Networks pull reporters from Iraq

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

— ABC and NBC ordered their reporters out of Baghdad on Monday, as news organizations weighed safety concerns against the desire to be in the center of the world's biggest story.

Other television correspondents, such as CNN's Nic Robertson and Rym Brahimi, and CBS' Lara Logan, were staying. CNN told a reporter for its Spanish-language service to leave.

ABC reporter Dan Harris and his producer were told by ABC News President David Westin early Monday to leave the city.

"I think the safety of the journalists comes first," said ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider. ABC may use a correspondent from The Times of London and a freelance journalist stationed in Baghdad to supplement its reporting, he said.

NBC reporters Ron Allen and Patricia Sabga, along with their four-person crew, also were sent out of the Iraqi capital, spokeswoman Barbara Levin said.

NBC and its cable news network, MSNBC, will have access to reporting by former CNN correspondent Peter Arnett, who is in Baghdad on assignment from the MSNBC series "National Geographic Explorer." Arnett's reporting from Baghdad during the 1991 Gulf War was among the most dramatic and controversial of that conflict.

"I always stay in places like this," Arnett said Monday. "I do anything to avoid a New York winter."

Arnett said he felt the same level of apprehension in Baghdad now as he felt before the Gulf War in 1991.

"The idea of the bombing being followed up by a ground war, you just cannot anticipate how that will evolve," he said. "We know it will probably be dangerous, but it's an exciting prospect to be here today and that's how my team feels ... They want to be here at a turning point in history."

At the same time, Arnett said he can't blame anybody who wants to leave because of the danger.

Charles Bierbauer, dean of the University of South Carolina's school of journalism and a former CNN diplomatic correspondent, said reporters should not be required to stay in a war zone against their will.


AP Photo

Iraqi workers take furniture and a generator belonging to foreign media down from the rooftop of the press center in Baghdad. With war looming, some members of the foreign media are leaving Baghdad.

"Too many of my friends have died," he said. "You have to decide if the story is worth dying for, or whether you can do it better somewhere else."

Meanwhile, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News Channel and NBC also reached agreement on Monday for pool coverage of any video shot from the roof of Baghdad's ministry of information building during the first 24 hours of any conflict, CNN spokeswoman Christa Robinson said. This agreement to share footage avoids any possible arguments among networks accusing rivals of stealing their signals.

Other news organizations, such as The Washington Post and Chicago Tribune, were discussing the dangers with their reporters on Monday in anticipation of a decision.

CBS is constantly monitoring Logan's situation. Logan, who reported for CBS' corporate cousin MTV live on Monday, has taken some steps in Baghdad to increase her safety, spokeswoman Sandra Genelius said.

Fox News Channel was expelled from the city last month by the Iraqi government.

The CNN reporter who was ordered out on Monday was less experienced than Robertson and Brahimi, said Eason Jordan, CNN's chief news executive. Those two are staying put for now, he said.

"It's minute-by-minute and hour-by-hour," Jordan said.