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[infowar.de] WPO 24.03.03 Media's Battlefield Reporting Outpaces Pentagon Officials
March 24, 2003
Media's Battlefield Reporting Outpaces Pentagon Officials
CBS Airing of Al-Jazeera Tape a Surprise for Rumsfeld
By Howard Kurtz, Washington Post Staff Writer
When Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld settled into his seat
yesterday on CBS's "Face the Nation," the Pentagon had been denying
media reports that at least
10 American soldiers were captured or missing in Iraq.
Suddenly, host Bob Schieffer played a videotape that had just been made
available by the Arab satellite network al-Jazeera, showing a couple of
Americans being forced to provide their names to an Iraqi interviewer.
What did the secretary make of that?
"I have no idea," Rumsfeld said.
During a commercial break, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke asked
CBS executives to blur the soldiers' faces, which the network did during
airing. CBS, along with the other networks, later agreed to a Pentagon
request not to show the video until the soldiers' next of kin had been
"I didn't even know what was on it," Schieffer said in an interview,
explaining that someone in the control room had told him of the
al-Jazeera tape in his earpiece
while he was questioning Rumsfeld.
Should CBS have shown the tape? "I think in retrospect, we should have
waited," Schieffer said. "We probably shouldn't have shown the faces and
soldier] to say his name. It was just one of those split-second
decisions you make in the news business."
It was a dramatic demonstration of how Pentagon officials found
themselves outpaced by journalistic reports and images from the
battlefield over the weekend. In
several instances, the military has been unable to confirm bad-news
bulletins from embedded U.S. correspondents that, hours later, turned
out to be true. Since any
casualty report must be verified up the chain of command, this time lag
has kept defense officials off balance.
In the case of the al-Jazeera tape, which also showed the Iraqis
displaying dead American soldiers, the Pentagon did not confirm its
authenticity until about an hour
after CBS aired the footage. Journalists at other networks were quick to
denounce the video.
"They are horrifying pictures, and we are not showing them on MSNBC,"
anchor John Siegenthaler said. "Why would al-Jazeera put them on
"They are extremely, extremely disturbing images," said NBC anchor Matt
"They are utterly, utterly gruesome," said Fox News reporter Greg
ABC News President David Westin said he decided not to show the footage
of dead soldiers even before learning of the Pentagon's request. "I
didn't see the
showing of actual bodies as necessary or newsworthy," he said. "It was
clearly done for the purpose of disturbing and enraging people." But he
said he would air the
footage of the prisoners of war once their relatives had been notified.
CBS spokeswoman Sandra Genelius said her network would also make
tasteful" use of the POW footage after the Pentagon notification.
CNN last night aired a few seconds of the POW footage, saying in a
statement that the story "needed to be told in as complete a manner as
possible while remaining
mindful of our concern for the sensitivities of the affected families."
The online Drudge Report ran a still photo of the dead soldiers.
At a U.S. Central Command briefing, Lt. Gen. John Abizaid called the
footage "disgusting" and said of al-Jazeera: "I regard the showing of
those pictures as
An al-Jazeera staffer had no immediate comment. The criticism comes
after administration officials have granted interviews to the
influential Qatar-based network
and tried to allow its reporters to be embedded with U.S. forces.
Separately, the Pentagon sent news organizations a memo requesting that
they "not air or publish recognizable images or audio recordings that
Additionally, we request you not use their names, first or last, or
their unit, until next-of-kin notification is complete." The memo made
the same request for the
deceased soldiers, citing "respect for the families" and "the principles
of the Geneva Conventions."
The issue sparked a disagreement when ABC anchor Charles Gibson told
viewers it was "simply disrespectful" to show the dead bodies.
"Nightline" anchor Ted
Koppel said from Iraq that he had earlier shown pictures of dead Iraqi
soldiers in a way that they could not be identified.
Because the media are "ginning up patriotic feelings" before a war,
Koppel said, "I feel we do have an obligation to remind people in the
most graphic way that war
is a dreadful thing. . . . Young Americans are dying. Young Iraqis are
dying. To turn our faces away from that is a mistake. . . . To sanitize
it too much is a dreadful
In the first days of the war, the presence of more than 500
correspondents embedded with U.S. military units produced a spate of
positive reports filled with glowing
reports of American resolve and weaponry. But now that some units have
run into resistance, the same correspondents have become the first
briefers of the second
On Saturday afternoon, CBS correspondent Mark Strassman broke into the
college basketball playoffs to report that there had been a grenade
attack on the 101st
Airborne Division. Throughout the evening, several network reporters
with the 101st Airborne described the attack and said that an American
soldier was the chief
suspect -- well before the Pentagon would confirm even the most
Yesterday, CNN's Walt Rodgers, traveling with the Army's 7th Cavalry,
said the unit had come under heavy fire in southern Iraq, and that a
group of Iraqis
surrendering with a white flag might actually have relayed the cavalry's
"It was an apparent ambush," MSNBC's Bob Arnot said of the same attack,
adding: "It is the fog of war. It is confusing." Other journalists cited
of likely Marine casualties in a battle near Nasiriyah. Hours later,
Pentagon briefer Abizaid would not address the number of casualties,
saying that "first reports are
Also yesterday, the British network ITN said it is convinced that
correspondent Terry Lloyd, 50, one of three network staffers who were
missing after coming under
fire Saturday, is dead. ITN Chief Executive Stewart Purvis told the BBC
that he believes Lloyd was killed by friendly fire from allied forces.
HSFK Hessische Stiftung für Friedens- und Konfliktforschung
PRIF Peace Research Institute Frankfurt
Leimenrode 29 60322 Frankfurt a/M Germany
Tel +49 (0)69 9591 0422 Fax +49 (0)69 5584 81
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