Webs on Iraq: wait and see

Bombs fell in Iraq yesterday, marking the second time in just short of two years that American forces have struck that country. However, while the broadcast networks rushed in to cover the Persian Gulf War with their top anchor staff, they are all taking a wait-and-see approach this time.

At 12:30 p.m. (ET) yesterday, CBS was the first to report that an American-led mission against Iraq had begun, based on a one-line report issued by Reuters. CNN followed a minute later and the coverage race began.

Each of the three nets interrupted programming for special reports, with CNN disrupting its usual daytime schedule to deliver the news.

As of late yesterday, none of the networks planned to change its already-beefed-up staffing in the Middle East region unless the situation changed greatly. First reports out of the region said the early evening (Iraq time) bombing raid was a one-time event and not an ongoing war effort.

“We’re poised to go to the places we were in during Desert Storm if we need to,” said John Stack, foreign assignment editor at NBC News. “We’re going to see what (Saddam) Hussein does. If he does nothing, it might be over.”

NBC has a number of people strategically spread throughout the region, as do ABC and CBS.

CNN’s John Holliman found himself in a familiar location as news of the mission first leaked. As his CNN counterparts reported the bombing had started, Holliman was in downtown Baghdad — the same place he was when Desert Storm began.

Holliman said on the air yesterday that at the start of Desert Storm, he, along with Bernard Shaw and Peter Arnett, heard similar reports and 25 minutes later bombs started dropping in the city. There was no strike on the city as of late yesterday. CNN currently has nine other correspondents in Iraq.

Unlike Desert Storm, the three networks and CNN are pooling some efforts in Iraq. Under a deal worked out before the air strike, all will have access to CNN’s wide shot camera and satellite feed, according to a CNN spokeswoman.

CBS’ veteran correspondent Bob Simon is also in the Iraq capital, a familiar location for the newsman. During Desert Storm, Simon and his CBS crew were captured by Iraqi gunmen, who detained and beat them. The web also has people spread throughout the region.

“We’re going to do break-ins as needed,” said an ABC spokeswoman. “We believe we have it pretty well covered.”

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