sitting next to Woolsey were producers for ABC, CBS and NBC. Staring into a CBS camera was NBC reporter Anne Thompson, preparing to give a report for Today
— which competes with both FNC and CBS.

The news networks agreed to pool their resources last Monday to cover the reopening of the New York Stock Exchange, in order to reduce the number of news trucks on the street — making it easier for police — and to cut back on costs.

Reporters from the news networks took turns reporting live shots detailing the plummeting market, and the producers — some working 15-hour shifts — kept their network's place in line, coping with smoke and acidic air that burned their throats and eyes.

But no one complained. "The rescue workers are doing so much more. To work a 14-hour shift is no feat compared to what they are doing," Woolsey said.

An ABC producer, explaining that she was on "standby," kept checking for messages from the office. "I'm not sure if he [the reporter] is going to show up," said the producer, who declined to give her name.

As Wall Street went back to work, many of the news networks returned to a somewhat regular schedule. After running commercial-free programming and losing millions of dollars in revenue during the first week of coverage, advertising returned to the news networks last weekend.

COVERAGE CHANGES

As Cable News Network, FNC and MSNBC continued to deploy additional teams to Europe, the Middle East and Western Asia, they covered the story on several fronts: the search and recovery effort in New York and Washington; the domestic and international hunt for the terrorists; the financial crisis sparked by the attacks; the emotional toll; and the patriotic response of Americans to the attacks.

CNN correspondent Nic Robertson and two members of his production team fled Afghanistan after they received threats from the Taliban, the country's ruling military body, network officials said Wednesday.

"The Taliban said, 'If you stay and bombs began to fall on Afghanistan, they would be dismembered,' " said CNN newsgathering president Eason Jordan. Five CNN personnel remain in Afghanistan, including some staffers based in rebel-held territory 50 miles north of the capital, Kabul, he added.

FNC vice president of news gathering John Stack said the network deployed a second team to Pakistan last week, and one of its teams had applied to enter Afghanistan.

MSNBC deployed teams to various U.S. military bases, Israel, Pakistan, the Saudi Arabian Peninsula "and other locations in the Mideast that I am not at the liberty to divulge," president Erik Sorenson said.

But unlike the Persian Gulf War, when networks captured video of much of the U.S. air and ground assault, it's not clear how much of "America's New War" — as CNN has labeled its coverage — will be televised.

"Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen," President Bush said in his address to the nation Thursday night. "It may include dramatic strikes visible on TV and covert operations secret even in success."

The first week of coverage saw the networks run repeated shots of airliners crashing into the World Trade Center. But ABC banned its producers from running the footage last week, and CNN, FNC and MSNBC cut back on the number of times they showed the disturbing video.

"Since late last week, our policy has been unless it is directly relevant to the report, we will not show pictures of the planes hitting the building, the buildings collapsing or certainly any of the difficult video," MSNBC's Sorenson said.

PATRIOTISM ON DISPLAY

Patriotism has swept the U.S. since the attacks, and the networks' coverage also reflected that. CNN and FNC ran a constant graphic of billowing American flags on the corner of their screens. MSNBC ran a red, white and blue logo with ribbons and stars.

Flag-waving sparked controversies at some news outlets, including Cablevision Systems Corp.'s News 12 Long Island regional news channel. News 12 general manager Pat Dolan sent out a memo last week banning flags from video of his newsroom, drawing the ire of his brother, Cablevision CEO Jim Dolan.

"News 12 has determined that its independence of judgment could be thought to be compromised by the appearance of flags on display in the newsroom. Though we may disagree with this judgment, we stand firmly by the importance of our news division in making its own decisions about the content of its newscasts," Jim Dolan said in a prepared statement, adding that Cablevision would distribute flags to each of its 24,000 employees.

Pat Dolan made an on-air apology for the move and clarified his position in a prepared statement.

"We are patriots at News 12, but we don't want anyone to get the false impression that our patriotic emotions cloud our reporting of the truth," he said.

CNN executive vice president Sid Bedingfield defended the use of flags, noting that the network has run graphics that used the flags of other nations in the past, such as an Israeli flag for stories on that country.

As the New York Stock Exchange and the NASDAQ Stock Market posted their biggest one-week losses ever, some anchors also debated whether it was unpatriotic for their viewers to sell stock.

The O'Reilly Factor
host Bill O'Reilly told FNC viewers it was unpatriotic to sell, while CNN's Lou Dobbs insisted that viewers should use their own judgment.

"I was a little disturbed by a number of people who suggested that out of patriotism, people buy stocks today," Dobbs said in an interview as he walked down Wall Street last Monday. "I could make the argument — out of patriotism, one should not sell them. But the truth is that these markets work because they are markets of free choice."

Coverage of the terrorist attacks is taking a financial toll on the news networks, both in terms of lost ad revenue from the first week and the expense of deploying production teams to cover the widening story both domestically and internationally.

FNC vice president of Eastern ad sales Roger Domal estimated that each of the cable news networks lost $1 million per day from not running ads during the first week of coverage. The broadcast networks lost $1 million per hour in the daytime and $2 million per hour in primetime, he added.

"We look at it from the standpoint that we're providing a service," Domal said. "Obviously, it is a financial impact to us, but at the same time we know it's our job to provide the pictures and the story to the American people, and hopefully over the next few weeks we'll be able to replace that money."

CNBC CEO Pamela Thomas-Graham said many of the network's advertisers returned, though some wanted to change the content of their ads.

"Some told us very clearly that they did not feel comfortable being on the air, or they did not feel comfortable with existing creatives," Thomas-Graham said. "But we did have some advertisers that felt comfortable, and we looked closely at their creative to make sure we weren't doing anything inappropriate."

CNN's Jordan said expenses weren't an issue. "Money really is not a concern right now. We're spending what has to be spent to cover the story better than anyone else," he said.

Like many other U.S. businesses, the news networks offered counseling services to their employees last week. Sorenson said MSNBC also set up a quiet room in its Secaucus, N.J. headquarters, with no television monitors or fluorescent lights.

"The audience can step away, but we're stuck with this catastrophe, this horror, eight, 12, 16 hours a day," he noted.

It's more difficult for reporters and producers reporting from New York and Washington to step back from the images.

"Emotionally it's been really tough," said FNC producer Ruth Rabbe, who drove from the network's Chicago bureau to New York on Sept.12 to cover the story. "I've been on all kinds of disasters — tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, floods, and those are very sad occasions for people. But this is worse. This time I'm finding myself in tears listening to people's stories."

RATINGS DROP SLIGHTLY

CNN continues to lead the all-news networks in the Nielsens, but ratings have dipped for all of the news networks since the Sept. 11 attacks. FNC and MSNBC narrowed CNN's lead last week.

On Sept. 11, CNN posted a 5.9 Nielsen Media research rating in primetime, followed by FNC (3.7 rating), MSNBC (2.6), Headline News (2.0) and CNBC (1.3 rating).

Last Wednesday, CNN pulled a 2.8 rating in primetime, followed by FNC (2.2 rating), MSNBC (1.2), CNBC (1.3), CNBC (0.8) and Headline News (0.7).