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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Says Missing Soldiers Captured or Killed

Aired March 23, 2003 - 23:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, everyone, and hello from the CNN news room. Checking the headlines at this hour, the Pentagon says 12 U.S. soldiers who went missing after fighting in southern Iraq today have either been captured or killed. The Arab television network, Al-Jazeera, today broadcast video of what were said to be the bodies of at least four soldiers.
The fighting in which those soldiers went missing took place near Nasiriyah. U.S. Marines were able to defeat Iraqi forces but Centcom says a number of Marines were killed and wounded in the battle. U.S. officials described the fighting as the sharpest engagement of the war so far.

President Bush says coalition forces have secured southern Iraq and that the area should soon be safe for massive humanitarian aid. Mr. Bush says he expects the aid to begin moving within the next 36 hours.

Jordan has ordered four Iraqi diplomats out of the country. The Jordanian Foreign Minister says the four had to leave because of security-related matters. He also says they were involved in activities other than those associated with normal diplomatic behavior.

Greater confidence in Middle East oil supplies has gas prices holding steady. And according to the latest Lundberg survey, Americans are paying an average of about $1.73 a gallon. That's about a penny more than it was two weeks ago. Crude oil prices dropped after President Bush's ultimatum to Saddam Hussein last Monday.

And there is other news going on including an event affected by the war in Iraq. There was less pageantry at the Academy Awards tonight and comments on the war. Director Michael Moore called it "fictitious war" while accepting the best documentary award for "Bowling for Columbine."

Adrien Brody, winner of the Best Actor Oscar for "The Pianist" called on people to pray for peace. Also want to let you know that Nicole Kidman was just named Best Actress for "The Hours."

More news as it happens. You're watching the most comprehensive coverage of the war in Iraq on CNN.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: "More news when it happens?" More news all the time.

COLLINS: That's right. BROWN: That's all we do around here is news.

COLLINS: You've got that right.

BROWN: Thank you very much, news Ms. Collins. Bill Schneider is going to talk a little bit about where the country is. We've been looking at - we've been out in the field polling. But before we get to the numbers, just let me turn to you here.

The Michael Moore moment was an interesting moment, actually. Obviously, I didn't see it. I was up here. But, you know, given the nature of Hollywood and all of that, just describe in a little more detail what happened.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: It was a remarkable moment, Aaron, at the Academy Awards a few minutes ago. Michael Moore was awarded an Oscar for his documentary "Bowling for Columbine." He got up on the stage, and as Heidi just indicated, he criticized the war. He called President Bush a "fictitious president" and he said he was going to war for "fictitious reasons." And then something amazing happened in a Hollywood audience. He got booed off the stage. There were cat-calls, there were boos, very, very little applause. He literally got booed off the stage.

Interesting question - was it because people disagreed with him or they thought it was inappropriate for him to make those kinds of comments?

BROWN: Well, it was both.

SCHNEIDER: Nevertheless - or both.

BROWN: Or both.

SCHNEIDER: Or both. But it was quite a remarkable moment.

BROWN: Without dwelling on any of that, the Academy Awards is - you know, one of the reasons I think people watch the Academy Awards is to see if there's going to be a moment.

SCHNEIDER: That was it.

BROWN: I guess that was it.

SCHNEIDER: That was it.

BROWN: I guess they got one now. Anyway, we've been, over the last couple of days, in the field as we say, when we're talking about polls. And the problem for the pollsters and for the rest of us in trying to understand this is that things happen. So the question you ask and the event that have in their mind is never quite static anymore. So with that in mind, let's talk about where the country seems to be given the events of today.

SCHNEIDER: Well, we have a moving picture in today's poll, Aaron, because we interviewed people yesterday and again today. And as we all know, today was a very tough day. There was tough ground fighting, casualties, prisoners of war, friendly fire incidents. And that seems to have created in the American public a new mood of sober realism. We have direct evidence of it. For instance, we asked people, "Do you expect fewer than 100 Americans to be killed in this war?" On Saturday, yesterday, 46 percent said fewer than 100 Americans would be killed. Now that's gone down to 35 percent. Americans expect this to be a longer, tougher, bloodier war.

But we can also report something else quite remarkable, and that is morale on the home front is holding up rather nicely. When we asked people, "Do you favor the United States going to war with Iraq?" Yesterday, when things were going very well, that number was 74 percent. Today, when things look a little bit more difficult, the number is holding up pretty well - 70 percent. So you can report, I think, morale on the home front is good.

BROWN: The difference between 74 and 70 is statistically insignificant ...

SCHNEIDER: Yes.

BROWN: ... and given the size of the sample we were working with.

SCHNEIDER: That's right.

BROWN: The President continues to enjoy broad support for the policy itself. But when you look at, you know, I mean what is not statistically insignificant is the shift in that first graphic you showed on whether people think it's going to be a bloody war with the casualties and all the rest.

From a pollsters point of view, does that sort of sharp twist in a day - what does it say? I guess I'm trying to know how important it is.

SCHNEIDER: What it says is people are paying attention and then a new mood of somber realism has set in; that the initial euphoria that this was going to be a fast and easy war has dissipated a bit. Although, I should tell you that even today, people say that they expect the number of casualties, that is, killed or wounded, to be perhaps 100 to 200 people. That's what they told us in the poll, which would be on the scale of the Gulf War. Americans expect this to be another Gulf War.

But this is a ground war. We're trying to fight for territory. We're trying to take over Iraq and change its regime. This is not an aerial war and it's likely to be a far more difficult war than the Gulf War. So perhaps Americans still have an unrealistic expectation that this war in the Gulf is going to be as easy as the last one.

BROWN: Well, less so I suspect today than yesterday.

SCHNEIDER: Yes. But still, they still expect only a couple of hundred casualties.

BROWN: Thank you, sir.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

BROWN: Bill Schneider. And we'll be, throughout all of this and in the polling here is somewhat irresistible, in part because we enjoy them but, in truth, you see demonstrations on both side and those are passionate people with passionate feelings on both sides, it doesn't necessarily tell us broadly where the country is and that's an important thing for us to know.

Well, we're going to take a short break. We don't take many breaks. We'll take a short break. Among the things we do when you come is we'll talk - we'll reassemble a group of newspaper or journalist types and talk a little bit about some of the difficult decisions of the day and more as our coverage of the war on Iraq continues on a Sunday night. This is CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: We talked quite a bit on this program through the night about the way we are seeing this war and how the embed program of the Pentagon and journalists created to bring the war home, if you will, has worked or not worked, depending on your point of view. Ours is that it's worked. We want to talk some more about that in a moment.

But first, here is British pool reporter, Bill Neely's report on the action at the Faw Peninsula.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL NEELY, POOL REPORTER: Overnight, Marines continued to attack pockets of Iraqi resistance, but the Marines are dug in, holding their ground. Around 120 Iraqi prisoners have been taken. Many more have died under withering fire from the Marines.

Right across southern Iraq, British and American forces are forging their way north. But in some built-up areas, they're meeting resistance. The street fighting in the south may be a taste of things to come if American and perhaps British troops have to fight their way into bigger urban centers like Basra and ultimately Baghdad.

This morning a helicopter arrived to take documents seized from the Iraqi Army in the south back to headquarters where they'll be analyzed for any evidence that Iraq possesses chemical or biological weapons. Also on the helicopter, a Royal Marine from 42 Commando whose brother was killed in a helicopter crash on the night of the invasion; a crash which took the lives of seven other British serviceman. This Marine has fought on for three days knowing his brother's fate. This flight will take him back to Britain.

Bill Neely with the Royal Marines in southern Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Well, that's an example of an embed reporter filing, and embedding is one of the things we'll bring up here. We're joined by an interesting and distinguished panel, I must say. Alex Jones in Boston joins us tonight. Mr. Jones is Director of Harvard's Shorenstein Press Center. Geneva Overholser joins us as well in Washington, the Hurley Chair of Public Affairs Reporting, the Missouri School of Journalism, and she has joined us before, and David Margolis, former NBC correspondent, as I recall. And it's nice to see all of you.

Before we get to embedding, Mr. Jones, let me start with you here for a second because one of the decisions that news organizations had to make today, and have to make today, newspapers and television, is how to handle the POWs - show pictures, show film or tape of them. Is it correct in your view - you can be pretty tough on us - to show any of these interview the Iraqis did with the American POWs?

ALEX JONES, SHORENSTEIN PRESS CENTER: I've been going back and forth on this all day.

BROWN: Good.

JONES: I really have. And I've been as anguished about it as I think many of the people in the news business on the firing have. I think my way of looking at it would be that, one, is it news? Of course it's news. It's very, very clearly news. It's news that the POWs were paraded and slapped around on Iraqi television. It was also news that our soldiers in Iraq were killed. I keep remembering those photographs of the soldiers on the beaches at D-Day and how affecting they were.

I think that there is a place for that kind of image. I think it ought to be shown. I think it ought to be shown once or maybe twice and that should be it. I don't like the idea that the rest of the world is seeing things that Americans can't see. I think we deserve and should be able to see them and I think that that's part of going to war; that you should steel yourself and be ready for those kinds of images because that's the truth and that's what the media is supposed to be, under the circumstances, of the inventing and giving us more of. And I'm for that.

So, I think that you use good taste. You use judgment. You show them but you don't over show them. You don't do a Rodney King on them. You don't sort of show ...

BROWN: Yes.

JONES: ... again and again or the planes going into the Twin Towers.

BROWN: That's the example, actually, just to give people - I don't know how people feel about discussions - these sort of "inside baseball" discussions. But as we here today at CNN sat around the table and talked about how we were going to handle it and whether we were going to handle it, one of the things that we said is, "This is not wallpaper. This is not something that you put up every 15 minutes simply because you have it and it is compelling."

Geneva, do you agree that it's OK to show it as long as it is done carefully?

GENEVA OVERHOLSER, MISSOURI SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM: I think you both have it exactly right, Aaron, and I agree with Alex. Certainly, as you have already mentioned, you wouldn't do it until you knew that all the people whose loved ones are in captivity or have been killed have been notified. And you do it within the bounds of taste.

But too many of the arguments I've heard against it are arguments I think should be worrisome to us; that it might affect the way the public views the war. Well, yes. I think that you've got it exactly right.

BROWN: Thank you. I wasn't necessarily looking for a pat on the back, but I'll take a pat on the back because I know that somewhere down the line I'll get slapped around - if not tonight, another night.

David, do you way weigh in on this point or we can move on to embedding because that, as we'll all seen over the last 24 hours, has proved to be a fascinating, if somewhat controversial, process.

DAVID MARGOLIS, FORMER NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, one point on what you've raised already, not showing it lets people imagine things that may be much worse. I think the interview with Mrs. Hudson is really what's going to start tugging at people's heartstrings.

This is no longer delivering a telegram the way it was done in World War II or something that people aren't seeing. They're seeing the effect immediately on American families. And if you're concerned about whether Americans have the patience for a long campaign, that's where it's going to undermine public confidence eventually in this war. If it keeps going on and on and on and you keep showing those types of interviews from the home front over and over again, that's what could undermine public support the war.

That's what I would be concerned about. I'm not concerned - I think you have handled it well as far as what you've showed. It's the other things you're now able to do with technology that really makes this the living room war.

BROWN: Well, there's never a better example of that phrase "the living room war," than we had here last night because we literally, Alex, were able to show a battle live, not just a grainy videophone, but full satellite dish, clean-as-a-whistle kind of signal. A., should we, and then B, let's get to the question of embedding. You were pretty critical of it, as I recall. Are you still as critical?

JONES: I wasn't critical of it. I was critical of the content at first because I thought that it was kind of empty. It was, you know, good pictures of happy times and, you know, roaring through the desert. I was waiting to see. I've never been a critic of the idea of embedding. I just wanted to see how much flexibility and freedom the journalists who were embedded were actually going to have to do their job.

I think that this has been very important. And I think that it continues to be. I think it continues to be, you know, ahead of the curve in terms of giving people a sense of what's really going on. It's certainly some of the most riveting and graphically powerful imagery that's you're ever going to see.

I think that it's fair to look at that polling segment you had just before we went on and connect that with the embedding question because the military doctrine is that in order to sustain, you know, a war effort successfully, you have to have public support. And to have public support, you need the media to present, you know, an image that is going to be both credible and sympathetic. And I think that imbedding does both of those things. It does it sympathetically because the people involved come to know the units and they are really out there on the firing line. There's no question about their courage and about the people they're dealing with.

And it also gives a credibility that, for instance, the war in Afghanistan simply did not have because we were really shut out. And I think that the military - my sense is they really learned a lesson about that and decided that in this kind of war with the kind of casualties they're going to have to take, they need that kind of added credibility.

I mean, one of the myths of journalism in the military is that Americans won't allow casualties in a war, won't accept them. That's not true. They'll accept them as long as they feel like their soldiers are not being wasted; that the people who are leading them are leading them correctly and that it's not something that is either a wasted effort or that lives are being wasted. And I think that embedding is going to do a great deal to make people feel that that's not happening.

BROWN: Geneva, it just occurred to me, but I wonder if - now we've seen the embedding thing work now, or we've seen it in place now for the first five days. Alex is absolutely right, the first days as they roared was kind of exciting car chase through the desert sort of stuff. Today was anything but, last night was anything but. I wonder if there's even an issue now.

OVERHOLSER: Well, I think that there are issues and we don't even yet know what all they are. I mean, first of all, it feels like a marvel now to us - this embedding coupled with the technologies we have now. Whereas you say, going through the desert, we're seeing abdominal surgery here ...

BROWN: Yes.

OVERHOLSER: ... on an Iraqi POW. We'd never seen anything quite like this. And the effects are clearly going to be powerful. And yet, I don't even know if we know yet, as I say, what they are.

One, I would guess, is going to be bringing journalists and military people together in a way that we have not been together I would guess since World War II. Physically, we're together ...

BROWN: Yes.

OVERHOLSER: ... but crossing lines of division between these two professions which are, after all, the ones losing lives now. And even back at home, I think crossing lines which have developed between the military and some segments of society. We're out there with our troops in a way we have never been before.

BROWN: You know, from the Pentagon side, and I think there were public information people in the Pentagon who argued this for a long time. And not just public - you know, General Clark would make the same argument honestly, is that the beauty from their point of view of the embedding process is not that they would get - not that they could control coverage, it's that as reporters got to know company commanders and individual soldiers, they would come to appreciate the professionalism or the hard work or the sacrifices in ways that you never can if you pop in and simply report it and then pop out again two, three hours later.

David, you never had an advantage like this, but surely you must be sitting there going, "This is a fascinating way to get to know military men and military strategy."

MARGOLIS: Well, I agree. Our problem in the '70s were logistics. It took two or three days to get a story, even a hot story, onto the air.

I think the military, though, didn't have a choice. There are so many other sources of video - and we're seeing them on CNN - that if the military did not allow the reporters to be embedded and go with them, there were a lot of other people who were going to be reporting this who were not going to be fair, who have an agenda very different from the United States. And so, I think they did this out of self defense.

When I was a foreign correspondent, we were really the only source. We and the BBC were the only source for this information and you only got the pictures you could find yourself. Now you're getting pictures from all different types of news organizations. Everybody has the equipment. All the Arab countries have their own uplinks. In Vietnam, we didn't see Ho Chi Minh holding a news conference. But here we see all sides, you know, having availability and able to get their message out.

I don't think as this progresses, the two sides being close to each other; the military and reporters will make that much difference because the reporter is going to report what they see. And if the war goes badly, even if they like the people they're covering, they're going to report what they record. And so, whether this works or not, we have yet to see. But the problem is there really wasn't any other way to do it.

BROWN: That's an interesting way to look at. Alex, let me throw the last question at you. We sat here last night for a couple of hours literally watching war live. I don't mean tanks in the desert and I don't mean green video, I mean as clear as day. Do you worry that in doing so, we run all sorts of risks, not the least of which is we have not editorial control over what we're doing?

JONES: I think the editorial control argument is actually quite a good one. And I think that, in a way, it becomes - it could become pornographic. It could become, you know, coarsening. It could become something that makes us inured to something and creates a whole sort of new level of reality programming for an entertainment purpose rather than a journalistic one.

But I think that in a situation as serious as this one is, the advantage to the American people and to the world to have this many really first-rate reporters there with access to what's going on at the very, you know, right there in the face of it, I think that's a terrific, terrific thing. And even if, as David said, you know, if things start to go bad, who knows? And who knows really about what's not being reported right now?

But sooner or later - and it will sooner compared to previous times, certainly in recent history - sooner we'll find out what's going on because so many very good journalists are in a position to see what's going on. And I think that's very much on the positive side of the equation.

BROWN: Alex, has it looked so far the way you thought? Has it gone the way you thought it would go? I mean, you wrote a lot about this. You talked a lot about this coming up to it. You are an important critic of ours in our business. Has it gone the way you thought it would go?

JONES: I think it's gone better than I thought it was going to go. I have to say, I didn't really think that the military, given the constraints that they put journalists under during the Afghanistan war, I did not think that they were going to allow - I mean, they would have the proximity to combat, but the idea that they've allow the reporters to make these reports - these live reports, in fact, in some cases - is astonishing to me. I think it's great. I think that that, again, as Geneva has said, you know, we're going to have to wait and see how this plays itself out.

But I tend to err on the side of more information. And I believe that that's in the best interest of everybody.

BROWN: All of you, thank you and ...

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Thank you.

BROWN: ... hopefully this war be short. But should it not be, I hope you'll all come back and you can be tougher on us or not, as you so choose. It's good to talk to all of you. Thank you very much.

JONES: Good to be here.

MARGOLIS: Thank you.

OVERHOLSER: Thank you.

BROWN: On the question of embeds, by the way, Jason Bellini - am I right that it's Jason? Yes, Jason is on the phone with us now and he's got some news of some significance. Jason? JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, what I can tell you is that yesterday, late last night, there was an attack by the unit that I'm with on the Ba'ath Party Headquarters in this port city and they were able to retrieve a lot of documents and enormous numbers of munitions as well. They had used human intelligence to find out where many of these - or many of these individuals and taking the pot shots at them who had been harassing them as they were driving down the roads here in the port, were coming from. And even though when they arrived there, and they arrived there with tanks and they used suppression fire from machine guns before entering the building. So they believe most of these guys escaped out the back.

But they believe they've gotten most of the weaponry, the mortar rounds. They showed me boxes and boxes of mortar rounds, machine guns, you name it - just an enormous amount of weaponry they were able to recover yesterday, late last night, in this raid that they undertook. Aaron?

BROWN: And this was at the Ba'ath - for people are - who don't sit around and study every detail of this - the Ba'ath Party is the Saddam Hussein political organization, which is far more than a political organization the way Americans think about it. It was the Ba'ath Party Headquarters in the area that was captured?

BELLINI: That's correct. And they had gotten intelligence from some of the local individuals who had been very scared of these party officials and who told them on the sly that this is where these guys were hanging out. And they asked the Marines here to go and attack that place because they were frightened of these men.

They also recovered while they were inside there, a bunch of those pamphlets that were dropped by the United States; those pamphlets advising Iraqis that the Marines and the coalition is here to help them. Those were collected and what one intelligence officer told me was that he believes that the Ba'ath Party had told people in the town, "You have to give all those things up or you'll be killed." That they went around collecting them so that the people here in the town wouldn't see them, wouldn't have them, wouldn't be able to read them. So they had an enormous stack of those leaflets that had been dropped by air. Aaron?

BROWN: Jason, thank you very much. Jason Bellini, who's traveling with a Marine unit. It's been an interesting and not always easy task for that unit to get its business done. That area, while secure, is described as still not yet safe.

If I've got a minute, or 30 seconds, a couple of newspaper headlines, since we've been talking about media questions here, here's "The Boston Herald" for - which way do you want me to do it? Over here? There we go. Here's how "The Boston Herald" will look tomorrow, one of the two major papers in Boston. "Deadly Day," its description of Sunday and you can see the photo there as well.

"The Dallas Morning News," in Dallas, Texas, "Day 5, A Tough Fight." And I've got two others I want to do, if you guys stay with me. Two papers in Detroit, OK? "The Detroit Free Press" first, "Casualties of War." So everybody's leading pretty much the same way, if not the same words - the same notion that it was a very tough day. And "The Detroit News" I think probably said it as well as anyone could with the pictures of the five POWs on top, "Grim Day for the U.S. Soldiers Killed, Wounded Taken Prisoners as Resistance Mounts on the Road to Baghdad."

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