August 8, 2008
CBN News Correspondent
Bagram Air Base near Kabul, Afghanistan
As I passed through the Media Operations Center at Bagram Air Base today, I saw a CNN story contrasting Iraq and Afghanistan. My biggest beef with the story is that CNN continues to show footage of Marines involved in heavy combat in Ramadi every time they talk about the war. Unfortunately that the footage was shot in 2005. This is usually overlaid on a big screen when they have a talking head pontificating on the war. They’re just using it as background footage, but it gives the American people the subtle message that the fighting is still that intense – when in reality Iraq is now probably safer than Columbus, Ohio. It’s dishonest, and they should stop doing it. Believe me, nobody understands the need for exciting b-roll more than I do – but how about showing the Iraqi Security forces going on a raid instead of the worn-out old footage of Marines in a firefight that happened years ago?
The CNN piece also showed clips from an interview with General McKiernan, the commander of forces here. They touted it as an “exclusive,” but that’s not quite true, either. CNN requested the footage, but it was shot by a military combat camera crew – there was no CNN reporter present. The footage was then uploaded to www.dvidshub.net, where it becomes public domain and is available to every media outlet on the planet – for free. As a matter of fact, here’s a link to the footage. It’s a bit of a stretch to call that an “exclusive.”
One big reason these things keep happening is inherent in the nature of modern news broadcasting. It’s expensive to get good footage – sometimes more than $10,000 for every minute of video. Think of what it costs to fly a reporter and camera crew halfway around the world – then pay for the equipment and airtime for satellite communications that can cost up to $1000 per minute of footage uploaded. Add to that salaries, per diem, and incidentals like replacing equipment that gets wrecked (a very real possibility in such extreme environments) and you can run into real money. So CNN (and everyone else) look for shortcuts. One way is to buy footage from stringers in Iraq – which usually means we’re watching the war through the eyes of the enemy, since the stringers often come from outlets which are, to put it mildly, not fans of the U.S. This means the reporter never has to leave his air conditioned office in the green zone, but it also means he has little idea what he’s talking about.
CBN News faces these challenges as well – especially since we aren’t a for-profit organization, and do our best to be good stewards of the resources that are entrusted to us. One of the ways we do that without compromising the quality of our news is by getting creative – sending me out here alone, for instance, instead of with a costly camera crew. I also make regular use of the military’s combat camera resources, though I wouldn’t claim any of that footage as an “exclusive.” We fly coach everywhere we go, unlike the crews from the MSM, who normally fly business class. This is something I’ve always thought was a good idea, though my legs sometimes disagree on long overseas flights.
And we certainly aren’t spending much on lodging this trip – Last night was the first night since I’ve been here that I actually slept on a mattress. I even had an air conditioner. It was wonderful.
One other way we save money is by not carrying the expensive satellite gear. This means you have to wait an extra week or two for the best footage I bring out of the field. But I’m here to tell you – it will be worth the wait. Stay tuned.