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Administration urges caution in airing al Qaeda statements

al Qaeda statement
U.S. officials fear al Qaeda officials could pass coded messages in broadcasts like this one, aired Tuesday.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House urged U.S. news outlets Wednesday to exercise judgment in airing statements by al Qaeda, the terrorist umbrella group founded and led by Saudi dissident millionaire Osama bin Laden.

"At best, Osama bin Laden's messages are propaganda calling on people to kill Americans," intoned White House spokesman Ari Fleischer in the midst of an early afternoon briefing. "At worst, he could be issuing orders to his followers to initiate such attacks."

Fleischer says bin Laden and his network might be using the international news media to convey coded messages, because their own means of communication are limited.

U.S. television networks are facing a dilemma over broadcast of statements from the Al Qaeda organization. CNN's David Ensor reports (October 11)

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He said National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice had asked U.S. broadcast networks to use judgment about how taped messages will air.

"She stressed that she is making a request and that editorial decisions can only be made by the media," Fleischer said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell told CNN that analysts are now poring over two recent al Qaeda statements, including one that aired Tuesday via Qatar's Al Jazeera television news network praising the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington as "good deeds" -- and promising more to come.

CNN said it will no longer air statements from Al Qaeda live, and will review them first before deciding how to handle them.

"CNN's policy is to avoid airing any material that we believe would directly facilitate any terrorist acts," the network said. "In deciding what to air, CNN will consider guidance from appropriate authorities."

The network has an exclusive agreement with Al Jazeera television, and aired in their entirety recorded videotapes of bin Laden on Sunday, as well as the message by al Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Gheith on Tuesday.

Other networks also aired the footage, citing the fair-use rule.


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