Former executive producer for CNN Robert Wiener and CNN senior executive producer Ingrid Formanek used innovation to present the truth to the public during the Persian Gulf War, according to Richard Chapman, co-writer and co-producer of the HBO film “Live from Baghdad.” As part of Meliora Weekend, Wiener and Formanek, along with moderator Chapman, spoke on wartime news coverage in “Live from Baghdad: Innovations in Journalism.”

During the Persian Gulf War, CNN emerged as the source for objective and investigative reporting due largely to the efforts of Wiener and Formanek, who became the first journalists to report a war live from behind enemy lines. The panel used the film, which portrays the experiences of Wiener and Formanek, as a springboard for addressing issues of media objectivity and government control.

“It’s Hollywood,” Formanek said, “but I think it raises very important questions about our industry and about what we’re doing.”

During the Gulf War, when many journalists were using pre-packaged stories, the CNN crew was able to get use of a four-wire transmitter to relay live reports on the bombing of Baghdad to the world. Wiener said his actions in the 1990s were driven by his belief that journalists have a responsibility to the trust given them by the public.

“The Gulf War put CNN on the map,” he said.

According to Wiener, another hallmark date for journalism was September 11. “After 9-11, journalism and patriotism seemed to blend into one,” he said. “I’m terribly saddened to see what has become American journalism today.”

Formanek, who is currently in charge of CNN’s coverage of the United States’ involvement in Iraq, said she believes that journalists today are afraid of asking all the appropriate questions.

“In today’s world, they are afraid of being questioned for a lack of patriotism,” she said.

Going into this war, according to Formanek, was different from the first Gulf War. “We knew it was going to be more dangerous because the stakes were higher,” she said. “We knew it would be a different kind of challenge.”

Formanek said that political filters were an obstacle in covering both conflicts. Now that reconstruction has begun, she feels that information is filtered through Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority to Iraq Paul Bremmer, much the same way that information was filtered through the infamous Iraqi Ministry of Information before occupation.

“This is reminiscent of old times where they would just feed you fluff to distract from the real issues,” she said. “We really have to dig hard to find out anything.”

Her speculation is that things are not going as well as expected. Though there are positive things happening, Formanek said, there is still violence. Her hotel is surrounded by 14-foot concrete barriers.

“The reality is that pictures don’t lie,” she said. “Until you get the security system functioning, you can’t do anything else.”

Though Wiener resigned from CNN, he is actively following the current situation and is working on a book discussing his views that the media fueled the administration’s march to war. He believes that there will be negative consequences for the United States and Britain because they acted alone. “Winning the war was never the issue,” he said. “The issue was ‘what next?’ and that’s what we’re seeing now.”

Regardless of the situation, both agree that “true” investigative reporting is a dying art. “There’s a great danger in big corporations controlling more and more of the media,” Wiener said. “Investigative journalism is very expensive and news organizations are now profit centers.”

Many students who attended the forum were surprised to find that the discussion did not revolve around the movie, but were glad that talk turned to current concerns. “I really wasn’t expecting the presentation to be a criticism of CNN and flaws of its coverage of the war with Iraq, but when I discovered it was, I was enthused,” junior John McVay said. “My attitude is if the news finds out something important, they should show it.”

Junior and Deputy Speaker of the Students’ Association Senate Pete Nabozny also attended the forum and feels that the media is guilty of misinforming the public. “I think that the media has a responsibility to ask the tough questions and not just accept what the government says,” he said. “The media has an obligation to investigate what the government tells them, regardless of the effect it will have on ratings.”

Nabozny believes that the discussion is particularly relevant to students today. “The fact that people our age are over there risking their lives is quite frightening,” he said. “As college students, we should be aware of this situation and deeply concerned with it. We should also be demanding more fair and well balanced news coverage from the major media outlets.”

Formanek said she believes the best way for journalists to combat misinformation is to keep asking questions. “You have to pursue the truth at all times and not give up,” she said. “The key is not to be afraid of telling the truth.”

Taylor can be reached at ktaylor@campustimes.org.



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