Saturday, August 20, 2011

Has Qaddafi fled Libya? (3x UPDATED)

3rd UPDATE: 10:32 p.m. EDT: This is a period of time that news managers, producers and others make tough choices. How much coverage to give at the moment to what is happening in Libya?

The evidence, including photos, suggests that the rebels who have fought for about six months to overthrow Qaddafi are making what could be the final push to get rid of him. Moreover, there are reports on social media suggesting that Qaddafi's whereabouts are unknown. Eyewitnesses are speaking to international news agencies and suggesting that signs are everywhere that the opposition is quickly taking over the city.

And yet that desperately needed and required confirmation is not there. That confirmation could come in one minute, one hour, one day or who knows exactly when. The next time Qaddafi appears on television could be well after he flees the country. Or it could come with his body riddled with bullets.

The pressure to stay on the story is obvious, but what exactly is the story right now? Yes, the rebels entering Tripoli provides a "wow" moment that quickly leads to expectations that Qaddafi is done. But does that warrant remaining on the story for now until it reaches a conclusion?

Let's examine what one network -- al Jazeera -- has done. I am watching (online) its 10:00 p.m. (U.S. EDT) newscast, which began with a brief live report followed by a few taped reports from earlier in the day. The network then rolled into other international news, before returning to it at the bottom of the hour.

Responsible? Yes. But a reasonable argument can be made that the potential removal of Qaddafi should be a wall-to-wall story for that network.

These are the choices that news professionals have to make.

2nd UPDATE: 10:03 p.m. EDT: al Jazeera is reporting in its news hour program that forces loyal to Qaddafi have abandoned Tripoli's airport.

1st UPDATE: 9:40 p.m. EDT: The Telegraph, which reportedly has tweeted that Qaddafi will go to Venezuela (I'm trying to find that tweet), takes a look at what a post-Qaddafi Libya might look like.

ORIGINAL POST: You might recall that the other night I noted that NBC News was reporting that Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi was preparing to leave Tripoli and surrender power.

Tonight, that might be reality. Mashable reports that multiple tweets from Tripoli indicate that Col. Qaddafi already might have fled the country.
So far, NBC correspondent Richard Engel reports via Twitter that “people are celebrating … still lots of gunfire … but reports from here in Libya still unconfirmed.” 
Considering that over the past 48 hours the rebels who are attempting to oust him have made important gains, his departure would not be surprising.

The Associated Press reports tonight (U.S. EDT) that the rebels have taken their fight to Tripoli and that NATO is aiding that important assault.
Gunbattles and mortar rounds were heard clearly at the hotel where foreign correspondents stay in Tripoli. NATO aircraft made heavy bombing runs after nightfall, with loud explosions booming across the city.
"We planned this operation with NATO, our Arab associates and our rebel fighters in Tripoli with commanders in Benghazi," Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, the head of the rebel leadership council, told the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera. Benghazi, hundreds of miles east of Tripoli, is the rebels' de facto capital.
Abdel-Jalil they said chose to start the attack on Tripoli on the 20th day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which fell on Saturday. The date marks the ancient Islamic Battle of Badr, when Muslims conquered the holy city of Mecca in A.D. 624.
The BBC notes that Col. Qaddafi will find strong support in Tripoli (presuming he is still there). However, with Libya's other main cities controlled (at least for now) by the rebels, the image of Qaddafi as someone being painted into a corner applies; he has nowhere else to go in his country if the rebels gain control of the capital.

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