Cable news would show Clinton video in entirety Wary broadcast networks, loath to commit 4 hours, likely to air edited tapes

September 18, 1998|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Anyone who can't wait to see the unexpurgated Bill Clinton better be wired for cable.

If, as expected, Congress releases the videotaped grand jury testimony of President Clinton, the cable networks CNN, Court TV, Fox News and MSNBC plan to air the entire tape, getting it on the air as quickly as possible.

Granting that the tapes may contain graphic language, officials of the cable stations say they don't want to be in a position of censoring what Congress thinks the American public should be able to see and hear.

"If the House Judiciary Committee votes to release it in its entirety, CNN plans to air it in its entirety," said CNN spokesman Steve Haworth. "If the House Judiciary Committee votes to release the entire tape to the public, then if we edit and censor that which is released, then we become part of the story. It's the House that's deciding the American public should see the whole tape, not CNN."

MSNBC spokesman Cory Shields agreed. "We grappled with the airing of the tapes, just as Congress is grappling with releasing the tapes. The bottom line is, the House Judiciary Committee approved this for public broadcast."

"It is, after all, the president in his own words, and his version of the truth," added John Moody, vice president of news editorial for Fox News.

News divisions at ABC, CBS and NBC plan to air selected parts of the Clinton tapes. While officials at the three networks plan to interrupt regular programming to announce that the tapes have become available, they also plan to avoid putting anything on the air until it can be screened for content.

"We really think it's important for us to review the material before we air it," said ABC spokeswoman Eileen Murphy.

"We're going to be very tasteful and very restrained when it comes to this," said CBS spokeswoman Kim Akhtar.

The broadcast networks are loath to commit a four-hour block of programming to something few people are going to watch in its entirety. And network officials know many newspapers received negative reaction when independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's report, sexual language and all, was printed verbatim.

The cable networks, however, depend on news for their existence. And with CNN, MSNBC and Fox News locked in a high-stakes battle for ratings -- and reputation -- supremacy, none is willing to censor or abridge what the competition plans to air completely.

As did many of their newsprint counterparts, the TV decision-makers hope viewers will be familiar enough with the tapes' content to avoid being surprised.

"There's a chance that some viewers will find parts of it offensive," acknowledged Fox News' Moody. "We hope that those with some idea of what this story is about know it's in part about sex, [including] certain sexual acts that we probably never thought were going to be on the air."

The broadcast and cable networks plan to run a warning that the tapes contain potentially offensive language.

CNBC, which concentrates on financial news, plans to air updates of the tapes' contents every 15 minutes and will closely monitor any effect they might have on the stock market. C-SPAN plans to air the tapes, unedited, but some time after their release.

Locally, news directors said they plan to choose carefully which excerpts from the tapes will appear on their newscasts.

"We'll evaluate it just like we would do any other piece of tape," said Princell Hair, news director of WBAL, Channel 11. "We're not going to air the most salacious parts. You have a lot of kids, a lot of people watching. We certainly want to be responsible. You can tell the story and present the information without every sordid detail."

WMAR might air the tapes in their entirety, said Steve Gigliotti, vice president and general manager of WMAR, Channel 2.

"We won't put it on the air without looking at it first," he said. "We have children watching, and some of this material has the potential to be affronting or not appropriate for children."

Pub Date: 9/18/98

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