by Liz Miller & Jenna Levandowski
Perkins, G. (Director). (2003). Live from Baghdad [Motion picture]. HBO Video.
“We are a 24-hour network looking for a 24-hour story. One just fell from the sky…” (Weiner)
CNN was the only news network before the Gulf War that had 24-hour news coverage. The Gulf War was an opportunity for CNN to continue their reign as the network that never stops coverage due to the ever-changing events in the Middle East throughout the early development of the war. The CNN effect is a theory in political science and media studies, that CNN and other news sources with 24-hour coverage of major political events alter and effect domestic and global politics (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CNN_effect). This is because live coverage is not “screened” beforehand (obviously since it is live) so whatever is happening in the moment is being captured on the screen on the consequences of what may appear are unknown and potentially could have a huge impact on global politics, depending on the incident and the countries involved. For example when CNN interviewed Bob Vinton, an American living in Baghdad at the beginning of the Gulf War, he claimed to enjoy living there, and praised the Iraqi people and the culture he lived in. However, CNN exploited him by highlighting and illuminating physical behavior that led to the assumption that he was perhaps lying or omitting the entire truth. Soon after this interview is released, Vinton goes missing. It is important to understand the gravity of this responsibility that news platforms have distilling and distributing this information. The effect of this coverage can cause international controversy, but we sometimes forget that human beings are on the other side of these events more often than not.
Naji Al-Hadithi said; “All governments use press…That’s the reality. I use you, you use me. We’re the same.” What he means is that government can often control or have influence over what the media projects to the general public. Luckily (or unluckily?) in the United States we have the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights (Baran, 75) to protect freedom of speech, therefore what media platforms or mediums choose to produce for the public’s consumption. The media has a very powerful influence on our daily lives, and in an instant it can change because of what or who shows up on your television screen.
When a journalist becomes a part of the story he/she is supposed to be reporting on, they embody the people or place they are reporting on in order to see it through the most accurate and authentic way. Through the eyes of those in the thick of it. Becoming a part of the story has the potential to cross lines or boundaries of journalism that exist for the integrity of the journalist and whomever they are reporting for and the public seeing, reading or viewing this It is challenging for some journalists, depending on a story to stay unbiased when they are pushed to become so integrated into what they are reporting on. Those who report the news are given a a privilege, and those whom they report for determine if they are trustworthy based on several factors, so if reporters abuse those powers, if can ruin their reputation or the reputation of a news conglomerate or publication. This, arguable is what happened in Baghdad, and often can occur when news goes to foreign countries or places where war is being waged. Because you are literally in the middle of a war zone, and you can’t help but become a part of it, you meet people involved and you come from some place that may or may not have a direct relationship with the conflict, but surely has a political stance. In addition, human beings will always have a stance on war, suffering and injustice, either way they feel, it will effect their behavior towards the subject. This is how CNN reporters began to get others (as well as themselves) in danger when getting too close, and in some unsafe situations in Baghdad.
Throughout watching the film it becomes apparent that whomever is filmed by Weiner’s crew in Baghdad is going to be publicized globally. Considering the poor relations and misrepresentations felt by the Iraqis towards Americans, and the deeper political system within Iraq, being the face shown on CNN is putting the life behind the face in jeopardy. When Bob Vinton is interviewed while being held a hostage, he sacrifices his ability to go unnoticed and unidentified as a threat. While the interview is being held a man walks up to Weiner and asks how he sleeps at night knowing that once this airs this man’s life is at risk, and as we know, soon after the assumption is correct as Bob Vinton is determined missing. The ethical dilemma behind a journalistic interview on a controversial topic is that what is projected on the news is not really free speech, what this man says on television is what gets him captured. It is neither the sole fault of a journalist willingly allowing the man to take the risk as it is for the man to agree to speak. Similarly, later in the film when the crew gets to interview a doctor in a hospital, we are shown another instance where the lack of anonymity on a screen limits the conversation that can be held in an interview in fear of further implications.
A lot of the film shot by Weiner’s crew requires media literacy to dissect the truth behind the face. In the beginning of the film Weiner claims, “trust the viewer” in the context that he assumes they will be able to see through the shot of the hostages with Saddam Hussein. However, the agency of people tuning into CNN cannot be assumed. This film highlights the influence potential news casters have when being responsible for broadcasting events to the public. The ability to share the information is power that poses as threatening for Iraqi officials in the film. The television is one of the most popular mediums for national news, “71% say it’s their leading source”. (Baran 191). What is seen on the television sway public opinion, dialogue within the movie further establish the power one holds when they are able to film and distribute news content. In one scene a man says to Weiner about furthering their stay in Baghdad that, “if we’re here, the White House cannot control the story” and later in the film another journalist tells Weiner, “you own this war”. The ability to televise a story when no one else has access is power that can be used to better the knowledge and understanding on the millions of viewers who tune in, however it also makes it harder for higher institutions to limit the information they want the public to know. This movie addresses the many complications that arise behind the scenes of a television broadcast.