This week is looking more and more like a “Cronkite moment.”
As President Bush prepares to address Congress and the nation tonight in his fifth State of the Union, the White House must be concerned that the news out of Iraq in the last week appears to have undermined what remaining support the media had for the ongoing war.
Yesterday the two biggest stories out of Iraq were both about journalists: the horrible attack on Bob Woodruff‘s convoy and kidnapped hostage Jill Carroll‘s tearful new video plea. The war is hitting too close to home.
Last night on CNN, Larry King hosted a variety of journalists to talk about the war, ranging from Peter Arnett to the Post’s own Rajiv Chandrasekaran. The somber discussion displayed not only that most reporters seem to have given up hope, but we also began to see some outright anger creep into the reporting.
Lara Logan said, “This is a critical time as much as there ever has been. This is really a critical moment.”
The heaviest words, though, were used by Christiane Amanpour, about as experienced a war correspondent as exists right now, who said, “The war in Iraq has basically turned out to be a disaster and journalists have paid for it, paid for the privilege of witnessing and reporting that and so have many, many other people who have been there.
“And I think that’s terribly, terribly difficult for us and unfortunately for some reason, which I can’t fathom, the kind of awful thing that’s going on there now on a daily basis has almost become humdrum. So, when something happens to people that we identify, like Bob and like Doug, we wake up again and realize that, no, this is not acceptable what’s going on there and it’s a terrible situation.”
She also said: “I just think it is so sad. I mean, by any indicator Iraq is a black hole.”
And: “This is a big drama because hope is the only thing [the Iraqis] have in the middle of this spiralling security disaster. And by any indication whether you take the number of journalists killed or wounded, whether you take the number of American soldiers killed or wounded, whether you take the number of Iraqi soldiers killed and wounded, contractors, people working there, it just gets worse and worse.”
The sad situation is that Woodruff was in harm’s way this weekend for ratings. ABC had decided that its franchise was goig to be on-the-road reporting which meant putting its front-line team on the front lines around the world. Now news organizations have some hard questions to ask themselves about their commitment to “being there” versus their not insignificant investments in their anchors and stars.
There’s a looming danger that news organizations will give up front-line coverage as it gets more and more dangerous. CNN isn’t going to risk putting Anderson Cooper in a convoy, and NBC isn’t going to risk its investment in Brian Williams for a few stand-up shots on patrol.
Meanwhile, ABC, which just launched its new anchor team this month finds itself with an ominous question: Will Bob Woodruff ever return to the evening news? The answer is weeks, probably months, away.