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Reporting America At War
About The Series
The Reporters
Richard Harding Davis
Martha Gellhorn
Edward R. Murrow
Ernie Pyle
Walter Cronkite
Andy Rooney
Robert Capa
Homer Bigart
David Halberstam
Malcolm W. Browne
Gloria Emerson
Morley Safer
Peter Arnett
Ward Just
Chris Hedges
Christiane Amanpour

Chronology
For Teachers
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The Reporters

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR:
The Gulf War Pool System

During the Gulf War, when this draconian new philosophy of censorship came in, suddenly we found ourselves in these pools. Now, I had been covering the whole buildup, ever since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait [in 1990], so I really hoped to be able to cover the war as well. Instead, like in roulette, we were picked and put into pools. My pool was on an aircraft carrier in the Red Sea, about as far away from the battlefield as you can imagine. Nonetheless, I said, "We'll do it. It's going to be interesting. At least we'll have one angle of it." We got there the night before the war started, and at a certain time, the admiral said [over loudspeakers], "Men, we have been given the order to strike deep inside Iraq. You've trained well. Good hunting and godspeed and return safe." It was electrifying. Of course, we knew we couldn't break that secret because it wasn't going to happen for several hours hence. But then we started to try to talk to aircraft pilots and various people as the days went on, and we were prevented from asking them specific questions — anything meaningful. So we started to just to color [feature stories]. One of my colleagues had been in a recreation room with the fighter pilots when they came back, and he had written in his copy that they were laughing, chatting, talking, reading between air strikes, and that some of them were reading girlie magazines. This is not an issue of national security. They censored it. Now, that is an example of censorship purely for image. It's got nothing to do with anything military, and I found that far beyond the rules.

I don't think we [correspondents] bear responsibility for the failure of the pool system. I think the pool system itself was a failure. I think we bear some responsibility for the failure to report the war in full. I think we reported it as accurately as we could have done, but lost a lot of texture. We on the ground pushed very, very hard. Many of my colleagues went around the system, with certain dangerous results. [CBS News correspondent] Bob Simon and his crew were captured for wandering in Iraq and spent the entire war in Iraqi jails. This had a chilling effect, as you can imagine, on many people. In my view, the restrictions that the military put on us forced some of us to break rules and do things that maybe we wouldn't have done had we had normal access.

I think our bosses bear a lot of responsibility, because they are the people who made the deal with the Pentagon. Walter Cronkite said to me he's just amazed that every single day the executives of our networks and our newspapers are not pounding on the doors of the Pentagon and demanding access. I think that is their role. It's got nothing to do with profits.

I have always got on very well with the commanders, with the soldiers on the ground. There's an element of respect, of "We've seen each other before." People get to know which reporters they can trust. When it comes to the public information officers, their brief is from the political side, for the most part. They are concerned 95 percent with image. That's where the balance gets out of whack. That's where we start facing problems as to whether we are being censored and denied access. [Is it] for legitimate reasons of security, or is it because they want things to look a certain way? Increasingly, the balance is too much in favor of controlling image and not security. The more there is of twenty-four-hour news coverage, the more there is a globalized TV environment, the more that people are going to want to control that image. I think it has a net negative effect on what viewers get. Viewers are poorer when we journalists are not able to bring them full, accurate, proper stories in all their aspects, military and human.


From Reporting America at War: An Oral History, compiled by Michelle Ferrari, with commentary by James Tobin, published by Hyperion, 2003. Copyright ©, 2003 Goodhue Pictures.

Photo: Christiane Amanpour Reporter's Notebook
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