Nbc News Decries Limits Set On War Coverage


January 07, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Los Angeles The cost of covering the crisis in the Persian Gulf will jump from about $500,000 to $1 million a week starting today for NBC News.

But, if war breaks out Jan. 15, all the money that's being spent by NBC and the other television news operations is not NTC necessarily going to make for more immediate and on-the-spot coverage in American living rooms.

That was the message yesterday during a press conference here with Michael Gartner, president of NBC News. Gartner challenged recent predictions and a growing popular perception that the networks -- in part because of new satellite technology -- were poised to cover this war with an unprecedented immediacy.

"Covering this war will be very difficult," Gartner said. "In fact, it may be the most difficult war ever to cover."

Gartner said the main reason for the difficulty was four levels of strict control and censorship already in place in Baghdad, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Washington, the places he termed the "four fronts" of news coverage of the crisis.

The Pentagon, for example, has already told the networks that it will not allow graphic pictures of wounded or dead American soldiers to be shown on television. Gartner called the ruling "totally unreasonable."

"You can't hide the horror of war," Gartner said. "War is not like prime-time TV. We have a responsibility to show the horror."

It is likely, Gartner said, that the network cameras will not get near enough to the front lines to capture such images, if the restrictions already in place in the Gulf are not eased. "Will we have [any] live pictures? I just don't know," he said.

Gartner said that if war starts in the Gulf, Americans will not be satisfied with the kind of limited coverage that government restrictions dictated during military actions in Panama and Grenada.

"If Americans aren't told what's going on," he said, "they'll get p----- off. They want to know."

Because of the interest in news coverage of the Gulf, Gartner did not have to respond to many questions about major problems at NBC News, such as the inability of "NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw" to get out of last place in the ratings or the continued ratings woes at "Today" since the departure of Jane Pauley.

Gartner reiterated his confidence in NBC News' decision last year to no longer offer a nightly newscast of record or be the first teller of the news, but instead be a news operation that offers analysis, context, investigations and goes after the "big story."

In light of that, he introduced stars and producers of two new NBC shows, "Expose," the investigative reporting show that debuted last night, and "A Closer Look," the noontime show starring Faith Daniels, which is set to debut Jan. 28.

Daniels said that her new duties on the daily mid-day show

would result in her leaving "Sunrise," her early morning newscast, in the near future. She said she hopes to stay on at "Today," but added that her new position is a "full-time job" in itself. She may, therefore, also leave "Today" at some point.

It was also announced that Katie Couric would take over anchor duties at "Today" while Deborah Norville was on maternity leave in March and April. "Deborah is expected back for May sweeps," Gartner said.

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