Corruption at CNN
Revelations about CNN’s deliberate obfuscation of the truth in Iraq are pouring out; here’s the latest, from Peter Collins who was in Baghdad with CNN in 1993 and witnessed their complicity in Iraqi propaganda at first hand: Corruption at CNN.
I was on the roof of the Ministry of Information, preparing for my first “live shot” on CNN. A producer came up and handed me a sheet of paper with handwritten notes. “Tom Johnson wants you to read this on camera,” he said. I glanced at the paper. It was an item-by-item summary of points made by Information Minister Latif Jassim in an interview that morning with Mr. Johnson and Mr. Jordan.
The list was so long that there was no time during the live shot to provide context. I read the information minister’s points verbatim. Moments later, I was downstairs in the newsroom on the first floor of the Information Ministry. Mr. Johnson approached, having seen my performance on a TV monitor. “You were a bit flat there, Peter,” he said. Again, I was astonished. The president of CNN was telling me I seemed less-than-enthusiastic reading Saddam Hussein’s propaganda.
The next day, I was CNN’s reporter on a trip organized by the Ministry of Information to the northern city of Mosul. “Minders” from the ministry accompanied two busloads of news people to an open, plowed field outside Mosul. The purpose was to show us that American warplanes were bombing “innocent Iraqi farmers.” Bits of American ordinance were scattered on the field. One large piece was marked “CBU.” I recognized it as the canister for a Cluster Bomb Unit, a weapon effective against troops in the open, or against “thin-skinned” armor. I was puzzled. Why would U.S. aircraft launch CBUs against what appeared to be an open field? Was it really to kill “innocent Iraqi farmers?” The minders showed us no victims, no witnesses. I looked around. About 2000 yards distant on a ridgeline, two radar dishes were just visible against the sky. The ground was freshly plowed. Now, I understood. The radars were probably linked to Soviet-made SA-6 surface-to-air missiles mounted on tracks, armored vehicles, parked in the field at some distance from the dishes to keep them safe. After the bombing, the Iraqis had removed the missile launchers and had plowed the field to cover the tracks.
On the way back to Baghdad, I explained to other reporters what I thought had happened, and wrote a report that was broadcast on CNN that night.
The next day, Brent Sadler, CNN’s chief reporter at the time in Baghdad (he is now in northern Iraq), came up to me in a hallway of the al Rasheed Hotel. He had been pushing for the interview with Saddam and had urged Mr. Johnson and Mr. Jordan to come to Baghdad to help seal the deal. “Petah,” he said to me in his English accent, “you know we’re trying to get an interview with Saddam. That piece last night was not helpful.”
So, we were supposed to shade the news to get an interview with Saddam?
(Several people emailed this one; thanks.)