'Nightline' to read toll of war dead

Critics say broadcast is anti-war propaganda

— "Nightline" is calling tonight's program a simple tribute. Others call it anti-war propaganda. And one TV-station group is pre-empting it.

During the ABC News broadcast at 10:35 p.m., anchorman Ted Koppel will read aloud the name of a U.S. service man or woman killed in the Iraq war, as a corresponding photo appears on the screen along with that person's name, military branch, rank and age.

Expanded by 10 minutes from its usual half-hour, "Nightline" will include more than 500 killed in action in Iraq since March 19, 2003, as well as 200-plus noncombat deaths.

"These people have paid the ultimate price in our name," said "Nightline" executive producer Leroy Sievers, "and it's important to remember them, whether you think the price is worth it or not.

"It may not be great television. But it's the right thing to do, and that's why we're doing it."

Sounds simple enough. But with the war much in dispute during a highly charged election year, nothing, it seems, is accepted at face value. So some observers think there's more here than meets the eye.

Sinclair Broadcast Group, a Maryland-based media company whose holdings include 62 TV stations, announced Thursday it would pre-empt "Nightline" on its eight ABC affiliates, including stations in Columbus, Ohio, St. Louis, Mo., and Tallahassee, Fla. The company said tonight's program "appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq."

The company called the broadcast a political statement "disguised as news content," pointing to the producers' omission of "the names of thousands of private citizens killed in terrorist attacks" since 9-11.


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