Media executives debate war coverage

Posted 6:11 p.m. March 5

by Alex Kingsbury & Michael Barnett
U-WIRE Washington Bureau

A host of the country’s most prominent journalists, including the publisher of the New York Times and the chairman of CNN, discussed the role of the media in a war with Iraq at the National Press Club on Feb. 27.

The Kalb report, a series of televised forums on the media hosted by veteran journalist Marvin Kalb and cosponsored by George Washington University and Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, featured CNN chairman Walter Isaacson, National Public Radio President and CEO Kevin Klose, Associated Press President Louis Boccardi and New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzburger, Jr.

Isaacson said CNN reporters would accompany troops into battle should there be a war in Iraq, and dismissed charges that journalists would be “in bed” with the military. He said balancing both embedded and free roving journalists was key getting balance coverage.

“Operational security is the big issue,” he said. “We aren’t going to do something to compromise security.”

Examining the Gulf War, Isaacson said the strict control of the media by the Pentagon was tragic.

“We had the most complex tank battle in history and no one recorded that,” the CNN chairman said. “We don’t want that to happen again.”

Sulzburger said Times reporters would also be attached to military units, but would not be the only Times reporters covering the war.

“It’s not our only option,” Sulzburger said, noting that several reporters are already positioned throughout Iraq, including Baghdad.

Kalb asked Kevin Klose of NPR if journalists would be restricted in covering the war.

“As long as the encounter goes well, the media will have a fairly wide latitude (when reporting news about the war),” said Klose. “But the generals will want to have coverage restricted if the war goes bad, if there are miscalculations and loss of life.”

Isaacson said the media would not be restricted from covering the war, and that people would be able to see the war on television.

“We won’t be kept away like we were in Afghanistan,” he said.

Kalb asked how news budgets were affected by the September 11 attacks and the events that followed.

Sulzburger said the Times news department had exceeded its $180 million a year budget covering the Sept. 11 attacks, but hoped to make it up by making cuts in other areas, such as circulation and advertising.

“We don’t budget for war, horror or tragedy,” he said.

Times’ coverage of the terrorist attacks and the war on terror has led to an increase in circulation, which has helped to offset the affects of an increase in news expenditures, he added.

Associated Press President Louis Boccardi said news expenditures for the AP have increased as it continues to send more reporters to the Persian Gulf area.

“We’re going to do what needs to be done to cover the war the way it needs to be covered,” said Boccardi. “It’s a serious economic reality we all have to cope with.”

Isaacson said CNN spent $30 million to move key personnel to Iraq, and has a yearly news budget that exceeds $1.2 billion.

Klose said NPR would cover the war with its limited resources, noting that NPR is a non-profit organization. He also emphasized the public’s demand for breaking news.

“We all feel the need to have access to breaking news, especially in the aftermath of Sept. 11,” said Klose. “When something happens, Americans want content immediately.”

Kalb asked Sulzburger if increased Internet usage had hurt the Times financially.

“Our goal is to get the news to as many people as possible,” said Sulzburger. “In the past five years, we’ve doubled our reach.”

Sulzburger said the Times would be able to profit from its Web site, through advertising and increased circulation. He said circulation has increased because many people who read the publication online also buy the paper. He also offered a warning to crowd on the future of news.

“If you watch entertainment dressed up as news, there will be more of it.”

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