- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2003

At times, Eason Jordan, CNN's chief of news gathering logistics, can relate to the generals preparing for a possible war in Iraq. He already has sent hundreds of "troops" to combat school, he commands the movements of eight armored vehicles and controls enough electronic equipment to suck up a power plant's worth of energy.
For months, the broadcast and cable news networks have been readying themselves for a conflict that may, or may not, take place.
CNN, expected to send more journalists into the region than any other American network, has budgeted a reported $35 million for war coverage.
On executives' minds: Daniel Pearl; the experiences of September 11; a new generation of technology; and a potential thawing of TV news' relationship with the Pentagon.
Combat school is a new wrinkle for many news organizations. Training programs are run by former military personnel to teach journalists how to avoid dangerous situations and protect against chemical attack.
"It's important because of the unknowns in this particular war," says Marcy McGinnis, senior vice president of news coverage at CBS. "One is the Daniel Pearl issue; one of the training bits they address is the issue of being kidnapped and how you deal with being a hostage."
Mr. Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was abducted and killed a year ago in Pakistan while researching a story on Islamic militancy.
CBS has sent about 70 people through the training; CNN about 450. ABC and NBC staff members also have gone through these programs.
Viewers can expect wall-to-wall news coverage on CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC when war breaks out. The cable networks already air regular programs in anticipation of a conflict.
Miss McGinnis says she expected CBS to air nonstop coverage for 24 to 72 hours if war breaks out. The network's plans a lot of live reports during the day from the war zone and lengthier ones to offer perspective in prime time recall the pattern used in the four days of commercial-free coverage after the September 11 attacks.
"How the war is conducted will define the extent of coverage, but I think it's fair to say that at the outbreak of hostilities, the commercial networks will go on the air and stay on the air for quite some time," says Bill Wheatley, vice president of NBC News.
Since the Gulf War, broadcast satellite uplinks have become smaller and easier to move. The videophone is now a common TV tool; a reporter can go on the air from virtually anywhere.
"Broadcast equipment is lighter and more mobile, and that allows you to move around and broadcast more from the region," says Chuck Lustig, in charge of war planning at ABC News. "It takes less people to operate them, which allows you to use less people to cover things."
Unlike the Gulf War or the war on terrorism, news organizations are expecting a chance to see more of the action.
Several of the news executives say they sense more cooperation from the Pentagon than in recent conflicts. They expect journalists to accompany military personnel on missions, with the understanding that nothing will be revealed that could put people in danger.
That would be historic; relations between the press and the military have been frayed since the Vietnam War. Mr. Jordan says he has talked to many field commanders who were frustrated that many of the good things they did during the Gulf War didn't get covered because journalists weren't there to independently verify.
"I think they realize that perhaps they made a mistake in keeping us away from everything," Miss McGinnis says.
Former CNN anchorman Bernard Shaw says that he was troubled by the idea of journalists allowing themselves to be taken under the wing of the U.S. military.
"I think journalists that agree to go with combat units effectively become hostages of the military, which can control the movements of the journalists but, more importantly, control their ability, when they file their stories," Mr. Shaw says in a return appearance on CNN last week.
The military also should not be concerned about the journalists' safety, he says. "That's not their mission."
Safety is a worry for the executives. The very things that may make a war in Iraq compelling to viewers television's need to deliver live reports whenever possible, the advanced technology that makes reporters more mobile may also make it a riskier assignment.
Mr. Jordan has tried, without success, to persuade the Iraqis not to force foreign journalists to work from Baghdad's Ministry of Information building. The site is vulnerable to attack, since it also houses Iraqi state television and has anti-aircraft guns, he says.
"This will be, potentially, the most dangerous conflict in decades for journalists," Mr. Jordan says. "My number one concern is the safety of our people in the field. You could see things get very ugly in Iraq."

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