- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Broadcast coverage of the war in Iraq is a work in progress, complete with moments of both nobility and excess.
The novelty of embedded reporters and videophones may be wearing thin among viewers who have seen too many smartly clad reporters riding in tanks, talking about their feelings or pitching old stories like breaking news. Flak jackets and helmet cameras do not always guarantee meaningful narrative.
And while networks fret over airing Iraqi videos of captured or killed Americans, some fret about the correspondents themselves.
"Embedded journalists provide access to the war, yes," said Matthew Felling of the Center for Media and Public Affairs yesterday.
"But what happens if a journalist gets taken prisoner of war in this televised conflict? They're not prepared for it, and they could pose a security risk, given what they may know," Mr. Felling said.
Indeed, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke warned news organizations yesterday that their battlefield correspondents particularly nonembedded independents could be in real peril.
In theory, journalists have some protection, but only if their captors obey protocols.
"Under the 1949 Geneva Convention, journalists accredited by an accompanying military force are considered part of the military entourage" and must be treated as prisoners of war, states an advisory from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
Still, 23 journalists have been kidnapped and killed in the last decade, the group says.
Correspondents continue to file compelling stories though, including CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who provided a live account of emergency abdominal surgery performed by U.S. Navy doctors on an Iraqi prisoner of war.
The doctors had just been informed about the deaths or capture of American soldiers, and were now called upon to tend an enemy, Dr. Gupta said by telephone from central Iraq yesterday.
"It was a phenomenal experience to see them wrestling with this paradox. But they didn't hesitate," he said, adding that his message was to show the austere working conditions of the doctors, known as the "Devil Docs," who operate in mobile hospital tents on a desert battlefield.
But casualties, downed aircraft and Americans POWs have reduced some of the swagger in TV reporting, which has been described by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld as "slices of Iraq."
"In seeming to know everything, we know nothing," wrote London's Guardian in a critique of networks that air "raw" video footage from reporters and news crews.
"There are wise old journalists who will tell you the word 'raw' is usually a warning. It is unwise to eat raw meat or smell raw sewage, and it may be equally foolish to consume raw news coverage," the paper said.
Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. Central Command, still supports the Pentagon's decision to embed reporters because it "permits the viewership, the listenership and the readership to get a sense of what's going on in the battlefield," he said yesterday.
"We'll see how it plays out," Gen. Franks said.
A grim financial reality may reduce the burgeoning press population, however. The networks lost an estimated $100 million in revenue in the first 48 hours of coverage, according to Advertising Age yesterday. Ad placement has fallen in newspapers and news magazines as well, according to Mediaweek.
Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.

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