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Bin Laden announcement a historic TV moment

Viewers got a sense that major news was forthcoming about 10:30 Sunday night with word that President Obama was expected to break into regularly scheduled shows like "CSI: Miami." As it turned out, the president wouldn't speak for an hour, but the networks knew long before his 11:30 appearance that this news would be historic -- Osama bin Laden had been killed.

Special reports began mushrooming across the TV landscape just before 11, when anchors and reporters from CBS to Headline News reported the news millions of New Yorkers have awaited for a decade.

"The term historical is often overused, but tonight let's use the term historical with a capital H," CNN's John King said, without a hint of hyperbole.

Initial reports were firm and declarative -- bin Laden was dead -- but at first, the devil was in the details. Some reports said he had been killed in an airstrike, others said he was in Pakistan, while the body was possibly in Afghanistan.

CBS News Pentagon correspondent David Martin -- widely considered one of the most reliable military affairs reporters -- said that bin Laden had been "shot in the head," and that the body was in U.S. custody. ABC News' Jake Tapper later reported on a firefight at a mansion.

Most of the reporters Sunday night had their lives and careers affected by the war on terror.

On CBS' air was Lara Logan, the network's chief foreign correspondent who, just hours earlier on "60 Minutes," had given details of the brutal sexual assault she sustained in Cairo's Tahrir Square. After her own story, the killing of bin Laden was to become her first story since returning to work after convalescing from the attack.

"So it is not the end of the war on terror, by no means," she said. "There is no one who is going to come out and suggest that."

Among the anchors of the evening news programs, only Brian Williams was able to get on the air before the president spoke. Williams -- who was a reporter for WCBS during the 1993 World Trade Center terrorism attacks -- spoke with NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, who had been a translator for ABC News when the first bombs dropped on Baghdad back on March 19, 2003.

At ABC, George Stephanopoulos spoke with Brian Ross, ABC's chief investigative correspondent, who has reported on terrorism for more than 30 years, dating back to his time with NBC.

They spoke with Mike Boettcher, the network's reporter embedded with the 101st Airborne in Afghanistan. Boettcher -- who had been one of CNN's most visible reporters during the first Gulf War -- said Sunday night that he had just returned from an operation where a number of U.S. troops had been killed. "A lot of times you are out in the field, and they ask questions [like] what are we doing here? . . . They have made so many sacrifices, and this news will just be electrifying.

"I can tell you, this will have a great impact on them as they reflect on that sacrifice," he said.

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