Sinclair crew to cover Iraq

January 30, 2004|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County-based Sinclair Broadcast Group is sending a news crew to Iraq next month to uncover the stories that its officials believe are being overlooked by reporters for major American television news organizations.

There might be real accomplishments for the U.S.-led occupation, said Mark Hyman, Sinclair's vice president for corporate affairs, but if so, they are being drowned out by the constant barrage of stories about guerrilla actions against coalition troops.

"Clearly, those are the big stories of the day," Hyman said. "Are they the only stories? Anecdotally, we're told they're not."

The team will be led by Jon Leiberman, the former WBFF investigative reporter who now heads parent company Sinclair's Washington bureau. Part of the Sinclair mandate will be to answer questions selected from hundreds of viewers' queries and to determine the activities of military units based in the home communities of Sinclair stations. Thirty-seven of Sinclair's 62 American television stations will run the reports.

"Our mission really is to tell stories we think local news viewers aren't getting throughout the country," Leiberman said. The newscasts for most local stations, including those of Sinclair, rely on dispatches filed by larger news networks, such as the Associated Press or CNN, he said. "A lot of our trip is going to focus on the Iraqi people and members of the [U.S.] military."

Hyman also will travel to the Middle East as part of the news-gathering team. He is better known to viewers of Sinclair stations for his commentaries on the regular feature "The Point," many of which have taken a caustic view toward critics of President Bush's handling of the war. And he is to contribute commentaries from Iraq, as well.

On Jan. 22, Hyman took aim at those who oppose the administration on Iraq. "They think we should follow the lead of France - a country that appeases terrorists and dictators," Hyman said, according to a transcript. "Or they think we should turn Iraq over to the U.N. But they forget that the U.N. retreated from Iraq months ago. The cut-and-run cowards believe American lives and interests can be unnecessarily sacrificed because they don't want to offend the world's pantywaist countries."

But Hyman said yesterday that he's going to Iraq with an open mind, interested in finding out what U.S. troops are achieving there - and how they're falling short. Hyman and Leiberman similarly traveled last month to the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to report on detainees held there who are suspected of having links to terrorists. Leiberman reported on their condition, while Hyman editorialized against the criticisms of the Red Cross against U.S. government policy there.

As planned, the group will leave the U.S. on Feb. 7, traveling to Baghdad via Amman, Jordan. Its crammed itinerary includes nearly a dozen cities, such as Mosul, Basra and Sulaymaniyah.

Hyman is also a captain in the U.S. Naval Reserves in an intelligence role attached to the Naval Network and Space Operations Command in Dahlgren, Va. Asked about his dual role, of naval officer and journalist, he said he works hard to separate the two. Leiberman oversaw logistical matters requiring the aid of the Civilian Provisional Authority in Iraq and U.S. military officials, Hyman said. And Hyman said he has not sought to trade on his military status in any way.

"I didn't tell anyone about that background because I did not want anyone to treat me differently," he said. "As much as I believe in the military, I believe passionately in the free expression of ideas. Even today, there are people in the military who look at me askance because I went to the other side, so to speak."

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