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Iraq Coverage: Too Little, or Too Much?

Aired October 31, 2002 - 12:52   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We also try to spend this hour each day not only on the Iraq issue, but on several related matters, including how the news media is covering this whole issue of Iraq. Is there too much coverage? Is there not enough coverage? Joining us now is "Washington Post" reporter and CNN's "Reliable Sources" host Howard Kurtz.
Howard, thanks for joining us.

If you take a look at the way we are covering all of the Iraq, the "Showdown Iraq," "Target: Saddam," the potential of a war, are we going too far?

HOWARD KURTZ, "WASHINGTON POST": Not this month. In September, as you know, Wolf, the Iraq story, because of the strong push by the Bush White House, pretty much dominated the news, and to the Democrat's dismay, kind of blew the midterm elections off the media radar screen. I hear the elections are back on for next Tuesday.

But in October, there were two very dramatic stories. One was the Washington sniper, which all of the cable networks went completely and totally wild over, very dramatic life-and-death story. And the day after the sniper suspects were caught, Paul Wellstone's plane went down in Minnesota. So I think those two have temporarily pushed the Iraqi story to the back burner. But it will be bake. You don't have to change the name of the show.

BLITZER: Is there a problem, though, that if we do too much coverage of a potential war with Iraq, we're almost looking like we're anxious for the war to develop, becoming too gung ho in our coverage with a possible war with Iraq.

KURTZ: I think that is a danger, and I think particularly in the first weeks when the White House was rallying, every day against Saddam Hussein, and most Democrats were either not saying much about the war, because they don't see it as a winning campaign issue, or we're sort of lining up behind the president, that there was maybe kind of a militaristic tone in some of the coverage, and I think there was a lot of complaints among those who don't like the idea of going into Iraq, that their voice is not being heard. I think that's balanced out a little bit now.

But let's face it, the president has a tremendously loud megaphone. If he chooses after the elections to ratchet up the pressure again, and of course what happens at the U.N., the news media will not have much choice but to deliver that message loud and clear. BLITZER: As you know, there was a huge demonstration over the weekend here, an anti-war demonstration along the wall, along the Vietnam War memorial. A lot of the organizers thought that there wasn't adequate coverage in the national news media, whether on television, or in print. Did we adequately do our job and cover that story the way we should have?

KURTZ: I felt the demonstration was undercover, and that's in part because television particularly focuses on one or two big issues at the time, and the Wellstone, Mondale Minnesota drama was played out, as well as the sniper aftermath, but that's no excuse.

When those kind of numbers get together, to oppose the administration's policy in Iraq, that's the kind of news that in the interest of balance, in the interest of a good debate, as you try to have on this show, ought to get more media attention.

Some newspaper kissed it off. It didn't get much coverage on television. I sometimes think, Wolf, that demonstrators in Seattle and other places, get arrested, make trouble, have violence, television love that story. It's a little harder to cover a peaceful demonstration, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do a good of it.

KURTZ: Even though there are big numbers, there's always a dispute. The park service, they never know exactly how many people are there. The organizers always say hundreds of thousands, and then the police say, well, maybe 30,000.

BLITZER: Well, you know there, is always a numbers game that's difficult, but, you know, the fact is significant number of people showed up, not just here in D.C., but in other cities around the world, and I think that by any definition, that ought to be story. There is so much media oxygen available, and right now the Iraq story, at least temporarily, has been pushed to the back burner. I think it's very important that all of us in the news business cover all sides of this debate. Otherwise, later on, there will be questions about, where was the press, and why didn't they warn us about the possible ramifications here?

BLITZER: Our commitment here, is on this program and indeed on CNN, to cover all sides of this debate, all aspects of this potential war with Iraq. Howard Kurtz of "The Washington Post," and CNN's "Reliable Sources," which is seen Saturday night at 6:30. Excellent show.

KURTZ: Thanks for the plug.

BLITZER: I'll never forget your name again.


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