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Rehearsal of War Coverage Backfires at CBS News

February 21, 1998|From a Times staff writer

NEW YORK — CBS jumped the gun Friday on a possible U.S. attack on Iraq: The network inadvertently transmitted a practice news report via satellite that could be picked up by television stations and viewers with special equipment.

To try out new graphics for combat coverage in the event the U.S. goes forward with the threatened bombing of Iraq, CBS anchor Dan Rather was rehearsing with Pentagon correspondent David Martin over a closed line between CBS' New York headquarters and its Washington news bureau. The report was mistakenly sent up to a communications satellite.

"This was very embarrassing," one CBS staffer said Friday. "If I'd seen the report, I would have thought we were at war."

A technician at a West Virginia TV station who was checking satellite transmissions was shocked to see Rather describing aircraft being used in a bombing run on Baghdad.

Officials at the station, WTAP-TV, an NBC affiliate in Parkersburg, W. Va., called the Associated Press to find out if Iraq had been attacked. "It looked like a real broadcast of what was going on," said Bill McClure, master control operator at WTAP.

CBS News spokeswoman Kerri Weitzberg said that, as far as CBS knew, the practice report did not air on any TV stations during the 20 minutes that it was up on the satellite. Weitzberg said the network received "a handful" of calls from people who were concerned about the mistaken report.

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