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Remembering David Bloom

Aired April 6, 2003 - 11:37   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to an abbreviated edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz.
A sad day this morning with word of the death of NBC correspondent David Bloom, who was embedded with the 3rd Infantry Division near Baghdad. The cause was a coronary embolism. Bloom was a 10-year NBC veteran.

This comes after news Friday of the death of the first U.S. journalist in the conflict, Michael Kelly, a "Washington Post" columnist and editor-at-large at the "Atlantic Monthly." He was embedded with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division and died in a Humvee accident.

Joining us now is CNN's Walter Rodgers, with the 7th Cavalry, south of Baghdad. Also with us here in the studio is "TIME" magazine national security correspondent Mark Thompson.

Walt Rodgers, David Bloom, just an irrepressible guy who gave up his cushy "Weekend Today" anchor job. He told his bosses he wanted a piece of this war. I think he had captivated much of the country with a travelogue he did from that tank vehicle he kept riding around in.

You went to so-called media boot camp with Bloom. Your recollections.

WALTER RODGERS, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's true, Howard. And I was just horrified when I learned of David's death today.

I was in the embedding process. And it was fun to watch a young journalist with so much enthusiasm. I mean, this was going to be his war. He was going to make his mark. I talked to David about this, and it was kind of fun to see him move, because he knew he was going to elbow the rest of us out of the way.

I mean, this was -- this was where he was going to really show what a fine journalist he was. NBC, the whole NBC family, of course, knew that.

David was a wonderful fellow, and as I say, first-rate journalist. And he approached this assignment with all of the enthusiasm any correspondent could ever muster.

Every one of us in the craft, of course, is grieving because of it. And as the British medical poet, John Dunne, once said, every man's death diminishes me. That being the case, each of us in the journalistic craft is certainly diminished by David Bloom's death -- Howard.

KURTZ: You are so right, Walter. And you know, although Bloom's death was not strictly combat related, the stress and sitting in that tank for hours on end could have contributed to the blood clot that started in his leg.

Michael Kelly's death was combat related in the sense that there was some enemy fire in the area when he and a soldier were killed in his Humvee accident.

As these sad tidings come to us stories of journalists among the 600 embeddeds who have gone to Iraq to cover this war, can -- is it not inevitable that you think a little bit more about your own safety? You've been out there. I've watched you on television, and your area has come under fire, as well.

RODGERS: We have been under fire. And I've been working with an extraordinarily courageous crew: Charlie Miller, my cameraman, Jeff Barwa (ph), my satellite engineer. We have been under fire continuously for days.

Again, you don't allow yourself to think about what's going on around you, but this is a very dangerous situation. And I'm sad to say that I think that as the embedding process continues in this and future wars, you're just going to see more and more fatalities.

David Bloom, of course, a fine journalist, but we're all very fortunate that the journalist losses in the conflict are as small as they are -- Howard.

KURTZ: Right. And I wonder, you know, initially, there was a lot of flack, a lot of criticism about embedded journalists would just be cheerleaders for the units. Well, there's been some negative and rather raw reporting, as well.

And I wonder whether the people that you're traveling with may be growing a little more wary of your presence of that, and of other journalists, as some of the reporting gets very mixed in this conflict?

RODGERS: That's not been my experience. My experience is the typical, traditional rapport, which is established between a reporter and his news source. Trust is built. I report sometimes on background; sometimes I quote officers without naming them.

That being the case, it is classic journalist, beat journalism. I'm out here with the Army. I establish a rapport with the officers. They know I'm not going to use their names if they don't want their names used. So far, it is excellent journalism with the usual trust that is always vital to a journalist between his source and the reporter himself -- Howard.

KURTZ: And finally, Walt Rodgers, is it any more difficult for you in terms of the operational security now that you're not just rolling through the desert but on the outskirts of Baghdad, in terms of what you feel that you can report and not report? We all saw the sort of embarrassing episode involving Geraldo Rivera, who was asked to leave Iraq for reporting sensitive information about troop locations.

Are you censoring yourself even more than usual now?

RODGERS: Not at all. And let me comment on the rules. As in every avenue of life, the rules, the laws are made to protect us. The Pentagon set out the rules. Those rules protect us. You obey the rules, you enjoy the protection of the rules and the protection of the law.

You disregard the rules, it's like somebody going down the highway at 120 miles an hour. Law is there, rules are there to protect everyone. They have worked well when they're obeyed -- Howard.

KURTZ: Walt Rodgers, outskirts of Baghdad, thanks very much.

I want to read a statement I was just handed by CNN -- excuse me, from President Bush, through CNN. The president mourns the loss of David Bloom and extends his sympathies to the Bloom family, just as he continues to mourn the loss -- excuse me -- of all military and others who have lost their lives in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Mark Thompson, you're down at the Pentagon every day for "TIME" magazine. These embedded correspondents, the reports are coming in often hours, sometimes even days before the Pentagon itself is able to confirm this information.

Is there starting to be resentment among Rumsfeld and company about the embedded experiment?

MARK THOMPSON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: I think what's interesting about it, Howie, is that the Pentagon in some way likes getting it early. When I've been out with troops, with the press, with the DOD media pool, we report back to the military. They're eager for our reports, because it's a check on what they're being told in their own chain of command.

So while it does cause uncomfortableness when it's some bad news, by and large, I think they enjoy it.

KURTZ: But you had Dexter Filkins in "The New York Times" writing about the shooting of an Iraqi woman who was standing next to a soldier and quoting a sergeant as saying, "I'm sorry, that the chick was in the way."

William Branigan of the "Washington Post," reporting raw details of the killing of 10 women and children in a car that didn't stop at the checkpoint.

The Pentagon can't be thrilled about this because it's showing us the ugly side of war and sometimes there are mistakes that are made under great pressure. THOMPSON: Right that is war. The ugly side of war is the only side of war. I think the Pentagon knew that before they got in on it. I mean, initially there was a concern in the general public as well as in the military that this would be too much of a recruiting poster. And it did feel that way initially.

KURTZ: There was a lot of initial enthusiasm about our guys going to war.

THOMPSON: Right, right. The adrenaline rush, especially on television, where it's live, you know? And if you're feeling that way, you can't mask it on TV. It comes through. People can smell it, people can feel it.

But after a couple of days, I think it settled down, and I think both the Pentagon and the American public feel they're getting a decent shot of this war accurately portrayed.

KURTZ: Well, I was at the Pentagon two days ago, and I was struck, though, by some of the resentment of the press coverage by Don Rumsfeld and Richard Myers, the chairman of the joint chiefs.


KURTZ: In fact, let's take a look at what Richard Myers had to say just the other day about some of the what are being called armchair generals.


RICHARD MYERS, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: It is not helpful to have those kind of comments come out when we've got troops in combat. Because first of all, they're false, they're absolutely wrong. They bear no resemblance to the truth. And it's just harmful to our troops that are out there fighting very bravely, very courageously.


KURTZ: With all due respect to General Myers, what's wrong with former military people going on and giving their view of the war?

THOMPSON: Well, I think it's important that the public understands when these former generals speak, a lot of times they don't know what they're talking about. You know, they've got this sense that, my God, he used to a general, he must know what he's talking about. They don't.

And General Myers is a very unflappable guy, and for him to explode the way he did earlier this week really caught people's attention. He felt seriously about this.

KURTZ: Doesn't he have a point that the -- there have been wild mood swings in the press coverage. Initially, it was all "shock and awe," and then it would seem like the U.S. armed forces couldn't do anything right. Now, a little bit more upbeat.


KURTZ: Isn't that a problem?

THOMPSON: Well, the press has no historical perspective at all. One airplane gets shot down and we think it's a disaster, you know? At Midway, it was 150 in one day. The press hasn't had in this war much ballast, thereby, it has been a pendulum.

You know, this day, it's really bad. This day it's really good.

KURTZ: You're seeing the real-time pictures...


KURTZ: ... when something goes wrong, when somebody gets killed.


KURTZ: When the shells are exploding overhead.

THOMPSON: And because it's live, it builds on itself like a snowball coming down a hill. Like an avalanche, you know? There isn't that sense of taking a step back. Which in the olden days, which is what newsreels did, they showed two weeks later or newspapers at least gave you that 24-hour gap. We don't have that luxury now.

KURTZ: Well, that's of course, both the plus and the minus of seeing it live real-time with this technology. Mark Thompson, "TIME" magazine. Thank very much for joining us.

CNN's coverage of the war in Iraq continues in a moment with the look at coalition the strategy to take Baghdad. One Iraqi leader predicts the battle will be a fistfight in the dark. See what we have to say our General Harrison says about U.S. troops engaging in urban combat.

As we go to break, another look at two American journalists who died in Iraq in the last three days.


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