Inside the ransacked Pakistani mansion where Osama bin Laden was killed, blood was splattered on the floor, bed linens were in disarray, and ABC News captured it in photos and video, scoring the first big exclusive of the aftermath.
The morning after President Obama announced that Bin Laden had been killed by U.S. special forces near Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad, the network broadcast footage from inside the mansion on “Good Morning America.” ABC correspondent Nick Schifrin, who has been stationed in Pakistan for years, appeared on the morning telecast and said that he had just returned from a tour inside the compound and reported that the pictures and video showed the Abbottabad compound where the raid took place.
“Looking at the video, it’s a good TV moment,” Schifrin said in a phone interview with the Los Angeles Times. “There’s something about seeing it all for yourself.”
ABC was one of a host of broadcast and cable news networks that shoved aside their regular programming Sunday night to cover the news of Bin Laden’s death.
CNN, which tends to deliver its highest ratings in breaking-news cycles, led the cable race with 7.8 million total viewers during the 8 p.m. hour (Pacific time) when President Obama officially announced the death in a live national address, according to the Nielsen Co. Fox News Channel averaged 4.8 million and MSNBC 2.3 million. Overall from 7 p.m. to midnight, CNN averaged 4.1 million viewers, up an astronomical 981% from its Sunday average the previous four weeks.
Among broadcasters, NBC was the first outlet to cut in, with a special report around 7:45 p.m. PDT that preempted the final minutes of Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” on the East Coast. Within minutes, all the networks had reported the death and were awaiting the White House statement.
NBC and CBS stayed with the story until approximately 9 p.m., at which point they returned to scheduled programs. ABC hung on to the story for another hour.
“We had substantially more reporting than some of our competitors so we had a lot to talk about,” said ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider, adding that the news division had conducted numerous drills in the past on how to handle news of Bin Laden’s death or capture.
ABC’s exclusive video inside the Bin Laden compound was a coup for the news division. Its footage showed the bloody floor of one of the inside rooms.
In his interview with The Times, Schifrin described the scene inside the mansion: “There’s signs of children. There’s toys in the backyard, baby beds. A room stored with weeks’ worth of food.”
The network did not disclose how it had received the video, or from whom. The video will make the ABC News rounds, with additional airings on “ABC World News,” “Nightline” and Tuesday’s edition of “Good Morning America.”
Despite requests from other news outlets, ABC opted not to make the footage available to anyone else but expected it to be picked up by other outlets under the “fair use” principle. Indeed, by midday Monday, CNN had incorporated the footage into its coverage, and blogs began posting the clip.
“We’re living in a hotel that barely has Internet,” Schifrin said. “It’s very isolated out here. You don’t really know the impact. You don’t know where your material sits sometimes. It takes other people telling you how significant your stuff is … it takes doing interviews like this.”