Two cable networks take off the gloves

Fox, MSNBC spar over patriotism and correspondents

April 03, 2003|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

Never shying from a good brawl, Fox News Channel executives responded to a thinly veiled jab from MSNBC with an open attack against the cable rival.

Both channels had been embarrassed by prominent correspondents earlier this week. MSNBC and sister station NBC fired contributor Peter Arnett after he granted an interview to Iraqi state-controlled television in which he criticized U.S. strategy.

Meanwhile, Fox News withdrew Geraldo Rivera from Iraq after U.S. military officials said they would forcibly eject him for endangering the safety of the unit he was traveling with. Each station covered the other's transgressions thoroughly.

On Tuesday, an MSNBC promotion started with a flag and a pledge to provide "valuable, objective reporting." It continued, "We will not compromise military security or jeopardize a single American life. We take both duties seriously."

The ad followed MSNBC's coverage of the Rivera incident.

David Verdi, director of MSNBC's news desk, then angered Fox News by dismissing national assignment editor David Rhodes' efforts to have MSNBC alter its characterization of Rivera's departure from Iraq.

Fox News' response ran yesterday afternoon.

As footage of the Arnett interview on Iraqi television appeared, a Fox narrator said: "He spoke out against America's armed forces. He said America's war against terrorism had failed. He even vilified America's leadership. And he worked for MSNBC."

Then the narrator played off a recently adopted and discarded slogan for MSNBC: "Ask yourself - is this `America's News Channel'?"

MSNBC spokesman Jeremy Gaines said: "I find it outrageous that they would run this promo and continue to employ Geraldo Rivera."

Responded Fox News spokesman Robert Zimmerman, "They should be more concerned about being an embarrassment to GE than worrying about whom we employ."

MSNBC is a joint venture of General Electric, which owns NBC, and Microsoft. Under the leadership of Jeffrey Immelt, the new CEO of GE, MSNBC has sought to adopt some of the patriotic flair of Fox, the cable news ratings leader. But Fox News has, until now, tended to ignore MSNBC.

For more war-related television coverage, see Page 3D.

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