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Live from Baghdad

April 3rd, 2012 · No Comments

Lauren Bowie, Sam Foster, Becca Sears, Nick Farr
Live From Baghdad (2002)
Dir. Mick Jackson
3 April, 2012

Live from Baghdad

Wartime News Impact on Society

The film “Live From Baghdad” was produced in 2002 by HBO. Directed by Mick Jackson and written by Robert Wiener, the film was based on the book written by Wiener in the same year. On August 23, 1990, Wiener, the executive producer for news network CNN, and his crew landed in Baghdad “during the period of tense international maneuvering that would culminate in open war” (Macmillan). At the time, CNN was considered “the little network that could”. Wiener and his crew were competing with more established television news networks such as NBC, CBS, and ABC  to “fill television screens with news from Baghdad throughout the day” (Political Film Society). In order to establish himself, and his network, as superior Wiener pursues to acquire footage and interviews with more diligence and courage than the others. For example, Wiener waits patiently from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm to meet with Iraqi minister Naji Al-Nadithi, while representatives from other networks stormed off in frustration. Through Wiener’s friendship with Al-Nadithi, CNN becomes the only news agency allowed to enter Kuwait at the time. At the end of the film, CNN proves themselves as a big network when their news correspondents provide live commentary of the attack of Baghdad with a front-row view of the destruction from their hotel suite. A montage of praise by various other news anchors is the culmination of their five months of coverage in Iraq.

The 24-hour news coverage of the prelude stages of the Iraq War is an example of the CNN effect, which is a theory that “seeks to explain the effect that 24-hour news networks, such as CNN, have on the general political and economic climate” (Investopedia). Because of constant coverage, audiences are narrowly focused on one news event for a prolonged period of time, which can in turn cause “individuals and organizations to react more aggressively towards the subject matter being examined” (Investopedia). Piers Robinson explores the concept of the CNN Effect in a book published in 2002. Robinson notes, “The phrase ‘CNN Effect’ encapsulated the idea that real-time communications technology could provoke major responses from domestic audiences and political elites to global events” (1999, 301).

The CNN Effect can also explain  pressure felt by politicians by the media.  Robinson states, in support of this argument, “James Hope, for example, observed that ‘today’s pervasive media increases the pressures on politicians to respond promptly to news accounts that by their very immediacy are incomplete, without context and sometimes wrong” (1999, 302). Many individuals believed that “policy uncertainty” caused the CNN Effect.  Robinson observes, “Many scholars agree that as policy certainty decreases, news media influence increases and that, conversely, as policy becomes more certain, the influence of news media coverage is reduced” (2005, 345).  For instance, during the 1990s, “shocking images” from conflicts caused policy makers to panic (2005, 345).

CNN is significant because it was the first network to have twenty-four hour news coverage.  During the 1990s, there were no other 24 hour news networks.  Philip Seib notes that the 1991 Gulf War “illustrated, live coverage has complex ramifications for policy makers and journalists. It removes the cushion of time and with it considerable flexibility” (Seib). CNN wanted to be taken seriously as a network. Seib further notes, “Even when direct communication between Iraqi and American officials broke down, CNN was available as a de facto diplomatic channel” (Seib).  Before the air bombings started in 1991 CNN reporter Bernard Shaw stated in a broadcast that an Iraqi official would be “willing to discuss all issues.”  This report caused the stock market to go up.  It illustrated the “ripple effect” that one story could have (Seib).

And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself and Live from Baghdad illustrate the high newsworthiness of war.  In Live from Pancho Villa, Villa signs a contract with the movie studio agreeing to perform battle scenes well for the camera.   In actuality, the real Pancho Villa didn’t sign a contract to perform in the best lighting (Bruce-Nouva). Audiences were excited by the stimulating and action-packed war scenes from The Life of General Villa.  Similarly in Live from Baghdad, when the rockets are pouring into Baghdad, the CNN producers insist that they keep filming the reporter, despite putting their lives at risk to encourage viewers to watch their struggling news network.

Media literacy is important when watching the news. Keeping the CNN Effect in mind can help deter overreactions to news events that are excessively represented on television. We also need to keep in mind the influence that the media can have on politicians and policy making, an idea that is also acknowledged by the CNN Effect. Live From Baghdad and And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself both portray the newsworthiness of wars. Because of their popularity, news networks may show coverage of wars in order to attract more viewers, which is yet another argument in favor of becoming more media literate.

Discussion Questions

  1. In the movie we see many attempts by the Iraqi government to try and filter what information the CNN crew could release to the world. In one instance Robert Weiner feared that an American who was interviewed has gone missing because of information he gave to CNN. Do you think these attempts to silence the reporters and the new ability for American people to see the reality of the situation strengthened American support for the war? If so, how?
  2. Did the pressure the direct CNN reporting to the American public scare Saddam into giving CNN an interview? If so, do you think the reporting of CNN pressured him in a similar way that Edward Murrow was able to pressure McCarthy into giving a public response due to his reporting?
  3. CNN’s coverage of the initial bombs was obviously groundbreaking in the news industry giving people a first hand experience of the war. in the years since we have seen even more advances in wartime media coverage going as far as documentaries like “restrepo” that show soldiers in some of the most intense combat situations actually caught on film, But, how much farther can we go? Do you feel we can take it any farther then filming the actual war itself?

Important Quotes:

  1. Ingrid Formanek- “Come on, Wienerish, we’re just the eyes. You put this shit up there, and people pull it down on their sonys. I think i’m quoting you”
  2. Stu- “You’re nothing but a bunch of overpaid, bone-picking vultures” Robert Wiener “You’re confusing us with CBS, pal, We’re the underpaid vultures”
  3. Ed Turner “No story is worth your life…But, this is the story of a lifetime”
  4. Richard Roth “ This was the biggest forest in the history of the world. . . dinosaurs. Then it all died, rotted, turned into oil, and now… we’re here. its basically fighting to see who gets to desecrate the cemetery. who gets the oil. no wonder there always has been so much bad blood, it’s always been lousy karma to be a grave robber”

Works Cited

Bruce-Novoa, Juan. “Pancho Villa: Post-Colonial Colonialism, or the Return of the Americano.”

Kritikos: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal of Postmodern Cultural Sound, 2 2005):

“CNN Effect.” Investopedia. Web. 03 Apr. 2012.


“Live From Baghdad.” Macmillan. Web. 03 Apr. 2012.


“Political Film Society – Live from Baghdad.” Political Film Society. Web. 03 Apr. 2012.


Robinson, Piers. “The CNN Effect: Can the News Media Drive Foreign Policy?” Review of      International Studies, 25.2 (1999): pp. 301-309.

Robinson, Piers. “The CNN Effect Revisited.” Critical Studies in Media Communication, 22.4 (2005): pp. 344-349.

Seib, Philip. “Effects of Real Time News Coverage on Foreign Policy.” Journal of Conflict        Studies, 20.2 (2000): n.pag. Web. 2 Apr. 2012.

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