- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

Compelling images, some visceral moments and way too much talk: Broadcasters have gone to war.

It has been an uneven start.

In the past 24 hours, live sound barking dogs, air-raid sirens, explosions was often hidden by the idle chatter of network correspondents. Some acted as if they were waiting for Fourth of July fireworks to begin; others were downright giddy as they donned gas masks and bandied about military terms such as "MOPP level four" and "decapitation strike."

Graphics obscured live shots from Baghdad, which could have stood without embellishment. And wartime viewers should see, on occasion, events that have not been trivialized by correspondents who are either marking their territory or spinning their wheels.

CBS anchor Dan Rather, for example, did not have to say "Good morning, Baghdad" during the initial bombing of the city.

There were positives, however.

"I appreciate when networks spell out what they know, what they don't know and what they are trying to find out. It cuts through all the noise. The good news is that all of the networks did this in their initial coverage at one point or another," said Tom Rosensteil of the Project for Excellence in Journalism yesterday.

"At this point, recent events could be distilled down to a few essential paragraphs," Mr. Rosensteil added. "The rest is augmentary and confusing."

Displaying Iraq's weather and clear, simple maps of military offensives is helpful. Giant maps with moving parts and computer animations of military hardware belong in the entertainment realm, not news.

Sincere stories about home-front families or community patriotism are fine. Shoving a camera in the face of a young soldier on the front line and hoping he'll well up with emotion is not fine.

Meanwhile, war in Iraq is not unfolding conveniently for news organizations. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told journalists yesterday not to expect a predictable "tick tock" of events or war plans.

Networks have not warmed to Operation Iraqi Freedom, the official Pentagon slogan for the conflict, which debuted yesterday. Fox News is the only network to emphasize the new name in its graphics and other coverage.

To their credit, so far, embedded correspondents have not breached security for the sake of sensationalism by revealing their exact whereabouts or troop movements, perhaps a new sign of maturity.

All 50 CNN correspondents in the Persian Gulf region, CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan says, are "determined to cover the news as it unfolds and from every vantage point while ensuring that our work in no way endangers lives."

Western journalists who remain in Baghdad are down to a few from CNN, the British Broadcasting Corp., NBC, National Public Radio, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, The Washington Post, the Associated Press and Reuters.

Then there is ABC's new face, Richard Engel. The straightforward young free-lancer speaks fluent Arabic, brazenly rattles the local newspaper at the camera and has a veteran's demeanor. He also works for the BBC, the Voice of America and Agence France-Presse, among others.

Mr. Engel made a short list of correspondents who could make names for themselves for their grace and charisma under fire. Other correspondents on the list, published yesterday by the Philadelphia Daily News, included CNN's Nic Robertson, CBS' Thalia Assuras and MSNBC's Brian Williams.

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