Criticism Over American Networks' Late Arrival to Libya Coverage

Everyone was wondering why MSNBC, CNN, and Fox didn't broadcast from Tripoli sooner

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The Libyan rebels storming Tripoli is one of this summer's biggest stories, but a lot of people are wondering why American networks didn't treat it with more urgency. Al-Jazeera lead the way with live coverage of the developments streaming online and on TV for much of the day. The image of Al-Jazeera reporter Zeina Khodr wearing a helmet and flak jacket, yelling her updates over the sound of gunfire in Green Square contrasts starkly with those offered by CNN, Fox News and MSNBC early Sunday evening. "Tripoli is falling and CNN, Fox and MSNBC got nuttin'," tweeted Slate's Jack Shafer around 5:30. He followed up a few minutes later with this snapshot, "CNN: Casey Anthony' Fox: Fox rolling old tape of Libya. MSNBC: Moldy documentary."

The slow arrival of American networks highlights Al-Jazeera superior coverage of the Middle East and North African uprisings, previously praised by media figures and Hillary Clinton alike. While they jumped in with a live feed from Libya not too long after Shafer's tweet, CNN couldn't compete with Al-Jazeera's access. David Zurawik at The Baltimore Sun sings its praises:

Visually, nothing could compete with al-Jazeera, which was once again outstanding with its ground-level, in-the-middle-of-the-action images of the march into Tripoli Sunday night. Correspondent Zeina Khodr was so close to the action she was literally jostled by the rebel soldiers as they surged into Green Square. Her report was the first I heard of the rebels re-naming it Martyrs' Square.

Al-Jazeera's reporting was impressive as well, with Gaddafi's eldest son confirming on the phone to the cable channel that he was under arrest early Sunday night.

As Khodr was brushing shoulders with the rebels, CNN's correspondent Matthew Chance was reporting form inside of the Rixos hotel--apparently, conditions outside were too dangerous as the area around the hotel remained in government control during the early part of the rebel invasion--and Sara Sidner was on her way into Tripoli. (Sidner phoned in her first on-the-ground report around 9:30 p.m.) Fox News depended on a live stream from their British cousin Sky TV who also had a reporter on the ground. The other networks were even farther from the action, reports TV Newser:

On the broadcast evening newscasts, only NBC News had their own correspondent in Tripoli. Richard Engel appeared live with a group of Libyan rebels, some of whom walked up to 15 miles to the capital earlier today. CBS News used a reporter from Sky News and ABC had a phoner from a BBC reporter while ABC’s Jeffrey Kofman reported from the Tunisia/Libya border.

The dangerous conditions and various locations of reporters can explain why some networks arrived late to the scene. "One note about the criticism of U.S. cable news nets for their lack of Libya covg: consumers SHOULD expect the best from news media," tweeted New York Times media reporter Brian Stelter. "They should hold media accountable. But: lack of live covg may be partly due to exceedingly dangerous conditions in Tripoli."

However, MSNBC's sticking to their regularly scheduled program didn't win them much sympathy. Having already attracted attention from watchdog organizations for not being aggressive enough with its Libya coverage earlier this year, the network was the last to switch to live coverage. "MSNBC has moved from 'Body Snatchers of New York' to a three hour block of 'Caught on Camera' rather than live Libya coverage," tweeted Hunter Walker from The Daily. "What a shame," wrote Zurawik.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.