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Television & Radio | Howard Rosenberg

'Baghdad': When CNN was the news

December 06, 2002|Howard Rosenberg

This was the gate that Bob Wiener and his CNN commandos flung open that evening in Baghdad after arriving six months prior to a United Nations deadline for Iraqi forces to withdraw from Kuwait.

If Vietnam was the first living-room war, this was the first to play out as a fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants media spectacular, a regular, honest-to-goodness show on TV starring TV.

Along with incredible benefits, the medium's hair-trigger live reporting on the war soon also yielded incredible confusion and misinformation. Everything learned -- whether information or rumor -- was automatically sped on to viewers, as if bypassing the brain when moving from ear to mouth. At any point, you could have heard something that conflicted with something reported a half-hour earlier.

It meant that war coverage, like other epic stories, no longer would evolve in the traditional way, for the process of reporting the story had become the story. If correspondents of yesteryear were measured by how well they shaped their stories, TV's Gulf War correspondents got famous fast for being their stories. In fact, never before had a war produced less real news than news stars, with Baghdad boys Shaw and Holliman, for example, coming home to a tickertape tribute on CNN prior to taking questions from the nation's press in a conference call.

Would a looser Pentagon war-reporting policy alter that mind-set?

When returning to Baghdad after their incubator-babies adventure long before the bombing began, CNN's crew was met by media swarms wanting to hear the latest from Kuwait. Formanek is prophetic in the movie regarding this blurry relationship of messenger to message.

"You know what has happened?" she tells her colleagues. "We've just become the story."

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Howard Rosenberg's column appears Mondays and Fridays. He can be contacted at howard.rosenberg@latimes.com.

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