CBS and NBC refused to broadcast rare, uncensored footage taken deep inside Iraq at the height of the U.S.-led air war. The footage, initially commissioned by NBC with two producers whose earlier work had earned the network seven Emmys, substantially contradicted U.S. administration claims that civilian damage from the American-led bombing campaign was light. The exclusive videotape, shot by producers Jon Alpert and Maryanne Deleo, during a trip to Iraq in early February, portrayed heavy civilian carnage as a result of allied bombing.
“I thought it was substantial,” said NBC Nightly News Executive Producer Steven Friedman, who initially approved the material for the broadcast. “It was stuff on the ground that nobody else had. It was very interesting material that we wanted to use for the show, but the boss (NBC President Michael Gartner) said no.” After a meeting with Friedman, anchor Tom Brokaw, and Tom Capra, executive producer of the Today Show, producer Jon Alpert said “Everybody felt the film was very good. Friedman is a very competitive newsman and wanted to get the story on. They asked for three minutes, to be shown on the Nightly News and the Today Show, and we reached a financial agreement.”
But despite the enthusiasm shown by Friedman and Brokaw, who reportedly fought hard for its airing, Gartner killed the footage.
The producers then took the video to CBS, where they got the go-ahead from CBS Evening News Executive Producer Tom Bettag. “He told me, ‘You’ll appear on the show with Dan (Rather) tomorrow night,”‘ Alpert said. But while he was editing the piece for CBS, Alpert got a call from the network: Bettag had been fired in the middle of the night, and his piece had been killed.
Both networks have stated publicly that spiking the story had nothing to do with the controversial nature of the material.
Nevertheless, a series of interviews with network producers who requested anonymity, charged that the overwhelming support for the administration’s war effort placed intense pressure on news executives to toe the line. “The pressure behind the scenes at the height of the hostilities to put out a pro-war, pro-administration message was immense,” said one producer with more than 15 years’ experience at the three networks.
The media-watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) concluded: “There is a strong indication that intimidation and censorship has taken place in at least six of the cases that have been reported to us of stories and broadcasts that were unfavorable to the administration’s war policy.” Several journalists and broadcasters have claimed to have had their work pulled or even to have lost their jobs for stories or comments that have been deemed out of sync with public opinion polls, according to FAIR.
SSU CENSORED RESEARCHER: JACKIE STONEBRAKER
SOURCE: THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN
520 Hampshire St., San Francisco, CA 94110-1417, DATE: 3/20/91
TITLE: “Sights unseen” AUTHORS: Dennis Bernstein and Sasha Futran
COMMENTS: This story provides a “smoking gun” example of media self-censorship which some critics of Project Censored often demand. Here is a case where two professional television documentary producers were able to capture dramatic coverage of what happened in Iraq as a result of the heavy U.S.-led bombing campaign. This was coverage which had not been censored or edited by the military. Yet, while journalists at both CBS and NBC news departments were interested in the footage, both networks decided not to run it.
Dennis Bernstein, one of the authors of the article revealing the networks” censorship, said that it did not receive the media coverage it deserved and that the public would have benefited from wider exposure of this story had it been put into the context of the timing of the war.
Bernstein added that he originally distributed the article through the Pacific News Service, where he is an associate editor, but that none of the news service’s major media clients gave it a second glance. “The S.F. Chronicle said it was old news at the time that it broke,” Bernstein noted.
Bernstein said that the networks, and their corporate military sponsors (and in the case of GE and NBC, their owners), were the primary beneficiaries from the lack of media coverage given this issue.
Summing up the media control and manipulation during the Gulf War, a senior network producer with long experience at NBC and CBS said “This is the most pervasive propaganda control I’ve ever witnessed. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Ironically, while CBS and NBC deprived the nation of information it should have received during the war, the producers did sell a copy of their video to Japanese television. And a videotape is now available in the U.S. to those who want to see what was censored by the networks. A 28-minute version of the material, titled “Nowhere to Hide,” is being circulated by media watchdog and community groups.
For information on how to obtain a copy of film the networks censored -”Nowhere to Hide: Ramsey Clark in Iraq” — write: Coalition to Stop U.S. Intervention in the Middle East, 36 East 12th Street, New York, NY 10003.