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Nets decide coverage should be as bloodless as possible

TV coverage this morning (Thursday) focused on efforts to recover bodies, posing delicate problems for news producers. MSNBC president Erik Sorenson told today’s New York Times that he made a decision early on to try to avoid airing horrifying pictures of body parts and gore, although he was at odds with some producers who argued that it was not the network’s place to shield viewers from the horror of what had occurred.

Appearing on ABC’s Good Morning America this morning, Mayor Giuliani said that he had ordered 30,000 body bags be brought to the site, explaining uncomfortably that separate bags had to be used when parts of bodies were found.

The grisly discussions about the recovery efforts soon took on a morbid air. Some viewers complained that they showed a lack of respect to grieving relatives and friends of the victims. Although newspapers published pictures of people falling from buildings, such shots rarely appeared on TV. Noting that the shots were “given added impact when presented in real motion,” the New York Times quoted ABC News chief David Westin as observing, “Our responsibility is to inform the American public of what’s going on, and, in going the next step, is it necessary to show people plunging to their death?” (While many reports said numerous people “leaped” from the buildings, several survivors related that they had to find something to hang onto to prevent being sucked out by the sudden depressurization.)

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In the apparent assumption that Internet users were looking more for information rather than images, the websites of both MSNBC and CNN cut back on graphics and relied almost entirely on text. The strategy also allowed Web surfers to load pages faster and increased the ability of the two news sites to serve millions of users.

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