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INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

Aired June 13, 2003 - 19:30:00   ET

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

SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Sheila MacVicar, in London. Welcome to CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories of the moment.
The world was angered and outraged as pictures of the looting of Baghdad's Museum of Antiquities streamed out of the Iraqi capital in the aftermath of the war. This is one of the defining stories of the immediate post-war period, one that dealt a mighty blow to America's PR machine.

Now it seems we got the story wrong. Original reports suggested as many as 170,000 artifacts had been stolen from the museum have been drastically revised down. But more than the artifacts, it seems somewhere along the line the truth was lost as well.

I'm joined now by Dan Cruickshank, architectural historian. His documentary on the BBC, "Dan Cruickshank and the Raiders of the Lost Art," focused on what really did happen at the museum.

It was looted? 170,000 artifacts? This was not the rape of a civilization. What happened?

DAN CRUICKSHANK, BBC DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: It's strange, isn't it?

We were led to believe, of course, as the city fell, about the 9th of April, that 170,000 items had been stolen or looted. It was one of the greatest crimes, really, cultural crimes, ever. And the world was alarmed, appalled, and I, like many, rushed over to find out what had really happened.

Well, I mean, a long and complicated story that's still being unraveled, but at the moment, the loss is reduced to 33 major items taken from the museum galleries with around 2,000 very minor items taken from the museum offices. And a minor item could be no more than one bead. And that's how it's down at the moment.

But one should say, what also was revealed, that the museum had a very strange way of looking after its wonderful possessions (UNINTELLIGIBLE) catalog, and even the 33 things one is told is stolen, one has to take that only from the museum staff, because the objects which were evacuated from the museum before the war are still residing in the storerooms around the city, and below the museum. Access to those storerooms, I found very hard to obtain.

MACVICAR: But it was the museum staff in the first place who told us that this terrible thing had happened. We saw the pictures of people walking out of there, carting away vases and all kinds of things.

Was the museum staff being disingenuous? Were they lying? Did they not know where all their valuable treasures were?

CRUICKSHANK: Much was going on there.

You can remember, the museum was part of the government, part of the Ba'ath Party. Saddam used history and abused it to validate and promote his regime. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) he presented them as the Nebuchadnezzar, the new great empire, and of course the museum was part of that.

And it's always very important to remember, it was part of the political regime, part of the structure. And therefore, the upper echelon of the museum were Ba'ath Party members. They had a lot going on. So what was apparent to me, that the truth was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) deconstructed -- reconstructed -- before my eyes and just getting some very basic facts in place was very, very difficult.

For example, why did the U.S. Army not post guards there? OK. The world was told this was an outrage and so on. As one looked into it, the facts were very different.

The museum was not a neutral place as far as I could see. I could see it had been fortified. There were bunkers there. There were gun positions. Indeed, when I eventually got into one of the five storerooms in the museum, it had -- it was open when the Americans arrived and was full of guns and hand grenades and rocket propelled grenades. It had been used as a fighting position.

So one realized, it was in itself a sort of neutral place.

MACVICAR: But how do you think so many of us, so many of our colleagues, got this story so wrong?

CRUICKSHANK: I think one wants to believe -- well, I mean, it is very curious. The facts about the 170,000 items stolen or looted came from the museum staff, and I suppose journalists around the world, in a sense, were quite happy to go along with essentially a rather hysterical story that implied blame to the Americans, you know, and this is sort of something which people were quite happy to accept.

(CROSSTALK)

MACVICAR: That may be it, yes. This conveniently fits into that.

CRUICKSHANK: It's a big world we live in, and the American Army was easy to be held responsible for not posting guards and indeed for being responsible for the destruction of the items.

But as one looks into, the circumstances were very different. And indeed far, far, far fewer things are gone.

MACVICAR: Well, a tremendous detective story, and one that says a lot not just about what's happening in Iraq, but also about the way we carry out our business.

Dan Cruickshank, thank you very much for joining me to talk about this.

Blogging, or Web logs, are increasingly becoming it seems a trusted news source for many. One recent testament to this is the Baghdad Blogger, otherwise known as Salaam Pax, Arabic and Latin words for peace.

While the world's leading newspapers and television networks poured millions of dollars into covering the war in Iraq, one daring young Iraqi gave a compelling day to day account of life during the war, using the Internet.

Joining me now to talk about this and other blogs, Eric Umansky, media columnist at "Slate," and here in the studio, Paul Eedel, editor of a news Web site, "Out There News."

Eric, let me begin with you, and I have to ask this question, for those of us, like me, who can barely Google their way around the Net, what's the blog?

ERIC UMANSKY, SLATE.COM: A blog, first of all stands for a Web log, and what it is essentially a -- it's just a Web page. It doesn't look much different than any Web page. It just entries. It's basically originally software that allows people to put entries on a Web site very easily, and it could be about anything.

It could about, you know, knitting. It could be about surfing, or, and it frequently is, about news.

MACVICAR: And, Paul, what's the appeal of a Web site like this? I mean, why would I, if I can go to the BBC or the "Washington Post" or "La Monde," why would I want to go to a guy out there and read his Web site?

PAUL EEDLE, "OUT THERE NEWS": The appeal is that you're getting a direct account, straight from somebody at the heart of events.

If you're lucky that someone pops up, like Salaam Pax in Baghdad, people write differently when they're writing to their friends and relatives than when they write for the newspapers. They write more openly, more frankly, and I think everybody wanted to hear unmediated news without any journalists in the way.

MACVICAR: And, Eric, when you think about what Salaam did, and the success, I mean, he became really sort of an overnight phenomena. People were saying, "Oh, no, he's got to be a creature of American propaganda. He's too good to be true."

Is there something in us, as news consumers, that we're looking for something that feels more real?

UMANSKY: I think so. I mean, I think that the notion of this sort of de-professionalization of it is exactly right.

I mean, it's fun to read somebody that's sort of half a diary, half a news account. It's frankly more entertaining, besides being useful.

MACVICAR: And, Paul, I mean, given the Web site that you maintain, "Out There News," you look at a lot of these different news sources out there. Are there some that you look at and you go, "Wow, I don't know who's reading this, but I really hope it's somebody that people simply don't believe this stuff"?

EEDLE: Yes. Credibility is a real problem. And more than that is also the range of material that's available. There are lots of voices that we need to hear who aren't going to appear spontaneously on the Net.

So when we were doing a series of diaries, for instance, from Israel and the Palestinian territories, and later from Afghanistan, we went out and found people, an Afghan refugee living under a plastic sheet in a refugee camp, he was never going to find his own way on to the Net if we hadn't helped.

So I think what's really interesting is to be able to marshal these spontaneous accounts and give them some shape. There's still a role for journalists in that.

MACVICAR: Eric, we're talking this week about sort of a story which was a traditional media story, the apparent looting or perhaps now the apparent non-looting of Iraq's national treasures from the museum there. There was a story that was covered heavily by traditional media, and it seems we have a way of kind of correcting, when we think we've got something really that wrong.

How do you get someone to correct when they're a blog? Does stuff just kind of get out there and become part of the popular wisdom, conventional culture, well, this must be true because I read it in this place?

UMANSKY: Well, actually, I think blogs have overall a really good process for it.

I mean, blogs, in some ways, are kind of a collective brain, because no single one of them is as influential as, you know, anything like "The New York Times," or has anyplace -- has the ability essentially for one person to say something, and for everybody to believe it.

Everybody is reading a number of these things, and so you don't really trust one overall. You may like one more than others, but you're kind of reading a number of them.

So if you say something that's clearly off, think of it. What's going to happen is somebody on another blog is going to disagree with you and what's going to happen is there's a sort of self-correcting notion to it. And people know that, and so therefore there is a sort of collective sensibility on it, where people correct their own things because of that.

There's more -- you know, "The New York Times" isn't immediately going to get a letter 20 minutes after publishing an article from a "Washington Post" editor saying, "I think you got this wrong." But that's exactly what's going to happen on blogs.

MACVICAR: It feels to me, Paul, in a sense, that there's a lot more reading, in a way. Not only does the Net give us access to a tremendous number of more sources on a daily basis, where before you might have to wait a week if you were really engaged and wanting to read "The New York Times" and living in London. Now you can read "The New York Times" online.

But there's also this other stuff that's out there, and if you're not reading it, do you get the sense that you're really missing a part of the story?

EEDLE: The volume is overwhelming, and I'm not sure how you deal with it, and that's part of my problem with it.

I think we still need journalists to facilitate and channel and select, at least for people who are not spending hours and hours online.

MACVICAR: And, Eric, do you think if journalists become the mediators again, that kind of defeats the purpose of what the blog is, a sort of unmediated stream?

UMANSKY: No. I think, frankly, there are roles for both.

I mean, I think it would be a pretty scary world if journalists all said, "Oh, thank you very much. We can retire now. There are blogs here."

On the one hand, I think that, you know, that wouldn't be a great idea. On the other hand, even just blogs themselves, forget about sort of mediated by journalists, but blogs themselves play a great, like I said, corrective role, for not just other bloggers, but for journalists as well.

MACVICAR: Erik Umansky, of "Slate" magazine, and Paul Eedle, of "Out There News," thank you both very much for joining me to discuss blogs and bloggers.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, the probing eyes of the world's press. As Prince William comes of age, the media lens is poised to capture every royal moment.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MACVICAR: Welcome back.

We do love to watch them, read about them and talk about them, their every move monitored in forensic detail by the media.

This week, the British newspapers have been awash with pictures of the two young princes -- Prince Harry, leaving Eaton, and Prince William, about to turn 21.

Well, now that William is coming of age, can we expect a more probing press?

Joining me now, Sally Cartwright, publishing director of "Hello" magazine, and CNN's Richard Quest.

Sally, let me begin with you.

Obviously, one of the long-running stables of "Hello" magazine have been pictures of the royal family. Will these pictures this week make a difference to "Hello's" circulation?

SALLY CARTWRIGHT, "HELLO": Wouldn't in this country, because these pictures are on general release.

The only time that pictures make a difference to your sales are when they're exclusive, and that's very, very rare with royalty. The pictures are almost always going to all the press.

So, sadly not. But in America, Canada, Australia, they will quite definitely increase our sales.

MACVICAR: And, Richard, when looking at these pictures, I mean, obviously, Harry is a young, what, 18-year-old, still at school at Eaton, and so surely there has to be a little bit more attention focused perhaps on Prince William and his future.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, except that Harry is the interesting one. I mean, Harry is the infant terrible, to some of them. Harry is the mercurial one, that you don't know which way he's going to explode, in one direction or the other.

William, I mean, the pictures of William that we saw that were released of him, they were interesting in a certain sense -- the colors of his socks, the fact that he had holes in his jumpers.

But the fact is, it was stage managed and studied to the point, you know -- an heir to the throne does not suddenly put a sweater on that has holes in it without somebody saying, "Hey, that would be a good one to run."

MACVICAR: Sally, do you think we're being manipulated by these images? Do you think there's any truth in what these images are showing us, about what these two young men are really like?

CARTWRIGHT: I think Richard's taking a very jaundiced view of it.

William is not "the heir" to the throne. Is an heir to the throne. His father is the Prince of Wales. His father will be the next king.

Yes, I think that a lot of thought goes into the pictures, that somebody will have thought, what was in Harry's study and whether they were fairly comfortable with that appearing all over the front pages.

MACVICAR: Do you think they expected that the newspapers would be the forensic dissection of, you know, item No. 3 is the picture of his mother, item No. 4 is this particular kind of deodorant?

CARTWRIGHT: Yes, I'm sure that they did. They are absolutely used to it. And when you let the press in to that level of detail in your life, then you expect the forensic analysis, and they got it.

QUEST: And they will have expected the pictures to have been blown up.

CARTWRIGHT: Yes.

QUEST: . to have been analyzed with microscopes, anything -- because everybody is looking for something that -- and I'm sure you're the same, to that extent. Everybody is looking for something that somebody else hasn't got, that you've seen, that somebody else hasn't.

And that's what I find a little bit disingenuous about the whole process and the way -- I understand why the Palace does it this way. I understand the protection of the princes' privacy, but they are trying to hold a tiger by the tail, the Palace is. And they always seem remarkably surprised when the tiger finally turns around and bits them.

MACVICAR: Well, in the case of William now becoming 21, there is another question, presumably getting ready to leave school as well at some point, when, in the next year or so. Does that mean the gloves come off?

CARTWRIGHT: He's got another two years at university, and I think the media will be reasonably restrained while he's there. He's publicly thanked them for their restraint so far, and generally speaking, when somebody is still in full-time studying, the Press Complaints Commission rather frowns on the press getting involved too heavily.

MACVICAR: But after he leaves school?

CARTWRIGHT: After he leaves school, inevitably the press level of coverage is going to go up in a very major way.

If he chooses to go into the Army, one of the services, then there's this sort of (AUDIO GAP) cover him for a bit further. But what we are all (AUDIO GAP).

MACVICAR: And how much is that worth?

CARTWRIGHT: Oh, it would be worth a very great deal.

QUEST: You see, you're -- everyone is waiting for "the girlfriend."

CARTWRIGHT: Yes.

QUEST: Or are they waiting for "a girlfriend" (AUDIO GAP). I mean, supposedly some of the people who he's lived with, you know.

CARTWRIGHT: Let's be honest. Any girlfriend would do.

MACVICAR: In an intimate moment or not (AUDIO GAP).

(CROSSTALK)

CARTWRIGHT: We, "Hello" magazine, wouldn't touch the intimate moments.

MACVICAR: Even a smooch?

CARTWRIGHT: I think (AUDIO GAP) if you like with consent. There's be very bad public backlash, I think.

MACVICAR: No long lens.

CARTWRIGHT: . for long lens intrusion stuff.

MACVICAR: Now do you think -- clearly when you think back to the kind of scrutiny that his father and then his mother were subjected to, do you think that there has been a real change in the way the paparazzi, the tabloids, and even picture magazines like yours, carry out your business?

CARTWRIGHT: I think there has been a change, and partly it is (AUDIO GAP). I think that it's too strong maybe to call it guilt, but there is a residual memory of quite how hounded she was and the circumstances in which she died, and there is a level of caution and a level of public disapproval.

QUESTION: I mean, related to that, it's very, very important that the paparazzi understand that people like yourselves and others will not buy the pictures if they have been taken in breach of (AUDIO GAP) Commission.

So, to some extent, you know, there is this agreement at the university, where they agree not to take pictures. Well, if the paparazzi thought that there was a market (AUDIO GAP) window. It's because people are not buying them that that's really what's holding it together.

CARTWRIGHT: Yes. It's because the press is genuinely acting with a degree of restraint, which (AUDIO GAP).

MACVICAR: . who would not be subject to the same restrictions or would feel themselves not to be subject to the same restrictions.

CARTWRIGHT: Absolutely.

MACVICAR: And -- but in terms of letting the window open a little bit, particularly in the case of Prince William -- Prince Harry has many more years of protection, either through schooling or perhaps service in the Army. Is there a risk now that people will begin asking more questions about what is this clearing charming and somewhat talented young man going to do?

I mean, he has -- his father is the heir to the throne. His grandmother is still very healthy. He may face a life like his father, of years and years of waiting in service but never quite getting the job for which one has trained.

CARTWRIGHT: It's true. I think Richard and I would probably disagree on this point (AUDIO GAP) at that age was doing tours, had been (AUDIO GAP) and so on, was a major public figure. But of course, he was "the heir" to the throne. He was the next person who was going to sit on the throne of England.

Now, William isn't that and won't be as long as his father is alive, so he is one degree removed from that.

I don't think anybody is going to be asking any questions about, "Is he earning his money," for a very long time yet.

QUEST: I wonder whether they shouldn't be asking (AUDIO GAP) live in a society where (AUDIO GAP) most people.

CARTWRIGHT: Some, yes.

QUEST: Some people have already left school (AUDIO GAP). Others are just coming to the end of university. Now, I know they're not -- that's not typical. But it doesn't do William any harm to have to face some tough choices. The point of which is, you know, get used to it. You're in the public eye, and (AUDIO GAP) when he was 21.

CARTWRIGHT: Yes, but not to the extent -- anything like the extent of Prince Charles.

40 percent of children are now going on to university, so by 21 (AUDIO GAP) what they're still doing. They're still living for fun and parties.

(AUDIO GAP)

QUEST: . at some point, he's got to do something and stop this reluctant prince, I just want to be kept private.

MACVICAR: Well, you know, whatever -- however long, one thing we do know for sure is that this story is going to continue (AUDIO GAP) for indeed a very long time.

Thank you both, very much. Sally Cartwright, of "Hello" magazine and Richard Quest of CNN.

(AUDIO GAP)

. next week, for another look at how the media are (AUDIO GAP)

END

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