As two prominent Czech television journalists were reported kidnapped in Iraq on Monday, U.S. network news divisions and news nets continued to work together in unprecedented fashion to ensure the safety of their teams in Iraq.
Execs from the five major news outlets — ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, CNN and Fox News Channel — have been in daily contact for the past 10 or so days, agreeing to team up in covering the fighting in Fallujah. They’ve also instructed their respective private security agencies to share information.
“We’ve all gone from a highly competitive posture to one of safety first, get the story second and third, be competitive,” said Paul Slavin, ABC News senior VP for worldwide newsgathering. “This level of cooperation on this story is unprecedented. All of it is an attempt to limit exposure and still cover the story.”
So far, none of the U.S. news outlets have ordered their staffers to leave Iraq, but they say they’re constantly re-evaluating the situation. Many journos remained all but holed up in their Baghdad hotel rooms over the weekend.
Not even during the Iraq war itself did the news outlets work so closely together on an ongoing basis.
NBC News prexy Neal Shapiro said he doesn’t remember another story that has become as unpredictable as Iraq has in recent days, with insurgents rising up against U.S. forces in record attacks.
There have also been a number of kidnappings, including the apparent kidnapping of Czech Televisionreporter Michal Kubal and cameraman Petr Kilma sometime over the weekend.
Czech TV said Monday that it had unconfirmed reports that the two men were kidnapped as they traveled from Baghdad to Amman, Jordan. Czech Radio reporter Vit Pohanka also was reported missing and may have been traveling with Kubal and Kilma.
A Japanese journalist and two Japanese aid workers also have been kidnapped in Iraq, with a group calling itself the Mujahedeen Brigades threatening to kill them as of midnight Monday if Japan refused to withdraw its troops.
Providing security for U.S. journalists has been a nerve-racking endeavor throughout the last year, with each news operation hiring private security firms.
Marcy McGinnis, CBS News VP for news coverage, said those firms are now briefing each other every day at the instruction of the nets.
“All of us got together a week before last to talk about safety issues and we instituted a number of things,” McGinnis said.
Departing from standard practice, news outlets have also decided to cover the fighting in Fallujah on a pool basis. Spreading the risk around, they’ve decided to send a camera crew from one network with a producer from another. The pool team is rotated out every several days.
The Bush administration is growing increasingly defensive about the images of unrest coming out of Iraq and on Monday accused Arab news networks of engaging in untruthful reporting and fanning anti-American sentiment.
Tonight, President Bush will hold a primetime news conference on the subject of Iraq.