CBS Refuses to Broadcast Iraq Footage
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Sometimes it's hard to swim in the mainstream.
There has been much heated debate over the past few years over media coverage of the Iraq War. The Bush administration has repeatedly attacked the 'liberal bias' of the mainstream news industry, claiming that it doesn't report enough of the "good news" from Iraq and focuses instead on the sensational and violent.
Those critical of the war and the occupation say just the opposite; that the mainstream news media has ignored much of the "bad news" coming out of Iraq, leaving Americans with an impression of the war based more on a desire to follow the official White House narrative than facts on the ground. MediaChannel has long been in the latter camp, sponsoring (for example) last year's "Show Us the War" project, which published video pieces showing an Iraq overrun with violence and chaos -- and an administration that seemed more intent on faith and "spin" than reality. We at MediaChannel believe that an informed citizenry is necessary to keep our democracy viable, and we have been strong advocates of the call for all news outlets -- mainstream or independent -- to produce and distribute accurate stories on the situation in Iraq.
Which brings us to Lara Logan.
One would assume that Ms. Logan, as CBS chief foreign correspondent, has a fair amount of influence as to what stories she gets to cover, and that most of her important stories, once produced and delivered, will be broadcast. But when a story comes out of the mean streets of Baghdad that doesn't fit the officially sanctioned narrative of Iraqis and U.S. soldiers working arm in arm to help protect thankful Iraqi citizens, even chief foreign correspondents sometimes need to ask for help in getting it seen. Imagine our surprise recently when -- over the digital transom -- we received a copy of an email from a frustrated Lara Logan (see below).
In it, Logan asks for help in getting attention to what she calls "a story that is largely being ignored even though this is taking place every single day in Baghdad, two blocks from where our office is located."
The segment in question -- "Battle for Haifa Street" -- is a piece of first-rate journalism but one that appears only on the CBS News website -- and has never been broadcast. It is a gritty, realistic look at life on the very mean streets of Baghdad and includes interviews with civilians who complain that the U.S. military presence is only making their lives worse and the situation more deadly.
"They told us they would bring democracy, they promised life would be better than it was under Saddam," one told Logan. "But they brought us nothing but death and killing. They brought mass destruction to Baghdad."
Several bodies are shown in the two-minute segment, "some with obvious signs of torture," as Logan points out. She also notes that her crew had to flee for their lives when they we were warned of an impending attack. While fleeing, another civilian was killed before their eyes.
Logan's email, with the one-word subject line of "help," was sent to friends and colleagues imploring them to lobby CBS to highlight that people are interested in seeing the piece. In it, Logan argues that the story is "not too gruesome to air, but rather too important to ignore â€¦ It should be seen. And people should know about this."
We agree. And we'd like to help Ms. Logan and CBS get the piece seen, although that task would be made immeasurably easier if CBS News chief Sean McManus simply made the decision to broadcast it.
Ms. Logan, who is embedded with U.S. forces in Iraq, was unavailable for comment. But CBS News spokeswoman Sandy Genelius told us that the segment in question was not broadcast but only run on the web because "the executive producer of the Evening News thought some of the images in it were a bit strong -- plus on that day the program was already packed with other Iraq news."
Regarding Logan's unusual email plea for "help" from friends and colleagues, Genelius said she and other CBS executives were unaware of its existence until contacted by MediaChannel. About Logan's contention that the segment is "not too gruesome to air, but rather too important to ignore," Genelius said "There are discussions and even disagreements everyday about what goes on air," and noted that "one of the characteristics that makes Lara so special is her passion for her job. Of course she wants her pieces to be broadcast!"
In conclusion, Genelius added that "CBS News has aired countless hours of coverage about Iraq. It is the single most important part of our news coverage, and I hope that people will look at the sum total of what we have put on the air."
On an average night, eight million people watch the broadcast version of the CBS Evening News. CBS company policy prohibits the disclosure of "internal analytics," so no figures are available for the number of viewers Logan's web-only segment has had -- but it is undoubtedly far less.
See for yourself what the controversy is all about. You can watch the video here (RealPlayer required):
And don't forget to let CBS know what you think about this outstanding example of video journalism and help Lara Logan by telling CBS what you think about them keeping those images of the battle for Haifa Street -- no matter how strong, no matter how gruesome -- far from the eyes of their prime-time audience.
Text of the email from Lara Logan:
From: lara logan
The story below only appeared on our CBS website and was not aired on CBS. It is a story that is largely being ignored, even though this is taking place every single day in central Baghdad, two blocks from where our office is located.
Our crew had to be pulled out because we got a call saying they were about to be killed, and on their way out, a civilian man was shot dead in front of them as they ran.
I would be very grateful if any of you have a chance to watch this story and pass the link on to as many people you know as possible. It should be seen. And people should know about this.
If anyone has time to send a comment to CBS -- about the story -- not about my request, then that would help highlight that people are interested, and this is not too gruesome to air, but rather too important to ignore.
Many, many thanks.
Update: Since we posted this piece, MediaChannel has created a little echo chamber of our own. Many bloggers excerpted the piece as if Lara had written them personally. In response to the comment below from "charles," who said he saw the piece on CBS News last night, we contacted CBS and were told on Thursday evening:
that is not correct. this particular piece has not run on the cbs evening news. but there have been many pieces by lara on haifa street (and other areas of baghdad and iraq, of course), so it's possible someone could be confused.