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International Correspondents

Aired December 27, 2002 - 19:30   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christiane Amanpour and welcome to INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. In this edition, a special in-depth look at the military and the media in times of war. How is access to troops and the frontlines changed from conflict to conflict? What did we learn from past experiences and what can we expect in the future? And will the press ever be able to really cover and chronicle a potential war in Iraq?
We begin with what is arguably the conflict that would forever influence war coverage and the type of war coverage that would influence the outcome of the war itself, the Vietnam War.

I'm joined now from New York by the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author and historian, David Halberstam. And in Paris by Mort Rosenblum, special correspondent with the Associated Press. He has covered numerous wars including, Vietnam. And here in the studio with me Charles Wheeler, foreign correspondent with the BBC since the 1950's and who fought in World War II. Gentlemen, thank you very much indeed, all of you for joining me.

I want to know David from you, who is the quintessential chronicler of the Vietnam War, are we all just being romantic when we look back to that time as a great, great moment in how the press was able to do war coverage?

DAVID HALBERSTAM, JOURNALIST & HISTORIAN: Well, there was great deal of access, which was hard won; and when I first got there in 1962, they did control the access. You had to sort of, line up and get in line to get on a helicopter. And then of course it opened up itself because the army brought over -- army aviation brought over some new, modern army helicopters and they wanted to sell army aviation. So the commander, Major Ivan - Lieutenant Commander Ivan Slavish took us on his helicopter and with that we had access.

It was an important story for the American press because the policy and the public relations of it said we were winning the war. The journalistic view reflecting that of the people in the field, the army, the military and the CIA was that in fact, we were not winning, that we were in a meat grinder war, a stalemate. Our military superiority against their political superiority, and because of that, eventually the journalistic view became the more prominent one.

It is considered an event -- a war, in which the press really did a good job, went against government controls, and artificial government optimism to do its historic duty. And of course, ever since that there's been great military and governmental resentment of the press and the desire for greater controls.

AMANPOUR: Mort, let me ask you. You were also covering the Vietnam War and you've done the Gulf War etcetera. Was the Vietnam War a moment where the government, the military and the press had perhaps their best and only relationship?

MORT ROSENBLUM, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": Well, I think that's true. The whole thing was summed up to me by Tony Clifton who is this great Australian who worked for "Newsweek," and we were sitting around waiting for a televised briefing in Dakran, we were waiting for a televised briefing from Riyadh and it starts. And Tony is looking over at me and he says, "At least in Vietnam they lied to us in person." I mean the thing about Vietnam is you can actually get out there and see it. I mean, the military has lied to reporters since the Peloponnesian Wars that's not new.

What's new is, starting from the Vietnam and working forward; not only the Gulf War but through Grenada, through Panama through all of it, they never forget. Each war they study it, they see you know, how we've come up with access. We don't study, we go from -- our characters change, we send people out without experience and so they come up with things like the pool system and what not. And in the end, each war, each military conflict that's come along, and this one I fear will be much, much worse; they essentially control us.

AMANPOUR: Charles Wheeler you.

HALBERSTAM: We should -- but we should point out the government does not like what we were doing in Vietnam. It regarded us -- as to the senior people in Washington as the enemy. Johnson -- Lyndon Johnson called me a traitor to the country; me Neal Sheehan and I. John Kennedy tried to get the "Times" to transfer me out. And again, and again if you went to the high levels in Saigon, not the working people in the fields, the guys in the field, but the people in the high level in Saigon and in Washington thought we were the enemy.

AMANPOUR: I'm going to follow on with Charles Wheeler. Just perhaps a little bit out of your sphere but I want to pick up on this issue of journalist duty, honorable journalist duty, what they did was the right thing there, they told the story. Today, it's not quite like that. You get the feeling that the bosses, when they do get the pressure from the Pentagon or others you know; your reporters are doing a bad job there, they're being unpatriotic, they're revealing too many secrets. Quite often people are yanked.

CHARLES WHEELER, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, BBC: Well, they may be. I don't know anybody who's ever been yanked. I would say that the bosses will conform to a certain extent to what the Department of Defense whether in your country or mine are doing. But what they were also doing is encourage the reporters to work their way around the system as they did in the Gulf War. The people who got the stories were the people who were not accredited so that your bosses, your much maligned bosses may be, would encourage. They would send out a second, a duplicate lot of reporters who are not working within the system but working around it, and those are the guys who would get the stories.

AMANPOUR: And those were the guys who would get into danger as well. Bob Simon did a heroic effort of trying to get around the pool system in Saudi Arabia. He works for CBS but he spent the entire war in an Iraqi jail.

WHEELER: Sure. Yes, yes. But can I say something to add to what Mr. Halberstam was saying? What struck me was that I was covering the Washington end of the Vietnam War for so many years, what was interesting was the administration was boxed in by the press in Vietnam on the one side and the politicians and the peace movement on the other, who were being fed by the press.

So there was a kind of double pressure on the administration. Without the correspondents, the politicians would never have had the material with which for example, to freeze up or hold the right hearings. So there was a double pressure there, which was hugely significant. And that was one occasion I think, where the outcome of the war depended entirely on the reporting. It might never have stopped.

AMANPOUR: Do you agree with that, that the really reporting was what created history then?

HALBERSTAM: The strength and resilience of the North Vietnamese infantry, the fact that it was the wrong war in the wrong time in the wrong place and that our projection of what technology could do were absolutely inaccurate. That it was an extraordinary miscalculation, a terrible policy. We reflected that but of course, what changed history was the resilience of the NVA, which they had shown as the Viet men in the earlier war. That's what changed it, we that reflected and we fed into the body politic. Particularly in the upper middle-class, starting in an odd circulatory system of upper middle-class college students who began by around late '66 early '67 to effect their parents who began to challenge the Democratic Party. And Lyndon Johnson was boxed in, in his own Party and pulled back in '68 right after the Tet Offensive.

AMANPOUR: Gentlemen, we'll continue our discussion when we come back after a short break.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back.

The Gulf War of 1991 turned out to be a different type of conflict. Cruise missiles and strategic bombings allowed the allied forces to attack targets deep within Iraqi territory; but for journalists trying to cover this on the ground, it proved extremely challenging. Getting into the frontline, close to it was even more challenging. Of course, there were those correspondents who were given access to allied troops. But even these small and limited "pools" as they were called got to see very little of the real action.

We're going to continue our discussion with our guests: David Halberstam in New York, Mort Rosenblum in Paris, CNN's executive vice- president Bob Furnad who was in charge of our Gulf War coverage back in 1991, and here with me in the studio, Charles Wheeler from the BBC.

Bob let me ask you this, as you contemplate the possibility of a potential new Gulf War or a war in Iraq, is it going to be technically and editorially and physically the way it was for us back in 1991. Or are we not going to see what we saw back then?

BOB FURNAD, FORMER EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, CNN: Well, I certainly hope isn't as it was in '91. The big fear I had in looking back on our coverage then and the fear I have of what it would look like in a new Gulf War is that it was so sanitized that it wasn't real.

I think if you were to fill a room with thirty people who had watched daily, watched our coverage or anybody's coverage of the Gulf War, and asked them what are the mental images that you have in you mind of the war? And I think they'll tell you well, I remember guys with ribbons on their chests and pointers pointing at maps. I remember Smart bombs hitting their targets, and I remember planes taking off from carrier decks and flying off into the sunset, and tanks rolling across the desert.

They wouldn't remember bloodied bodies or body bags, or destruction because you didn't see it. You saw a very clean war, and a very unreal war.

AMANPOUR: In way, that is absolutely true. I was one of the reporters at that time and was very, very frustrated with the lack of access. But of course, there weren't that many casualties at that time either. But I want to ask David Halberstam who is not only a journalist but a historian: in Vietnam, after Vietnam they got mad at journalists because you got too close. Now, everybody is mad at us because we didn't get close enough. So, we didn't tell the real story. Where is the happy medium or is there one?

HALBERSTAM: Well, we weren't too close in Vietnam, and the one thing you have to remember about the Gulf War is that most of it was a high technology air war in the weeks proceeding the ground war. Then when the ground war took place it was only four days. If it had been a more old fashioned war, the Iraqis had been able to resist, reporters would have been out there. They would have covered American kids; American kids, young people, and officers would tell the truth to American reporters the way they always have and the truth would out. As it happened they put out the essential nervous system of the Iraqi military with the high technology and the war itself went quickly.

That will always happen. I mean, they'll obviously try and control this; they'll try and do it all high technology. They'll try and control access. And I have to tell you the people who run the network news division are much more timid than they were thirty or forty years ago. They work for large corporations that don't care about the press, don't care about the First Amendment. So, they bail out a much more readily.

AMANPOUR: Bob Furnad, if you were still in charge of sort of the technical, if you like, coverage of that war, of a potential new war, what sort of frustrations or expectations would you have in terms of this time around?

FURNAD: Well, I think that we need to be educating the public as to what's going on: where we're allowed, where we're not allowed and what restrictions are we working under. I think we did a poor job of that in the past.

You touched on something barely earlier in your first segment about the public's reaction and how the executives react to the public's reaction. We got hammered by the far right who said that the fact that we had a reporter Peter Arnett in Baghdad indicated we were aiding and abetting the enemy. We do weather reports on the weather in the Middle East and they say, well, you're telling Saddam whether we're going to bomb or not as if he couldn't stick his head out the window and see with the cloud cover was. And I think executives react to that especially in the competitive atmosphere of today.

AMANPOUR: Well, David just alluded to that as well, and today we're living in a much more extremely conservative environment in the United States and in other parts of the world.

HALBERSTAM: Ted Turner made the -- Ted Turner made the -- Ted Turner made the call personally to keep Peter there. Peter is one of the great, great war correspondents of the Vietnam War, fearless, he stayed there. I don't think there's a head of a major news institution today that would make a comparable call. I don't think they have the loyalty to the people in the field that they use to have. I think that they don't care about foreign reporting. I doubt that this show is going to play in the United States of America, the one we're taping now. I think they don't care.

AMANPOUR: You -- You -- You are to an extent right about that David, and I want to put Bob on the spot again about that because you just alluded to that. Look, we live in a much more right winged establishment than we did even ten or eleven years ago during the first Gulf War. You know, if people came down heavy on our necks, then which I remember, they're going to come down like a ton of bricks now: The Fox News', the establishment. What do we do? How do we do our job?

FURNAD: Well, I think we do our job the same way.

AMANPOUR: Not us, the bosses, not we on the ground. I mean the bosses.

FURNAD: Well, I think the bosses do it by presenting a balanced view on the air; to after having gone through something where there is been an enormous amount of criticism come in, to put people on the left and the right of the issue and talk about the issue. So that those who are critical feel that their views are being heard, that their message is out there. And so there's some balance on the air. We can't just put our heads in the sand and pretend that's the way we want it to be.

AMANPOUR: I want to ask Charles Wheeler, David was saying that you know, or everybody is basically saying that this high technology the war is likely to be over, not over but it's going to be much different than it was in Vietnam, if there is another war. But what about the aftermath of the war, that's something you're very concerned about.

WHEELER: Well, I think the best stories are usually the aftermath. Can I first though, make one point about what David Halberstam was saying? I don't believe that if American troops have to go into Baghdad, the press, television will get anywhere near them because we move around in such hordes now a days that if you let the press in, there's barely room for the soldiers on the ground.

AMANPOUR: But you know they are in right now? There is press in there right now. We don't know what will happen if there is a war.

WHEELER: Well, yes but a handful of people but I mean, in the event of a war if everybody you know.

HALBERSTAM: It's a very good point. That's a very good point.

WHEELER: And I don't think that they're going to get near the action. To go on from there, my own feeling about the Gulf War, I went -- arrived there the day it ended quite deliberately. And I went to Kuwait and the story I got was Kuwaitis beating up on the Palestinians, torture, death; a very nasty story indeed. A week later, I was up in the mountains covering the Kurds. That was a story.

Now, I think the aftermath is going to be more interesting than the actual battle, I suspect it might be. So don't let's all get hung up on getting Pentagon accreditation. Let's get into the Middle East, use people already there who know the ground and go for the aftermath because that's going to be a massive story.

AMANPOUR: Well, even in Afghanistan the aftermath was more interesting.

WHEELER: Exactly. Yes.

AMANPOUR: Mort, what do you -- well I mean, you covered the Gulf War, you were part of that frustration -- frustrated group of pool reporters, we were all there together; what do you think? Will anybody get anywhere near what's going on this time around if there is a this time around?

ROSENBLUM: Yes, I disagree with David, I don't think -- I mean, if it goes on for a while perhaps but I probably put a couple of thousand miles on the Mitsubishi running around in areas, avoiding pools up in the north. And I mean, I've been a correspondent in a lot of wars, the only time I've been a prisoner of war has been at the hands of American troops. And I was picked up, carried, and I was kind of held and they -- I mean and there was a lot of -- I'll keep it short. But essentially I went back to Dakran and the colonel whose in charge of the JIBLET's, the Joint Information Bureau had gone to the Saudi Foreign Ministry guide and tried to get me thrown out of the country. And the Saudi looks at him and said, but sir haven't you looked at your First Amendment?"

I think as I said before, I think they are learning each time. And I think that -- I mean, we had this incident of friendly fire, this missile accident in February in Afghanistan when troops were not allowed to get anywhere near the -- I mean, troops -- reporters were not allowed to get anywhere near the place and weren't allowed to get near American casualties. They weren't allowed to get near the medical facilities.

Later, it came up at the Pentagon, and I made a note of what Victoria Clark said. She says the situation in Afghanistan is so chaotic that soldiers can't be sure that someone who identifies himself as an American reporter actually is. I mean, give us a break here. I mean, how far is this going to go?

I really think -- I'm worried. I'm very, very worried that our access is being curtailed and I don't think we're doing enough to protect it.

AMANPOUR: I think you're right. I think a lot of us who worried -- and we'll further explore that after a short break.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back. We're talking about the media's access to the military today. Mort, what do you think? They want to keep us away in general, is that a legitimate desire on the part of the military for whatever reason: security, national, you know, security, anything?

ROSENBLUM: Look, I mean, I can understand that a general doesn't me within a thousand miles of his war; but the problem is, it's not his war. It's the American people. It's their blood, it's their money, it's their flag, it's what they have to answer for to the rest of the world for the next generation. And you know, we represent them. If we're not there, the people aren't there. And I mean, it's getting to the point -- it's very simple for the army to say, well you know, it's endangering our troops, it's doing this, it's doing that. And where there is legitimate concern, there is legitimate concern but it's so often bogus. I mean, they simply make it up as an excuse to keep us away.

I mean, you'll remember Christiane during this great case during the Gulf War where somebody filed a dispatch of pilots coming back you know, from a bombing mission and a guy wrote in his dispatch, "Giddy." And the military censor changed it to "Proud." Well, you know, I don't think we're endangering anybody's life by re -- you know what I mean, it's.

AMANPOUR: Yes, it was a lot about PR and not about security. Bob, what do you think about that?

FURNAD: Well, I agree wholeheartedly that we have to be on the ground. And the prime example from Gulf War I, the reports during the Gulf War were the obliteration of the Iraqi tanks from the air was totally successful, almost two hundred tanks wiped out. Afterwards, we come to find out that the truth of the matter was, most of the tanks were destroyed either by ground fire from troops on the ground, or by Iraqis leaving it, walking away and deserting their tanks. We'll never know what the truth is unless we've got people there covering it.

AMANPOUR: People like, David Halberstam and his friends and colleagues during the Vietnam War. When you look now all these years later at a potential next war for our generation to cover, do you think we're going to be able to do any kind of half decent job?

HALBERSTAM: Well, I think -- I think all the odds are stacked against us because "A": there are too many of us now and that is an instrument of the people who control it and the control system with the high technology gets greater and greater. But I was thinking about for a moment, what a scandal it would have been how much we would have lost our credibility in Vietnam had we played the game, had we been from day one optimistic. And then year-by-year still optimistic until one day it turns out it didn't work and meanwhile, thousands of thousands of young Americans are writing their letters home to their families saying, it doesn't work, it doesn't work; they say it's working but it doesn't work, the enemy is tough. And we hadn't been doing that.

I agree with what Mort said very strongly, we are the proxy of the American people. These are their children, these are their resources, their blood, their money, and it is an important part of the circulatory system of a democracy. Of course, the government doesn't like us but we are a very, very healthy check on them, as many of the senior officers who served in Vietnam would privately admit once it's all over.

AMANPOUR: And Charles, the last word with you, what do you think about the importance of us being there?

WHEELER: Well, it's obviously terribly important; you've got to be there. But don't expect to get the story on the first night in time for the next satellite because you're not going to get it. You didn't get it in Vietnam; you got it in driblets. You got officers talking, writing books. You got it from people like McNamara saying, we thought we were fighting Communism, we were fighting Nationalism; we were wrong because we were ignorant.

Now, OK. So, it took thirty years for McNamara to come out with this but in the end, it does come out and it will come out because the soldiers will talk, the victims will talk, the whole of the Middle East will talk. Don't expect it to evolve too early because the obstacles are huge, I agree.

AMANPOUR: On that note, thank you all very much for joining us. Charles, Bob, David and Mort, thank you very much indeed.

And that's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. I'm Christiane Amanpour, thank you for joining us.



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