News Outlets Grapple with War Coverage Plans
The president said, ”For their own safety, all foreign nationals, including journalists and inspectors, should leave Iraq immediately.”
The president’s statement followed warnings from Defense Department spokeswoman Victoria Clarke in February that journalists should evacuate Baghdad ahead of a U.S.-led strike.
Some 300 foreign journalists remained in Baghdad this week, down from 450 last week, the Iraqi Information Ministry said.
Ahead of the president’s warning, ABC and NBC had already ordered their staffers to leave Baghdad on Monday.
ABC News President David Westin pulled correspondent Dan Harris and his producer out early Monday and sent them to Amman, Jordan.
“At some point you do the calculation that it’s gotten too risky,” ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said.
“It had become obvious that the danger was increasingly with each passing hour. We have relationships with the BBC and other news organizations that plan to be in Baghdad,” an ABC spokesman told The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday.
ABC will also receive on-the-ground reports from regular ABC News freelancer Richard Engel, who expects to stay put in the Iraqi capital, Schneider said.
NBC News spokeswoman Barbara Levin said NBC correspondents Ron Allen and Patricia Sabga as well as their four-person production team were told to leave Baghdad on Sunday night.
NBC has arranged for Peter Arnett, on assignment in Baghdad for the MSNBC series National Geographic Explorer, to provide live first-hand reports for MSNBC and NBC News.
Arnett told MSNBC anchor John Siegenthaler on Monday that he planned to stay in Iraq because it was the only place he felt he could get the full story of the attack.
“I just want to see how this regime reacts to … invasion,” Arnett said. “There’s only one place you can see that, and it’s right here in Baghdad.”
Referring to the Pentagon’s earlier warnings for journalists to leave Iraq, Arnett said he is “glad the U.S. and Pentagon are concerned with our safety,” but added, “I don’t feel a suggestion [to leave Iraq] from the Pentagon is an order.”
“History is turning on this attack,” Arnett said. “I think there should be eyewitnesses.”
A long-time war reporter who covered the U.S. conflict in Vietnam for the Associated Press, Arnett gained further attention during the 1991 Gulf War, becoming one of the few correspondents in Baghdad providing live reports on CNN during the first hours of the war. He left the cable network in 1998 after CNN retracted a controversial report he filed on the alleged use of nerve gas by the U.S. military.
Meanwhile, CNN on Monday evacuated one of its six reporters in Baghdad, saying the reporter — who primarily works for the network’s Spanish language channel — was “not as experienced” as its other staffers in Baghdad.
Remaining in Baghdad are CNN correspondents Rym Brahimi and Nic Robertson and producer Ingrid Formanek. Both Robertson and Formanek were among the few reporters stationed in Baghdad when the U.S. air bombed the city on at the start of the 1991 Gulf War.
CBS News plans to keep reporter Lara Logan and a four-person crew in Baghdad, although CBS spokeswoman Sandy Genelius said the network will be “constantly monitoring and assessing the situation.”
Logan, who is reporting for both CBS and MTV — also owned by CBS parent Viacom — became one of many reporters on Monday to leave the Al Rashid hotel — the only location where journalists are allowed to file their stories — to a post farther away from the Iraqi Ministry of Information building. The Pentagon has listed the ministry as a potential military target.
As news outlets continued mulling their war coverage plans, major television networks and newspapers have negotiated resource-sharing arrangements to help ease the expenses and the risk to staff.
On Monday, the Fox News Channel — whose reporters were kicked out last month by the Iraqi government — ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC/MSNBC reached an agreement to share satellite uplinks from Baghdad in the first 24 hours of a U.S. attack.
Under the arrangement, the networks will share any video shots from unmanned cameras and uplink equipment atop of the Iraqi Ministry of Information building, which will continue running if reporters are forced to evacuate the building.
The unmanned equipment would provide coverage of the initial U.S. Military raid, unless the building is bombed or the communications frequencies are jammed, Television Week reported.
CNN on Monday also announced it had reached a deal with The New York Times and The Boston Globe, also owned by the New York Times Co., for the print journalists to deliver their stories on the air with the newspapers’ mastheads visible.
“This would be sort of a dream team in the sense that you have two serious, widely respected, world-renowned news organizations that will provide, I think, unrivaled coverage of this conflict,” Eason Jordan, CNN’s chief news executive, said.
The NewsHour also partnered with the New York Times Co. to receive on-air reports from correspondents stationed in the Persian Gulf region.
Although the long-term assignments for reporters based in Baghdad and other Iraqi towns are not yet solidified, news agencies will also rely on coverage provided by hundreds of reporters “embedded,” or stationed within, U.S. Military units in the region.