How much better than the competition was CNN's coverage with Christiane Amanpour in Baghdad yesterday?
So much better that WMAR (Channel 2), Baltimore's ABC affiliate, was showing CNN's coverage to its viewers instead of ABC's as the bombs started falling on Baghdad just after 2 p.m. (EST).
Such a move by a network affiliate in a major market not only says something about CNN but also ABC. In this case, it is an indication of how far ABC News, once considered the top of international reporting on television, has fallen in recent years.
Stations like WMAR must pay extra for the right to use CNN reports, while news from the network with which they are affiliated is essentially free. So, why was WMAR using CNN yesterday?
"Our audience comes first, and any allegiance to a network through affiliation is second," Steve Gigliotti, the vice president and general manager of WMAR, said yesterday. "CNN is doing an excellent job with this story, and we'll go exclusively with CNN if the coverage they're supplying is better," Gigliotti explained.
It was definitely better at 2 p.m. because ABC was not offering its affiliates any coverage at all, according to Gigliotti. Like general managers at ABC affiliates across the country, Gigliotti looked up at the bank of television screens in his office and saw pictures of Amanpour reporting against the background of an exploding sky, while ABC was offering "General Hospital."
Overall, yesterday was not quite as frenetic in its split-screen, back and forth movement between Baghdad and Washington. But it was more intense in some ways.
The bombs were bigger and they hit closer to the correspondents. One really rocked the Al Rashid Hotel where most of the foreign correspondents reside, and NBC cameraman Tom Baer told us all about it. Meanwhile, back on Capitol Hill, leaders of Congress brought considerable emotion to their debate on whether impeachment should begin today while troops are still in the gulf. The wag-the-dog charges grew louder, while Clinton's defenders invoked the safety of American soldiers.
And, last night another bombshell: Roll-Call magazine reporting that speaker-elect of the House, Bob Livingston, acknowledged
"sexual affairs in his past and would offer to resign."
Amanpour was again the best of the Baghdad field, explaining in colorful language what it felt like to be in Baghdad as the bombs fell. Punctuating her reports with "whoa's" and an occasional "hooooly cow," as an explosion was heard, she opened one report saying, "Well, it's been another bone-jangling hour for the residents of Baghdad."
By comparsion, Mark Phillips, of CBS News, put it this way: "What we have tonight is the really penetrating types of ordnance."
Who would you rather get your news from?
NBC, which struggled during Day 1 of Desert Fox with Kevin Tibbles doing most of its rooftop-in-Baghdad reporting, offered the most improved coverage yesterday. Donatella Lorch and cameraman Baer did most of the reporting.
Baer's reports from the Al Rashid were among the day's best. CNN had a correspondent in the Al Rashid as well, but lost contact with her and spent virtually all of its airtime with Amanpour, who was stationed on the roof of the Ministry of Information building.
None of the cable channels or networks improved yesterday on the job of explaining the motivation behind and deeper meaning of all those explosions in Baghdad.
But at least they were admitting it.
"I wish I could offer you some persepctive," Lou Dobbs, of CNN, said last night. "I cannot, except to say it's been another exceptional news day."
Pub Date: 12/18/98