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Wednesday, 23 October, 2002, 06:29 GMT 07:29 UK
US media gripped by sniper obsession
Photographers snap pictures of a pay phone connected to the sniper case
The media jockey for position

The United States will hold elections in two weeks. President George W Bush might have changed his position on whether regime change is necessary in Iraq.

And there have been new nuclear revelations about North Korea, a member of the Mr Bush's dreaded "axis of evil".

But all of these stories are buried under a mountain of US coverage of the serial sniper in the Washington region.

The media here is covering every major, minor, insignificant and sometimes irrelevant development in the case.

Channel surfing

"You are looking live at the sniper task force headquarters," a Fox News presenter intones with urgency and gravity as he opens a new hour of sniper coverage.

The camera cuts to a podium and a bank of microphones. No officials. No people at all. Just a podium and a bank of microphones.
CNN breaks into its normal coverage
News networks break into regular programming with new developments

Channel surf to CNN. The drums beat ominously, and the Cable News Network opens its blanket coverage of the serial sniper terrorising the greater Washington area.

"Sniper on the Loose: The Search for a Killer," the graphic says as a CNN presenter tells of the latest developments.

Every news event has a theme song and custom graphics.

Channel surf to MSNBC, which might have the best sniper coverage theme: "Caught in the Crosshairs".


Never have so many said so much that could be so wrong

Howard Kurtz
Washington Post
And their graphics are accompanied by an eerie high-pitch sound effect straight out of The Exorcist, just in time for Halloween.

Flip back to CNN, as MSNBC goes to commercial.

Just a few weeks ago, "Showdown Iraq," another themed show hosted by Wolf Blitzer, anchored saturation coverage of the seemingly inevitable march to war.

But he is now serving double duty, splitting his time between coverage of the Iraq crisis and the search for the sniper.

Speaking of Halloween, CNN had its own hall of horrors last night with a show looking back on past serial killers.

Expert opinion

To make sense of it all, the networks and 24-hour news channels have recruited an army of private detectives, former FBI psychological profilers and police officers who investigated past serial killers such as New York's "Son of Sam".

In a new twist on the expert interview, one Fox News reporter even wrote to "Son of Sam" killer David Berkowitz to enlist his help in catching the serial sniper.
Chief Moose pauses during a press conference
Chief Moose and the media have developed a tense relationship

On MSNBC, presenter and perennial presidential candidate Pat Buchanan interprets the body language of Montgomery County Maryland Police Chief Charles Moose.

Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz said of the endless hours of expert opinion, "Never have so many said so much that could be so wrong."

Media versus police

The coverage has created tension between the police and the media.


It was covered like the allied troops storming the beaches of Normandy

Howard Kurtz
Washington Post
During a recent news conference with Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose, a member of the media asked why the media was able to get on the bus where the latest shooting had taken place.

Might they not contaminate the crime site? "Is that good police work?" the reporter asked.

Chief Moose answered without emotion that he would have to look into the particulars of the investigation.

But he did say, "We don't have enough people to stop the media and do the work we need to do."

The crush of the media is overwhelming at the scenes of the shootings.

Referring to coverage of the shooting in Ashland Virginia, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz put it this way, "It was covered like the allied troops storming the beaches of Normandy."

Hundreds of investigators are scouring the area and on alert ready to shut down the area around the next shooting where ever it might occur, but they might just be outnumbered by members of the media.

In parking lots around the Washington area, television trucks sit at the ready, poised to roar off to the next service station or strip mall at the first news of a shooting.

And when will it stop? Not, according to Bill Press of MSNBC, "until we catch this monster."


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Trail of terror
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See also:

22 Oct 02 | Americas
22 Oct 02 | Americas
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