Some Backstory on NBC News’ Iraq Reporting

By kevin Comment

engel_maddow_8-18.jpgRichard Engel’s live reporting from the military convoy out of Iraq last evening left many non-NBCers wondering: How’d they get that “exclusive?” According to reports, the major broadcast was in the works for weeks and involved a request Engel submitted to the military. The word spread internally at NBC News and by Sunday MSNBC host Rachel Maddow was heading for Baghdad.

NBC News VP David Verdi told the NYTimes’ Brian Stelter, “The military had said, ‘You are the ones who are going to broadcast it first.'” Stelter reports:

NBC officials said their requests to report live during the withdrawal were first filed many weeks ago. The requests provoked debate within the military, with some people arguing that having reporters present would place excess attention on the fact that the troops were leaving.

A Pentagon spokesperson tells Yahoo! News’ Michael Calderone that NBC did not receive exclusive coverage and that it was considered “a normal press request.”

Col. Barry Johnson, a military spokesman in Iraq, also told The Upshot that the network wasn’t handed the story. “NBC did not receive exclusive coverage,” Johnson said. “Other media participated as well. However, at NBC’s request and with the backing of the Pentagon, they were allowed to place a satellite truck in the convoy and report on the movement once it crossed the border.”

Calderone reports that Fox News — along with the AP and WaPo — were among those other media outlets participating.

But it was NBC that had live video from a moving military convoy and, seemingly, the jump start.

Mediaite’s Steve Krakauer writes, “But this fantastic coverage also showed a cooperation at least on some level between NBC and MSNBC and elements in the Obama administration… some elements within the military, so by extension the Obama administration, clearly worked with NBC (and MSNBC) to let them have this exclusive.”

NBC’s technological capability to have the live satellite feed with Engel aboard the convoy out of the country was obviously a factor in whatever permissions the military granted NBC. In the middle of the Iraqi desert, that’s no small feat and, as made clear by the military’s comments, the Bloommobile, which was in use in the Gulf as recently as a month ago, was a big part of the network’s request. “We’re not the only ones embedded with this last brigade that had just left Iraq,” Chuck Todd said on MSNBC. “In fact I think there are four or five other news organizations. We happen to be the only one that has the technology to bring these pictures to the world tonight live, of this brigade leaving. You do get the sense, Keith, that that is what wasn’t fully comprehended [by the White House].”

NBC also had the capability to deliver the largest evening news audience as well as several subsequent hours of cable coverage. Last week, “Nightly News” averaged 7.5 million viewers, the most of any network news program and more than double what the top-rated cable news program, “The O’Reilly Factor” averaged. And while its competitors at ABC and CBS also draw considerable audiences, there’s not much live on-air coverage that can be offered following the 30-minute broadcast until the next morning, save the 30 minutes of “Nightline.”

When Brian Williams signed off last night, Engel and Maddow, who was in Baghdad, were both live on MSNBC within eight minutes. As we reported, the network was subsequently in rolling coverage all night.