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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Coverage of War in Middle East
Aired July 30, 2006 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, CNN HOST: Mideast and the media, as the war drags on, are journalists ducking the difficult questions? Has Israel's bombing of Lebanon gone too far? Is the American press too pro-Israel or too quick to compare the country to Hezbollah which is deliberately killing civilians and how seriously should reporters take Condi Rice's shuttle diplomacy?
Iraq is back. The prime minister's Washington visit briefly draws the spotlight, but Iraq remains the other war.
Plus Middle East war bloggers. How online diaries and Internet video are having an impact.
Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES on this busy news morning where for the next hour we'll turn our critical lens on how journalists are bringing you the war from the Middle East. I'm Howard Kurtz and joining us now from Tel Aviv is Lara Logan, CBS' chief foreign correspondent and here in Washington, Donatella Lorch, former foreign correspondent for NBC, "Newsweek" and the "New York Times."
But first, in Beirut, CNN's Michael Ware, former Baghdad bureau chief for "Time Magazine." Michael Ware, you've covered a lot of military conflicts. You were just down in the crowd outside that U.N. compound in Beirut that was stormed by angry protesters, what was the scene like?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really was incredible, Howard. I mean what it seems is that there is a lot of bottled-up emotion that overnight was unleashed by the revelations of the bombing of the civilian and the killing of the civilians in Qana south of Beirut here.
What we saw was a very small group of demonstrators with a few placards and banners, perhaps no more than a dozen start a very, very timid demonstration. However, news rapidly spread and within the hour between 2 and 3,000 demonstrator his congregated. Very quickly, their rage turned on the most visible icon of the international presence that they could see which was the U.N. headquarters and the protesters stormed it, throwing rocks and using steel bars to smash windows and tear up furniture.
They then moved back a short distance and held what you would call a rally, a public address system rapidly appeared from nowhere and speaker after speaker began to address this angry crowd which was comprised of all sorts of people, all the political parties' banners were present, but by and large, it seemed to be though it was perhaps being capitalized by several political groups here in Lebanon, very much just ordinary people from Christian, Sunni, Shia blocks here in Lebanon just out to express their rage.
KURTZ: Michael, you've been in the country for several days now. Is there a sense in the Lebanese media as you read the papers and watch television that Israel has declared war on the whole country and not just Hezbollah?
WARE: Absolutely, Howard. I mean, the way it's viewed here on the street, in the homes and the coffee shops is that Israel is attacking Lebanon. You know, sovereign, Lebanese territory and also, I mean, what they see is the destruction of civilian infrastructure. Roads, bridges, all sorts of public facilities are being targeted by the Israelis for a variety of reasons.
This, to the Lebanese people, feels punitive. It feels discriminatory, it's like it's collective punishment and what we're seeing now with the attack in Qana is that all of those people who were standing on the sidelines or who were just bunkering down, waiting for the bombardments to stop have now unleashed some of this pent-up anger, this emotion and is spilling on to the streets.
KURTZ: All right. Thank you, Michael Ware. I want to go to Tyre, Lebanon where CNN's Ben Wedeman is stationed. He has just been to Qana, the southern Lebanon town where that four-story apartment building was demolished by the Israeli air strike. Ben Wedeman, what did the scene look like and what was it like being in the middle of the aftermath of that kind of destruction.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I can tell you it's really hard to move around southern Lebanon, so we haven't been that far out of Tyre. It's only about half an hour and as we were driving up, the destruction beside the road was incredible, building after building completely destroyed. Cars blown up. We saw one body in a car that clearly hadn't been picked up in days. Once we got to the scene there were a lot of people running around. Rescue workers with stretchers, they were bringing body after body out. The bodies were covered in blankets, but as the reporters would go by they'd pull off the blanket to show you the face. I saw several children, women and old men.
When we got to the house itself and the house was not hit directly. The bomb landed right next to it which caused the entire structure just to teeter over and collapse on to the basement, they were still digging with their bare hands, just local town residents. They were digging with their bare hands, taking more and more bodies out. At this point, our understanding from the Lebanese police is that 54 people, bodies, have been pulled from the ruins, among them 37 children and only eight wounded. Most of the people simply died.
But that entire town was completely bombarded and destroyed, malleted, as if hit by a giant mallet in many places.
I was told by one Lebanese army officer that they counted more than 80 individual strikes on the town and while we were there we saw more Israeli jets flying overhead. ejecting these flares that are supposed to deflect heat-seeking missiles and we heard bombing just on the other side of the ridge, so it's a scene of total destruction.
KURTZ: As you were talking we're looking at some graphic pictures of bodies being pulled from the rubble of that apartment building. Did you have a chance to talk to either any people in the town or rescuers? Is there a feeling of shock? Is there a feeling of anger and was any of it directed at you as a Western journalist?
WEDEMAN: There was definitely shock and anger. There wasn't, unlike previous incidents, that much anger directed at us, but the people we spoke to said, look, there have been Israeli drones flying overhead for days and days since this conflict began. They thought, they assumed, they presumed that these drones knew that that was a house where civilians, women and children were staying. They're angry. One man said you call this self-defense, referring to the American administration saying that Israel has a right to defend itself and that is what it's doing in this conflict. So there's a lot of anger but really it's more shock than anything else because the town was under overnight bombardment for hour and hour and hour.
KURTZ: Quite a scene. Ben Wedeman, stand by. I want to turn now to Lara Logan in Tel Aviv. Lara, in light of these latest pictures of this building being destroyed and the earlier images of the relief convoy that was accidentally struck by an Israeli missile and the U.N. observers that were killed, is Hezbollah winning the war of images, if that is defined as creating world sympathy in terms of civilian casualties?
LARA LOGAN, CBS CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's clearly no question about that at all and it's something that I've constantly put to Israeli officials here and Israeli generals who are involved because it is so obvious that Israel, every time Lebanese civilians appear on television screens and they're wounded by Israeli bombs and they're killed by Israeli warplanes that Israel is losing on the propaganda side of this war and another way is that Hezbollah rarely talk about their casualties. The Israelis can't get into this game where they show Hezbollah dead in order to counter the images of their wounded and dead soldiers. That just becomes really tacky and they feel sort of -- I think the sense I get is that the Israelis are really at a loss of how to manage the propaganda side of this war.
KURTZ: Lara, can you as a journalist make a distinction, should you make a distinction that Hezbollah is trying to kill civilians when it sends missiles into Haifa, for example, and that Israel, despite the horrible scene we're looking at right now is at least trying to minimize civilian casualties?
LOGAN: This is one of the issues that keeps coming up here because I've been to lots of the scenes of these rocket attacks and even though the Israeli casualty figures don't come anywhere close to the casualty figures inside Lebanon, you still see people who have been killed and you still see children who have been wounded and you still see the impact that these rocket strikes have and you make the point that they do target civilian areas and that's the point that the Israelis make over and over and over again.
The problem is that while people in Israel say all of the time we have no problem with the Lebanese people, in fact, we admire Lebanese people. Lebanon is a real beacon of hope of what could be in the Middle East, they're our most productive, most friendly neighbor, they're the neighbor that Israelis seem to identify with the most and they say their argument, their problem is not with the Lebanese people, it's with Hezbollah.
So they can make that distinction and I have to tell you here that people are horrified by what they're seeing on the screens and they're horrified by the casualties amongst the Lebanese people and it always comes back to this issue of what do we do about the fact -- they say, would people be satisfied if they saw more Israeli dead? Is that what they want? Because we've left our towns and we've left our villages and we've closed down those cities. Two million people in Israel have almost deserted the whole of the north of the country and those that have stayed behind are living underground in shelters and really are living underground and when you go through these villages, everything is shut down. There is hardly a sign of life across northern Israel and a lot of these rockets are landing in areas where people have fled.
LOGAN: I've seen rocket after rocket hitting homes in Israel where whole families would have been killed if they had been at home. It's a problem for Israelis because not having that devastating impact on their civilian population means that they completely lose in the war of images.
KURTZ: Joining us now from Jerusalem is ABC's Dean Reynolds who spent a decade as the network's Tel Aviv correspondent. Dean Reynolds, let's pick up the point that Lara Logan and I were discussing. When we have the images of the devastation in Lebanon and they're greater than the images of devastation in Israel because Israel greater military firepower. Do those pictures overwhelm anything that you say into the camera as a correspondent?
DEAN REYNOLDS, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, they do, but I would pick up what you're talking about here and say that the Israelis assume that they're going to lose the P.R. war. They assume that that the media are against them. They assume from prior experiences that they have to take steps which are difficult to see, to respond to Hezbollah or respond to suicide bombers of the past. So when we talk about losing the P.R. war there's an assumption here that they will be on the losing side of this and that tempers, the bad feeling that another nation might have.
KURTZ: Why should they lose the P.R. war? You, as a journalist, who have been in Israel have certainly done a couple of stories on the impact on Israeli civilians and people gathering in parking garages with young children seeking shelter against Hezbollah missiles. Is it just because the scale of destruction is greater on the Lebanon side?
REYNOLDS: That's it. It completely, as you said in the question, it overwhelms the pictures that are coming out of Israel. We can show them. We can show the people in the shelters. We can show the damage from the rockets, but as when you have as you do today in Qana, upwards of 50 people dead, many of them children, when I am looking at those pictures it looks almost like Oklahoma City. Those pictures are dramatic and they are heartrending and overwhelm anything that is coming out of Israel. And as Lara said, Israelis will say, well, would it be better if they had more victims, would that be more compelling and make our case for us?
KURTZ: Ben Wedeman, I guess it's difficult at this moment after so many people have just been killed in the town of Qana where you just were to talk about the media impact or the imagery that's seen around the world, but you had to know when you were there that this is going dominate the news for the next 24 to 48 hours.
WEDEMAN: There's no question about it and I've lived in the Middle East for many years and I than these pictures are being replayed and replayed and replayed on Jazeera and al Arabiya and all these other channels and these are very emotive pictures, the sort of pictures that spark the protests we've seen in Beirut, that spark street protests in Amman and Damascus and Cairo. And this sort of is a new -- We've turned the corner in this conflict where there's never been a single incident with so many civilian casualties so far this time.
And, of course, people immediately recalled that in April -- or rather, 1996 Operation Grapes of Wrath, there were a hundred people, more than a hundred people killed in Qana where Israeli artillery hit a U.N. compound. So this has made it even more emotive for the so- called Arab street and it will propel -- there will be much more emotion and much more anger that we'll have to deal with operating here in Lebanon. We've already had to deal with some anger.
KURTZ: All right, Ben Wedeman reporting from Tyre, Lebanon for CNN this morning. Thanks very much for that fill in on the breaking news.
We're going to get a break right here and we'll go back in a moment to our correspondents around the region and here in Washington. Stay with us.
WARE: Such terrible tragedies. I mean, the heart strings are pulled. I mean, it's very difficult to compare. I mean, but what we did see here was something certainly in the beginning that was very natural. This was people who have literally been hunkered down in their homes as their city has been battered, as their roads have been destroyed, as entire villages have just been pummeled. So it was just this release and when that comes out in many way, Howard, it's got the same face wherever it is.
KURTZ: All right. Donatella Lorch, let's pick up the point that Lara Logan made earlier about in her view, Israel losing the war, the war of images and when it's appropriate to show or spotlight or highlight casualties in order to score points for your side. Your thoughts.
DONATELLA LORCH, FORMER "NEWSWEEK" CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, it's very difficult to spotlight the Hezbollah casualties because Hezbollah is the enemy you do not see. It's in and out and civilians that go, fire rocket and go back and melt into the population.
The other huge problem that we're fighting against, there is the American network audience and cable audience but in the Arab world there's a plethora of satellite channels right now so the P.R. war is being won hands down by seeing the horrendous civilian casualties in Lebanon. Al Manar, the Hezbollah station, is doing 24 hours a day. Al Arabiya, al Jazeera and as Ben Wedeman pointed out, this is a turning point to the war, there has to be a turning point and right now we're beginning to see it.
KURTZ: Lara Logan, when you spent a couple of weeks as you have in Israel for the last couple of weeks and you're talking to people who had just had relatives killed, you were talking to people in shelters on the receiving end of Hezbollah rockets. Do you develop a natural sympathy for the country that is under attack and is that something you guard again in trying to be even-handed in telling both sides.
LOGAN: I don't try to guard against anything, Howard. I think the advantage of being in particular places that you develop a better understanding what it is they're going through. Now you -- I mean, you have to always be open and you have to always be fair. So for me, those things are very distinct from whatever human emotion I might feel and whatever sympathies I might feel because that side isn't relevant to when I'm sitting down to do my reports and my job, really is to give the best understanding that I can of how the people that I am reporting on feel about things, why they feel that way, what's happening to them and what it's going mean going forward.
So the whole question can journalists be objective and can you not. Of course, you can't be objective, of course you're going to feel certain emotions and you are going to see things a certain way, but for me I think it's very easy when you sit down to write your script and you think about what's the most significant thing and how to express it and how to make the pictures mean something and how to leave the audience with a piece that they will remember, that will reach them and that will give you some sense of where this is going and Gaza is a perfect example because before I came up here I was in Gaza with the Palestinians and the Gaza offensive has been almost forgotten while the whole thing with Hezbollah has been going and yet well over a hundred people have been killed there and I was at the scene of some devastating strikes that just don't receive the same kind of attention and it doesn't matter whether it's nine people dead or whether it's 50 people dead it's overwhelming that moment and the aftermath of something that is so devastating. And ...
LOGAN: And yet, coming up here, I find that being able to be there and be part of it helps you to try to make people understand what it means here.
KURTZ: Dean Reynolds, there's some talk in the states about whether there's sort of a natural pro-Israel bias in the Western media. Several days ago when eight Israeli soldiers were killed in one battle against Hezbollah fighters. It was the lead story everywhere, and some critics said this just shows, eight Israelis getting killed is treated as a huge deal whereas a larger numbers of Hezbollah and Lebanese are getting killed. What's your take on this?
REYNOLDS: Well, I think it was the shock value. The fact that eight Israeli soldiers were killed in a gun battle with an irregular militia. You can't overestimate the shock in this country at the fact that into the third week they are still fighting Hezbollah and really don't have a lot to show for it. The rockets continue to fall. So to illustrate that point, to illustrate what a quagmire they're involved in, the death of the Israeli soldier was a perfect vehicle. It helped to illustrate the point, the difficulties that Israelis are having.
KURTZ: We've got about half a minute, Dean. What about the Israeli media coverage? Obviously, there's kind of a closing of the ranks when a country goes to war, but has there been growing criticism of Israel's tactics here?
REYNOLDS: Oh, yeah. I mean, early on there's a lot of questions being voiced. I mean, last week, I think early in the week there was a big headline in "Haaretz," the leading paper here that said "Has the army failed?" There are a lot of second guessers, both in the media and in the government itself about the course of action that the Israelis are taking, but that is only natural. They are always very tough on themselves.
KURTZ: All right. ABC's Dean Reynolds joining us from Israel. We appreciate your services this morning.
Let me ask our other guests to stick around and we'll take a look at a few other questions about the coverage of this very difficult and increasingly bloody conflict in a moment.
KURTZ: We're back to RELIABLE SOURCES. Donatella Lorch, I guess it's a truism in the news business. I mean, if you cover the Middle East you can't make anybody happy, is there something to the notion that the Western coverage at least tilts in one direction or the other.
LORCH: I think we have to look at the Western coverage, cable coverage, network coverage, the earlier part of the war and as it's changing, I believe, right now. I think the bias, if there is one, it is subtle. It's in the positioning of the pieces, the Israeli pieces versus the Lebanon pieces in the newscast. It's the amount of time dedicated to each country and each bombing. And it's also what amount of the carnage and how graphic the footage is in the pieces. Particularly the Lebanon casualties.
KURTZ: Lara Logan in Tel Aviv. You reported on the CBS EVENING NEWS earlier this week that there is growing criticism of Israel's tactics from within the Israeli army. Is it difficult for you as a reporter to get people in the arm to talk candidly about the situation that they're involved in? LOGAN: It's not so difficult to get them to talk off air but of course to go on camera criticizing their army in a time of war is very, very difficult and one of the most frustrating aspects of trying to cover this war is that everything you are seeing is from a distance. We troll the border every single day trying to get as close as possible, I beg the Israeli army, take me inside, please take me inside. I've covered wars everywhere and I know how to handle myself and they're absolutely very, very paranoid because of their past experiences about taking journalists in and they keep insist that their first priority has to be the safety of their soldiers and of course nobody is arguing with that but what you're seeing of the war in south Lebanon, Israeli artillery batteries fired from this side of the border, Israeli warplanes overhead dropping bombs and smoke clouds in the distance and that just absolutely fundamentally does not help people understand what is really going on.
Of course, the only thing you see coming out of it is wounded Israeli soldiers and dead Lebanese civilians. I think that it does all of us a disservice because it doesn't allow anyone to understand the real nature of this conflict.
People talk about the Israeli army being surprised by how strong Hezbollah has been. I mean, I think that's absolute nonsense. I haven't spoken to any Israeli army officer who said to me we're surprised that Hezbollah is determined and that they're organized and that they're disciplined and they're well trained. They knew all of this going into it. You have a lot of young kids today in the Israeli army doing their national service, fighting Hezbollah for the first time and even they when you talk to them have great respect for Hezbollah.
So I think there are things that get reported in the media that don't have any real basis and a lot of times it's because we just can't get there on the ground to be able to see what's really going on.
KURTZ: Let me get a final question to Michael Ware in Beirut. Should journalists point out given the horrible picture we've seen this morning of the demolished apartment building that Hezbollah puts rocket launchers, at least Israel says, Hezbollah puts rocket launchers near these residential buildings and therefore exposes their own people to some of these risks?
WARE: Absolutely, Howard. Why would anyone shy away from reporting that? It's just a fact of this war, and as I was saying earlier this morning elsewhere, it's commonplace to this type of insurgency. I mean, Lara Logan's covered many of these insurgencies as well. She'd be familiar with this also. This is the nature of the beast, and she's also right in saying Hezbollah is winning the information war. I mean, in counterinsurgencies the advantage is always with the insurgents they win simply by not losing. It is a triumph for the asymmetrical side of this type of warfare.
So people are not shying away from reporting the fact that yeah, Hezbollah hits and moves from within the population, its population. KURTZ: All right. Michael Ware in Beirut and Lara Logan from CBS in Tel Aviv, Donatella Lorch here in Washington. Thanks all of you for joining us this morning.
Coming up in our second half hour, a commentator who says the American media coverage is too pro-Israel and other issues after the check of the hour's top stories from the CNN Center in Atlanta.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, everyone. I'm Tony Harris at the CNN center in Atlanta, now in the news, breaking news into CNN at this hour. The White House is reacting to the tragic Israeli bombing in the Lebanese town of Qana. White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano has the latest. Elaine?
ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Tony. Well, a statement just released a short time ago by White House spokesman Blair Jones reads as follows, quote, "We extend our condolences to families of the Qana victims and to all the people of Lebanon. This was a terrible and tragic incident. We continue to urge the Israeli government to exercise the utmost care so as to avoid any civilian casualties. This tragic incident shows why this is so critical. Secretary Rice is in the region now and is seeking to arrange the conditions that would permit a sustainable cessation of violence as soon as possible."
And Tony, of course, the White House monitoring the events overseas very closely, but there you heard it, not a call for an immediate cease-fire, but the White House urging work being done to permit a, quote, "sustainable cessation of violence" as soon as possible. Tony?
HARRIS: Elaine, does this statement from the White House change previous statements or move them forward at all?
QUIJANO: Well, certainly, what you're seeing here with the call once again to urge the Israeli government to exercise, quote, "the utmost care" to avoid any civilian casualties underscoring, of course, the sense of urgency here. The White House fully understands there has been mounting pressure on the United States to pressure Israel to move with a cease-fire, an immediate cease-fire. Now we are hearing this statement looking for a, quote, "sustainable cessation of violence as soon as possible." Tony?
HARRIS: OK. White House correspondent Elaine Quijano for us. Elaine, thank you. More headlines in 30 minutes. Back to RELIABLE SOURCES right after this.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. We turn now to the question whether Israel and Lebanon are getting a fair shake in the media coverage of a war that's produced civilian casualties and disturbing images on both sides. Joining us now to talk about that and other issues, in New York, Eric Boehlert who blogs at the huffingtonpost.com and is author of the new book "Lapdogs" about the Beltway press corps.
Here in Washington, Frank Sesno, CNN special correspondent and professor of media and public affairs at the George Washington (sic) University. And in northern Israel along the border is CNN's John Roberts. John Roberts, what has been the Israeli media reaction to the mounting civilian casualties in Lebanon, even leaving aside this morning's devastation of a four-story apartment building. Is there anguish about this or is there a sense that, well this, is war?
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think that there's genuine concern, Howard. I spoke with a member of the IDF this morning about the incident in Qana and they came up to me saying, have you got a response, have you got a response from the IDF on the Qana incident and he went into an explanation about how they feel very badly about the fact that so many people were killed, particularly that many children, but then they go back to the explanation that that they say there was a Hezbollah Katyusha launcher right beside that building and that's what they were targeting. So they're saying that this is war. It's an unfortunate incident. They were apologetic about it, but I've got to tell you, Howard, those were just horrible, horrible pictures and people from the Israeli army know how badly it looks in like the situation and I think that there's a lot of concern here that the public reaction around the world is really going start to galvanize against any continued action and I think they realize that the time for this ground action is growing increasingly short.
KURTZ: Right. Very difficult to watch those pictures of dead and injured children being carried out of the building in southern Lebanon town of Qana. Eric Boehlert, do you believe overall that there's a pronounced pro-Israel bias in the way the Western media are covering this conflict?
ERIC BOEHLERT, AUTHOR, "LAPDOGS": I think the Middle East is traditionally covered from the American perspective through the eyes of Israelis. And I think that's understandable for many reasons, I think most news organizations have more resources in Israel, they have better sources within the Israeli government and the Israeli defense and obviously Israel is a key ally of the United States and most Americans sympathize with Israel and, you know, they are a democracy within the Middle East. So I think it's traditional and understandable that the war be told through the eyes of the Israelis.
I think sometimes in the last couple of weeks, it's sort of gone beyond that and I think what also is not acknowledged is that there's extraordinary political pressure in the United States to tell this story from a certain narrative and journalists who don't, get attacked and it's unpleasant and I think it affects the coverage.
KURTZ: Extraordinary pressure on journalists, Frank Sesno?
FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that there is. I think the fact of the matter is this story and one of the reasons you're having is taking the shape it is because the entire world now is seen through this prism of terrorism. It's a prism that took shape very dramatically in the United States on 9/11 and it's been encouraged by the Bush administration and we heard the president in his radio address yesterday connect once again the war on terror to what's going on in Israel and Lebanon. So I think this is an inevitable outgrowth of that and it taxes reporters whether as you heard Lara Logan talking earlier or John Roberts just now. They're in Israel, they are in the middle of the conflict and they have got to rip themselves away from that to the best extent they can and ask tough questions and detach themselves and look at it from all perspectives. That's hard.
KURTZ: But Eric Boehlert, even if there is a natural sympathy, haven't we seen day after day on CNN, on Fox, on network newscasts a lot of reports from Lebanon about the civilian casualties, about the devastation there?
BOEHLERT: For instance, about a week ago I blogged on Huffington Post, the day that 53 civilian Lebanese were killed, it was not a single blast like we saw today and I counted over a dozen times on CNN where they reported about a single Israeli woman who was killed by a Hezbollah rocket and no mention of 53 Lebanese civilians killed and Wolf Blitzer on THE SITUATION ROOM took 90 minutes before that fact was reported.
I think that indicates there's something else going. Any journalist knows what a lead is on any given day when there are 53 Lebanese killed and one Israeli killed. There's something else going and it doesn't help to put things in context, I think, for the American news consumer.
KURTZ: But, of course, there has been hour after hour after hour about the devastation of the Lebanese side and maybe not in any new particular hour. But the cable networks are on 24 hours a day.
SESNO: But I think what Eric is pointing out is accurate. I was watching one of the talk shows earlier today on Fox when one of the anchors asked the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. What do you want the world to know about Hezbollah and Hamas? Pitch up another softball if you'd like? What do you think he's going say?
I don't think that's necessarily wrong as long as there's somebody from the other side to put the same question if you're going to play that game. Can I just say one thing? Big difference between what's on television and in fact what's on the cable channels and what's in the print and in newspapers. "Washington Post" today, great series of stories. A lot of text and a lot of different perspectives and we need to keep that in mind as we have this conversation.
KURTZ: John Roberts, in northern Israel, isn't there a difference in terms of the challenge for journalists. You're in Israel. Let's take the Israeli military. You can go interview generals and be embedded, and they wear uniforms, we know who they are. If you're trying to cover Hezbollah, they have given some very tightly-controlled brief tours of damaged areas but they don't come out and do television interviews, it's difficult to find them and ask them questions and all of that. Would you agree?
ROBERTS: Yes, they are very more tightly controlled than they are here in Israel and let me tell you they are very tightly controlled here in Israel as well. There are a lot of places we can't go. We're not allowed to talk to soldiers unless we have a spokesperson with us and the Hezbollah, as you mentioned, did conduct a very tightly-controlled, almost what you would call a dog and pony show tour of a devastated neighborhood. Nic Robertson, one of our correspondents, went with them. They were calling ahead on cell phones -- or, sorry, Anderson Cooper went with them. They were calling ahead on cell phones and certain things were happening that almost looked choreographed.
So each side is battling the P.R. war here as well. But again, coming back to this idea of what happened in Qana, you do not need to fight a P.R. war about that. Those pictures tell the story by themselves.
KURTZ: They really do.
Eric Boehlert, Condoleezza Rice canceled her planned trip to Beirut today because of that bombing, but she's been in the region all week. I wonder, though, a lot of observers feel that the U.S. was not really pushing hard, at least in the first round for a cease-fire in order to give Israel more time to degrade Hezbollah's military capability. Was that reflected in the coverage? Can you come out and say this was a diplomatic show, but they're not getting down to the pressure?
BOEHLERT: I don't think the press did a good job. I think the press really strained to depict Bush as a man of action, urging peace. A new urgency, talks being pushed. This is 18, 19 days out and the fact that the United States is now sort of talking about qualified cease-fire. I mean, if the United States wanted a cease-fire there would have been 18 days after the bombs started dropping.
It was, I think really a radical foreign policy initiative to say Bush shrugs and he says what good is a cease-fire going do. Look what happened with Qana. I think some people would answer, that's what a cease-fire would do. But I don't think the press really put in context, I think the sort of play into the notion that bush was working the phones and the administration is doing everything possible. I don't think it was.
KURTZ: Right. Frank Sesno, I want to play some tape from the network newscasts about another military conflict that everyone is familiar with that's been going on in the region. Let's take a look at that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But it should be noted that in the 13 days since the Israeli-Lebanese crisis began more Iraqi civilians have died than Lebanese and more U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq these past two weeks than Israeli soldiers have died in their conflict.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Consider these figures, over the past two weeks of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, more than 400 civilians have been killed, mostly Lebanese. In Iraq, at least 583 civilians are believed dead. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: What happened to Iraq?
SESNO: Iraq got lost and this is exactly what I was talking about a moment ago. The distinctions between cable news and broadcast news and everything else. In the world of broadcasting when you have pictures like we've got coming out of Israel and Lebanon now and you have a story that's that compelling and that sudden it is going to overwhelm everything else and the rest of the world if you watch the news has all but stopped. Iraq has not stopped. It's really rough over there.
KURTZ: And there are 130,000 American soldiers. I've had people e-mail me and say, we really care about this war because our young men and women are involved.
John Roberts you host a CNN show that was called "This Week at War in Iraq." It's now called "This Week at War" and obviously you dealt with war in the Middle East this weekend. Do you have any feeling that, unfortunately, Iraq is now getting short shrift during this period of time?
ROBERTS: Yes. We make a point of that in the show this week and we go to Baghdad and we speak with Arwa Damon and a couple of other people to put some perspective on what's going on over there. It's true that people are still dying in Iraq at the rate of a hundred a day, that's far more than what's happening here and it's been going on for far longer than this conflict. So we're making sure it doesn't slip through the cracks, Howard, so we have an entire section coming up in that show.
KURTZ: All right. We'll have to leave it there in this busy news morning with lots of breaking news. Eric Boehlert, John Roberts in northern Israel, Frank Sesno here, thanks very much for joining us.
When we come back, blogging the Mideast war, we'll meet one online writer who just evacuated from Lebanon. That's next.
KURTZ: Welcome back. Bloggers are having an impact on the Mideast conflict. Especially in chronicling the personal toll Last week we spoke to an Israeli blogger and now we turn to one in Lebanon. Bassem Mazloum has been writing the Lebanon Live blog but a few days ago he fled his war-torn country and made his way to Canada. We spoke to him earlier from Detroit.
BASSEM MAZLOUM, LEBANESE BLOGGER: Hi. How are you?
KURTZ: Bassem Mazloum, why did you leave Lebanon and how difficult was it to get out through Syria?
MAZLOUM: Well, the day before we pretty much started emergency packing in case something was going to happen and the day after an explosion hit real close to home and it was just too intense and just so scary that we wanted to leave before the roads were just torn apart, the only road linking Deba (ph) to Syria.
KURTZ: And was it difficult to get out to Syria.
MAZLOUM: It was -- you could say it was almost impossible. The border was congested with so many different kinds of people. Helpless people without cars carrying children and carrying whatever they could in torn up bags and cardboard boxes. Getting a visa was very hard as well. The lineup was huge and seemed endless.
But the border control was doing a great job. Under the pressure and everything they were still maintaining a steady pace and kept working hard.
KURTZ: How do you feel about being forced to abandon your country?
MAZLOUM: It's very hard. Being there at the border, seeing all those people just leaving with whatever they could find and whatever they could scavenge. It was just hurtful so much. And people not fortunate to have a car or a car that was just ruined in the whole incident, it just made you feel really bad and being here now makes me lost and confused, not knowing what's really going on over there.
KURTZ: I understand.
Before you left Lebanon, you made some homemade videos of some Israeli air strikes there, one of them which was posted on the popular Web site YouTube was viewed almost 20,000 times. Let's take a brief look at that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAZLOUM: Holy (expletive deleted). These mother (expletive deleted) are killing everybody here. It's going to be a rough night here today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Obviously we had to do a little bleeping there. Why did you put that video online and what kind of reaction did you get to it?
MAZLOUM: I put that video online to show that in my area there is no fighting, there is nothing attacking the Israeli side from where I live. I mean, it's a very peaceful town, a very peaceful area and whatnot and the way the missiles were striking just all around and in every direction, it got me thinking about what they're really targeting so I decided to put it online to show people what I see and how I feel, I'm in danger even though I have no ties with Hezbollah, I have no ties with anything that's going on right now.
KURTZ: You mentioned Hezbollah. You don't write about Hezbollah very much in your blog. Do you consider Hezbollah as the U.S. government does to be a terrorist group? MAZLOUM: Well, it's very hard to differentiate between terrorist and freedom fighter and fighter. It's very hard. So I don't know what to consider them. From every angle it's a different way to consider them.
I know nothing about them, really, I don't know anyone from the group and whatnot so I really can't say anything about them.
KURTZ: A blogger in Tel Aviv says that Lebanon is winning the P.R. contest for world opinion because of the images of devastation that have been shown on television and even in the video that you posted on YouTube.
Do you think that is true?
MAZLOUM: Well, there is a lot more destruction in Lebanon than there is Israel. Of course, Israel is fighting a battle on their side as well. Civilians are dying on both sides. Whoever gets to be on TV, I guess, is how you can win the public relations battle.
However, a lot more destruction, as I said, has been going on in Lebanon, so it's a lot easier to get that image out, to show it to people.
KURTZ: How do you feel when you see footage of innocent people, people who have nothing to do with this military conflict, being killed in Haifa?
MAZLOUM: It's hard. I mean, I see people in Lebanon, I can relate to the people in Israel. They have nothing to do with it. Just sitting at home, watching TV, watching the news, hoping you're not next. You have no control over it, so you see these innocent people dying. You know it's just innocent people, that's what it is. There is no friendly fire, there is no -- they have no involvement whatsoever.
KURTZ: Just briefly. How long did it take you to get to Canada?
MAZLOUM: It took me four days to come on my own.
KURTZ: And do you hope at some point to go back to Lebanon and are you going to continue blogging in the meantime?
MAZLOUM: I'm continuing to blog from here. I have friends in Lebanon still that I talk to them every day. During the past four days when I was traveling it was very hard to keep up. I did my best to update the blog. I want to go back to Lebanon as soon as possible. It's very hard being here. Canada is a great place and everything, however, I want to go back home. I want to see my friends that I made, I want to make sure that everything is all right. You just keep thinking about what's going on, even though you're here, you feel more lost and more out of touch.
KURTZ: All right. Well, we're glad to have an opportunity to talk to you, Bassem Mazloum, thanks very much for joining us.
MAZLOUM: Thank you.
KURTZ: When we come back, a surprising bit of diplomacy, or was it?
KURTZ: Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz, join us again next Sunday morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media. LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER begins right now.
BLITZER: This is a special LATE EDITION, "Crisis in the Middle East."
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