Troops in place, so anchors away

Providing the situation in Somalia does not take a turn for the worse, NBC’s Tom Brokaw is expected to depart the East African country tomorrow. CBS and ABC have not made a decision on when their men–Dan Rather and Ted Koppel–will head for home, though it’s likely they too will leave at week’s end.

Rather has been in Somalia since last Friday. Koppel and Brokaw arrived last weekend and each has supplied multiple reports for his respective network.

However, with the relatively uneventful arrival of U.S. troops over, the networks are now evaluating their coverage of the area, and exactly how long their top anchors need to be there.

“It’s now changed from how are they (U.S. troops) going to get here, to what’s the long-term outlook,” said Steve Friedman, executive producer of NBC’s “Nightly News,””I would assume that if nothing changes, Tom’s last broadcast (from Somalia) will be Friday night.”

An ABC News spokeswoman said Koppel’s plans were still open-ended. Rather’s plans are to be decided by the end of the week.

Each of the Big Three interrupted their regularly scheduled programming for special reports covering the military’s arrival on the beach in Mogadishu throughout the evening Tuesday. CNN carried coverage live, and NBC went live for its weekly edition of “Dateline NBC.”

Initial coverage was something of a circus with more reporters occupying the beach than Marines coming ashore. Marines landing on the beach found themselves bathed in bright television lights, which the military quickly condemned because the lights interfere with night-vision technology used in such maneuvers. Pentagon officials asked the networks not to use the lights. The nets accommodated.

Pentagon officials publically complained about the media barrage, but took no action to curb it.

“My reaction was one of anger, then I cooled down,” defense secretary Dick Cheney told reporters.

“The military knew we were there, they knew the number of the people there, it wasn’t a problem until they saw the lights,” said CBS News spokesman Tom Goodman.

Despite the early disapproval of the coverage, the Pentagon has not placed any restrictions on news crews. Nonetheless, some members of the media did have run-ins with the Marines. In fact, one CBS crew was briefly detained. With the camera running, viewers could see and hear a Marine telling the crew to drop their camera while a crew member is saying over and over that he’s an American journalist. “Take it easy man,” the crew member is heard saying, “I’m an American, are you gonna shoot me?”

CBS also had its armed guards detained for a period.

CBS News spokesman said the crew detention was insignificant and understandable since the Marines were nervous over what they might find in the country.

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