David Zurawik

Gaddafi, Libya and global change: Another remarkable night with TV news

Live pictures from Tripoli were hard to come by at first for CNN, but along with al-Jazeera, it offered the most comprehensive rolling coverage Sunday night of another remarkable story of tumult and historic change.

Visually, nothing could compete with al-Jazeera, which was once again outstanding with its ground-level, in-the-middle-of-the-action images of the march into Tripoli Sunday night. Correspondent Zeina Khodr was so close to the action she was literally jostled by the rebel soldiers as they surged into Green Square. Her report was the first I heard of the rebels re-naming it Martyrs' Square.

Al-Jazeera's reporting was impressive as well, with Gaddafi's eldest son confirming on the phone to the cable channel that he was under arrest early Sunday night.

But I had to see and hear all of that on my computer screen because so few American cable operaters will carry al-Jazeera. That's another story -- one to get angry about -- on another day. At least, I could stream al-Jazeera on my laptop with CNN on my TV screen. With a little help from Twitter, I felt like cable TV was doing an impressive job of not only bringing me another night of tumultuous global change, but also making me feel as if I was plugged into the currents of history.

There was an issue of live imagery in the early going. If you tuned in and out of coverage, it was easy to think images of a packed square of flag-waving, celebrating Libyans were from Triploi instead of Benghazi. CNN was not very careful at times about making it clear that the images provide by Reuters that it was carrying were not from Tripoli. But even al-Jazeera, which is in a league by itself in getting on-the-spot live images of Mideast change was showing Benghazi without always clearly labeling the images.

Give CNN much credit for scrambling up to speed and catching up to the story Sunday night with Hala Gorani at the anchor desk. Wolf Blitzer didn't come on-air until 8:25 p.m., and for most of the coverage prior to that it was all Gorani -- except for a stint with Michael Holmes starting at about 8 p.m. She was superb at giving the coverage, which included a heavy does of talk and analysis, a sense of structure and flow on-air.

There was drama on CNN. The cable channel had two correspondents in and near Tripoli. Matthew Chance was in a hotel in the city, and Sara Sidner was with the rebels advancing toward the city.

Chance's reports from within the hotel after the Gaddafi government minders appeared to have abandoned the correspondents were riveting. His reports were essentially conversations with Gorani. She showed tremendous poise, focus and a sense of control even as producers were clearly throwing one new on-the-phone, or on-the-screen interview after another at her.

As I said, though, CNN did otherwise have a problem with getting live images in Tripoli in the early going -- no doubt about it.

Much credit should also go to two correspondents who were in the midst of bringing us the story prior to Sunday's night's drama: Alex Crawford of Sky News and Richard Engel on NBC News.

All weekend, Crawford seemed as close or closer to the story than al-Jazeera's Khodr. CBS Evening News used her Sky News reports for its evening newscast, and she seemed to be reporting from the very center of a packed group of rebels on the move. She seemed oblivious to nearby gunshots. What a steely, steady combat correspondent.

Engel, of NBC News, was the only American network correspondent near Tripoli that I saw, and he provided NBC with a report for its Nightly News on Sunday. Engel is a terrific correspondent. What a shame that MSNBC chose to spend so much of Sunday night with its wretched "Caught on Camera" so-called documentary series instead of finding a way to bring us this story. I didn't see anything but intermittent updates until after 8 p.m. on MSNBC.