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US TV avoids graphic Iraq images
Updated: 2004-04-01 10:57

Macabre images of four American contractors killed in Iraq filled television screens worldwide Wednesday but were largely shunned by American television that deemed them too graphic.

Network and cable newscasts planned judicious use of the video, which included images of the victims' charred bodies dragged through the street and two of them hanging from a bridge.

Tens of thousands or Iraqis pray after taking to the streets of Baghdad Wednesday March 31, 2004, to protest the U.S.-led coalition shut down of a weekly newspaper, Al-Hawza, run by followers of a hardline Shiite Muslim cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, saying its articles were increasing the threat of violence against coalition troops.  [AP]
"We've had similar discussions throughout the war" in how to handle such raw footage, said Steve Capus, executive producer of "NBC Nightly News."

In this case, it is "very disturbing, it's awful. Quite honestly, it doesn't need to be seen in full in order to convey the horrors of this despicable act," Capus said.

Fox News Channel planned to limit its images to shots of the burning vehicles in which the civilian contractors to the U.S. government had been riding and to shots of joyous crowds in Fallujah.

"We have no plans to show more graphic footage," said Bill Shine, Fox's vice president of production. "We made the call that it was too graphic in nature to put on our air."

Despite what competitors may do, "Right now, we're going to stay with the decision we made," Shine said.

What CNN anchorman Wolf Blitzer called "a day of horror," in which five U.S. soldiers also were killed, was largely described rather then seen on the cable news channel.

But CNN, which said it initially limited images to give authorities time to inform next of kin, ventured further on its 7 p.m. broadcast, "Anderson Cooper 360."

"There is much more we will not show, but we believe some images are necessary to fully illustrate the extent of the violence," CNN correspondent Walter Rodgers said from Iraq.

A few seconds of video of two burned bodies dangling from the bridge were shown, preceded by a viewer discretion advisory.

CBS had planned to use some of the graphic footage on its "Evening News," according to executive producer Jim Murphy, but decided against it by airtime. Anchor Dan Rather signed on by saying the images were too gruesome even for grown-up eyes.

Coverage of the Iraq story largely gave way Wednesday afternoon on the cable channels to a domestic story: The discovery of missing Wisconsin college student Audrey Seiler.

Both the Pentagon and the White House said they did not ask any media outlets to suppress use of the Fallujah video.

"It is offensive, it is despicable the way these individuals have been treated," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. "We hope everybody acts responsibly in their coverage of it."

At the Pentagon, Bryan Whitman, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, said neither he nor the top spokesman, Larry Di Rita, were involved in network decisions.

"It's not the practice of the Pentagon. The Pentagon did not advise the networks as to whether or not they should show gruesome footage," Whitman said. "The Pentagon would hope that news managers and news organizations would exercise good judgment when making decisions with respect to graphic images of casualties."

In other countries viewers got a very different picture, sometimes edited, sometimes not.

In London, Channel 4 News broadcast an electronically blurred body being dragged through the street and the longer shot of burned and mutilated corpses hanging from the bridge, without obscuring them.

Sky News television repeatedly showed an edited version of the footage, lasting about 15 seconds. As the voiceover referred to scenes of "bloodthirsty brutality" and a "grisly celebration," Sky showed about 15 seconds of the corpses, with the bodies blurred, being dragged through the street.

In Paris, LCI television station showed the footage of the bodies being dragged down the street and hanging from the bridge, without blurring them.

In Germany, ZDF News showed video of the burning SUV and rioting crowds, with a somber voiceover saying what had happened to the contractors, but did not show any pictures of bodies. They also showed video of a U.S. Humvee on its side with an Iraqi grabbing something out of the top, but again no bodies.

The Web site of Spanish television station Telecinco is showing the video of corpses being dragged through the streets in Iraq.

Eight photographs of the Fallujah attack were transmitted by The Associated Press with an advisory to editors to "Note graphic content." An AP photo of the bridge scene with two bodies was used on the Web site of The New York Times, with a "Graphic content" advisory attached to other photos on the site.

AP Television News footage of the attacks, including the bodies on the bridge and a glimpse of a burned corpse, was carried on news Web sites including the Times and The Washington Post.

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