Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mumbai terror longest covered news event on US networks since 9/11

New York, Nov 30 (IANS) The Mumbai horror was played big time in the US media but nowhere more so than on the 24-hour news network CNN, which had minute-by-minute updates on the most audacious strike by terrorists India has ever seen.

What may have begun as a result of a slow news week because of the Thanksgiving holidays starting Wednesday soon turned out to be virtually the sole focus of the network soon after the first hour of the crisis.

The network was quick to spot the potentially enormous implications of the unfolding events in the city.

For quite a few hours it had to depend upon its sister network CNN-IBN for the visuals of the frenzied goings on with holiday anchors stepping in to provide as broad a perspective as possible. For the first eight to 10 hours the sheer momentum of the story was driven by the seemingly random nature of gunfire by the terrorists.

But as it began to become clearer that the terrorists were working to a specific plan of singling out Westerners, mainly Americans and Britons, CNN latched on to the angle. Its experts began developing the perspective that what was different about these attacks, apart from the fact that they were not hit-and-run bombings, was that for the first time Americans were becoming a target in India.

While the story would have cornered significant airtime on its intrinsic importance, what kept the US media focused were the possibilities of American casualties. Another angle that was introduced later was how seriously the crisis may strain India-Pakistan relations and present the incoming President Barack Obama with his first foreign policy and national security challenge. The convergence of American casualties and impending challenge for Obama also seemed to kept the US media in thrall of the Mumbai attacks.

CNN International New Delhi correspondent Sara Sidner, who is normally not seen in CNN's US specific broadcast, became a household name reporting from close to Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel and getting into an occasionally hairy situation with frequent gunfire. While throughout Wednesday and Thursday CNN's preoccupation remained with the overall story, by Friday the deaths of American citizens ensured that they would stick with the story.

Overall, the Mumbai attacks, although not as large as some of the earlier ones in terms of the sheer fatalities, may have the distinction of the longest lasting news event on US networks after 9/11. While initially, it may have been more by default than design but soon enough American media realized how big the attacks were.

The New York Times appeared to be slow to get off the ground in the initial hours of the attacks but the paper soon started putting out detailed updates on its highly popular website. Interestingly, initially the paper even sought out contributions from Mumbai directly to its website in an acknowledgement of the interest in the goings on 10,000 miles away.

By Friday evening, CNN's terrorism expert Peter Bergen was already deeply immersed in analyzing the events to the extent of naming Dawood Ibrahim, a former Mumbai gangster who first went to Dubai and then to Pakistan creating a huge crime empire, as a possible lead player in the planning of the Mumbai attacks.

Overall, the US media, feeling somewhat lost in the aftermath of intensely acrimonious albeit hugely historic electioneering that elected Obama, found in the Mumbai attacks a riveting story that went on for nearly 60 hours.

Mumbai terror longest covered news event on US networks since 9/11
Newstrack India, India