Banfield: News biz failed in Iraq

'Journalism vs. coverage' lecture ruffles feathers

WASHINGTON — NBC News execs spent the weekend reviewing a controversial speech by correspondent Ashleigh Banfield, who said there is no room on cable TV for real news and that the biz failed miserably in its war coverage.

“The three-week TV show we just gave you was extraordinarily entertaining. I just hope the legacy we leave behind isn’t one that shows war as glorious,” Banfield said.

“Cable news is for entertainment, as it’s turning out,” she said.

Banfield’s withering critique came as she delivered the prestigious Landon Lecture at Kansas State University on April 24. An audio copy of the speech was available on the Internet and obtained by Daily Variety.

Industry insiders suggested that Banfield has been unhappy at the Peacock since her prime-time show on MSNBC was canceled last fall. Since then, she has done limited reporting for both NBC and MSNBC.

Banfield could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

NBC News said Banfield was in no way speaking for the network, which is proud of its war coverage.

“We are deeply disappointed and troubled by her remarks, and will review her comments with her,” the news net said in a statement.

During the war, NBC News severed all ties with correspondent Peter Arnett after Arnett went on state-controlled Iraqi TV and said the U.S. battle plan was failing. Arnett was in Baghdad on assignment with National Geographic Explorer, which airs on MSNBC.

Industry insiders said it would be unfair to compare the nature of Banfield’s comments to Arnett’s.

Banfield became something of an overnight news celeb during her coverage of the U.S. war against Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on Gotham and Washington. She was given her own prime-time show on MSNBC, but the program was short-lived. Since then, she has done reporting both for NBC News and MSNBC.

Based on her overseas reporting, Banfield said Americans are given only one side of the story by the TV news industry and that she was “desperately depressed” by the sanitized images beamed back from Iraq.

“We didn’t’ see what happened after mortars landed, only the puff of smoke. There were horrors that were completely left out of this war. So was this journalism? Or was this coverage? There is a great difference between journalism and coverage. Getting access doesn’t mean you are getting a story.”

Banfield said she has been sharply criticized for reporting on both sides of a story, vs. just one side. She said conservative radio personality Michael Savage, recently hired to host a show on MSNBC, once called her a “slut” and a “porn star” on-air for a story on a Palestinian freedom brigade.

With combat seemingly over in Iraq, Banfield said that TV cable news would once again be overrun by domestic stories, such as Laci Peterson.

“Domestic stories are easy to cover. They are cheap. They are fast. You don’t have to send reporters overseas, and you don’t have to pay for a satellite hook-up,” Banfield said.

What happens then is that the news biz leaves behind a vacuum, whether it’s Afghanistan or the West Bank, or even Iraq: “There is so much that is left behind,” she said.

Also over the weekend, President Bush honored the memories of the journalists killed while covering the war in Iraq. Speaking at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, Bush spoke of the two American journalists killed, NBC News correspondent David Bloom and Atlantic Monthly at-large editor Michael Kelly.

Coming so soon after the war, the annual event was decidedly subdued.

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