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War with Iraq

NBC Gets Jump in Baghdad

March 20, 2003|Elizabeth Jensen | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Peter Arnett's decision to stay in Baghdad, despite the apparent risk, helped net NBC a jump on the competition Wednesday in the opening salvos of the U.S.-led attack.

Otherwise, CBS' decision to pull correspondent Lara Logan and her three crew members from Baghdad on Wednesday, and CNN's decision to stay in the capital city, made little difference in TV's coverage of the attack. The broadcast and cable networks mobilized quickly, with plenty of live pictures from remote cameras and eyewitness reports, whether from their own staffs or broadcast partners.

NBC was first with a report that something was happening in Baghdad. ABC was about 10 minutes behind.

But for the reporters who decided to stay in Baghdad, the real action -- and real danger -- is likely yet to come. CBS executives decided to pull their staff after concluding that "the risks to their safety outweighed the benefits of them being able to get material out of Baghdad," said a spokeswoman early Wednesday.

Although CNN decided to remain, it was not able to show its reporters on camera. Instead, CNN's two correspondents were filing audio reports by phone, after moving out of the Ministry of Information building and into the Palestine Hotel.

The hotel is away from the government buildings, including the Ministry of Information, that are expected to be targets of U.S. bombs. Iraqi authorities permitted the journalists to move but said they still must transmit from the Ministry of Information building, said CNN executive Eason Jordan. "We're not going to send anyone back" to the ministry building, Jordan said, citing the danger.

The cameras of CNN and other TV networks on the ministry roof were turned on from another site when hostilities began.

Earlier in the day, CNN reporter Nic Robertson said over a hotel phone that foreign journalists he has talked with are "relieved" to be past the pressure of deciding whether to stay. "I don't think anyone is under any illusion about what's going to happen here and what it will be like to cover it," he said. "But the first stage in all of this was to be able to keep a visa long enough to stay, and then to withstand the psychological pressure to leave because it's dangerous. Now the serious business begins."

Other news organizations that remain in Baghdad include the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Associated Press, the BBC, National Public Radio and Arnett, who is reporting for National Geographic Television and NBC.

Journalists are unclear what Iraqi officials have planned for news media once bombing starts in earnest, Robertson said. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, which Robertson also covered from Baghdad, journalists were ordered into a basement shelter of their hotel. Some CNN reporters still managed to get live audio reports out, however. This time, Robertson said, "I'm sure, having seen a lot of cameras, everyone will be doing their best to capture whatever they can, but what the Iraqi authorities will do, we don't know."

Jordan said he spent Tuesday night at CNN's Atlanta headquarters, in conversation about whether it was safe to keep the cable network's four employees in the city. Asked whether there was pressure to stay because CNN partly earned its reputation on its live Baghdad reports in 1991, Jordan said, "I think certainly there is an expectation that if there is big Iraq news, CNN will be there for it. Having said that, we have come very close to pulling out altogether in the last several hours. The safety of our people comes first."

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