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Reporters should cover the war, not themselves
I knew we might be in trouble during the first several days of the war. Back then, anchors couldn't keep themselves from concluding their segments with embedded reporters with a few bits of advice: 'Be safe,' 'Keep your head down' and 'Stay out of harm's way' were uttered over and over until everybody Ñ probably even the reporters Ñ got sick of it.
Thankfully, those little warnings (and the overused greeting 'How are you holding up?') gradually went away. But as is usually the case with continuous coverage, reporters Ñ their comings, goings and interviews on Iraqi TV Ñ are themselves becoming a big part of the story.
War? Oh yeah. That's what was going on in the background while Geraldo Rivera was drawing up battle plans in the sand, Peter Arnett was getting fired by NBC and Ted Koppel's vehicle magically got itself out of that irrigation ditch.
All of this actually goes with the territory of modern, televised warfare. TV news has always realized that the more notable reporters covering a story, the more people are apt to tune in. And nobody knows this more than the reporters themselves. Otherwise, Geraldo wouldn't have made like Tommy Franks in the War Room, nor would Arnett have held court on Iraqi TV.
Interestingly, this trend didn't start with the networks. A couple of decades ago, local TV stations led the way in what was then termed 'reporter involvement.' News consultants figured out that viewers reacted positively Ñ or at least, bothered to watch Ñ when reporters engaged themselves in whatever it was they were covering.
So now, we watch reporters walk through the windstorm and get tossed around. We share the pain as reporters comfort a crime victim. We share the joy when they hold a baby. And if there's a forest fire, reporters had better make darn sure their audience sees them there, dodging hoses amid the firefighters.
During the Persian Gulf War, NBC's Arthur Kent (the 'Scud Stud') made his name by going live while Iraqi missiles seemed to be exploding in the background. Now, so much of what we're seeing and hearing from the embedded correspondents are first-person descriptions about how they are holding up.
A contributing factor, of course, is that the fastest growing trend in coverage lately has been reporters interviewing other reporters. That's going to happen in the 24-hour, all-news environment, when filling time is the No. 1 priority.
Yet there's one reporter Ñ maybe the best out there Ñ who hardly ever talks about herself. That would be CNN's Christiane Amanpour, who has had much battlefield experience.
At the moment, anybody in Iraq is potentially in danger. We know that. So let's have the reporters report. And we can assume they'll do everything they can to stay safe.