NBC, Newspapers Are Center of News

By: David Bauder, AP Television Writer

(AP) NBC struggled to put its evening news program on the air Friday, a day it suddenly found itself in the center of the news.

Health authorities and federal investigators were swarming around the third-floor offices of “NBC Nightly News” after it was revealed an employee tested positive for anthrax. She had opened a letter with a powdery substance that a network source said was addressed to anchor Tom Brokaw.

“It’s impossible to have business as usual,” said Steve Capus, executive producer of “Nightly News,” shortly after being tested himself for anthrax. “We’re doing the best we can.”

Edgy media organizations across the country, especially in New York, took precautions — in many cases shutting off mail deliveries.

Only hours before Brokaw was to go on the air, his staff wasn’t sure whether he would be able to use his regular studio on the third floor or whether they would be ordered to evacuate.

“We want to stay in our home tonight, if we’re assured it’s safe,” Capus said.

“Nightly News” was relying on its bureaus across the world to prepare extra stories because of the disruptions Friday to the New York staff, he said.

Reporters, tourists and office workers milled around in front of the NBC headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Center, on the same plaza where a giant Christmas tree is displayed every holiday season.

Some NBC employees said they were concerned but not alarmed.

“Living in New York and working in this building for this company, you’re already on edge,” said Brian Rolapp, 29, a business development manager for NBC. “I think everyone is a little startled that it’s this close to home. If it escalates we’ll have more reasons to be worried.”

NBC is moving ahead with “Saturday Night Live” with actress Drew Barrymore this week, aired from a studio in the same building. Conan O’Brien’s “Late Night” show moved ahead with a taping Friday afternoon, a spokeswoman said.

Several blocks to the southwest, employees in the third-floor newsroom of The New York Times were evacuated Friday after reporter Judith Miller, an expert on bioterrorism, received an envelope with a substance that smelled like talcum powder, a spokeswoman said.

In Ohio, The Columbus Dispatch‘s six-story building was closed for about 2 1/2 hours Friday after an employee opened a Halloween card and found a powdery substance inside.

Steve Berry, 51, an assistant features editor who opened the card, said he felt no ill effects. He and three other employees were kept separate from the rest of the staff until they were washed, said Columbus Fire Capt. Steve Saltsman.

At CBS, ABC and CNN on Friday, authorities halted normal mail delivery and urged employees to show caution. CNN said mail arriving at its offices in New York, Washington and Atlanta has been X-rayed in recent weeks. Fox News Channel also said security precautions were being taken, but provided no details.

The Associated Press, whose headquarters is in the same Rockefeller Center complex as NBC, temporarily halted mailroom operations, then resumed them later Friday. Mailroom employees were given gloves. Employees were warned to be vigilant about handling mail.

Washington Post spokesman Eric Grant said the NBC incident did not prompt any extra security measures. The company had issued gloves to mailroom people earlier this week because “anthrax has been a key issue,” he said.

At the Los Angeles Times, deputy managing editor Leo Wolinsky said all employees were told not to open mail and to return unopened mail to the mailroom for screening.

Asked about any new measures taken Friday, Steve Anderson, communications director for USA Today, said “We’ve been beefing up security since the 11th of September, but I’m not going to get specific beyond that.”

The publisher Simon & Schuster, located down the block from NBC, has also ceased mail delivery. Spokesman Adam Rothberg called the action a “precaution” but said new mailroom procedures would be instituted.

Time and Newsweek both suspended deliveries in their Manhattan offices while they review mail procedures. Neither magazine reported trouble, but they did send notices to employees explaining how to report any security problems or suspicious packages.

Newsday, based in Long Island, and The Wall Street Journal, whose headquarters were relocated from the financial district to New Jersey after the Sept. 11 attacks, both advised employees to be aware of suspicious packages.

The NBC case came a week after photo editor Bob Stevens at The Sun supermarket tabloid in Florida died of the inhaled form of anthrax. The American Media Inc. building where several supermarket tabloids are published was sealed off after anthrax was also found on Stevens’ keyboard and in the nasal passages of two co-workers. Traces of anthrax were found in the building’s mailroom, authorities said.

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