The Difference Between TV Coverage of the War in Vietnam and the War in Iraq

Culture Watch


From Edward Jay Epstein, News from Nowhere (1973):

Although it is possible to transmit war films electronically by using the satellite relay in a day to the United States, the costs are considerable--a five-minute transmission costs more than $5,000, as opposed to $20 or $30 for shipping the same film by plane. So, with the exception of momentous battles , such as the Tet offensive in 1968, almost every network film is sent by plane, even though this means that it will be a few days old by the time it is broadcast. The footage is usually shipped to New York for editing, an NBC producer pointed out,"so that the film can be more carefully evaluated before it is put on the air." To avoid the possibility of having the delayed footage dated by newspaper accounts, network correspondents are instructed to report on the routine and continuous aspects of the war, rather than on the sort of unexpected developments that might be quickly dated, according to a former NBC Saigon bureau manager. A young NBC correspondent temporarily stationed at NBC News in New York to orient him to"the news operation" before being assigned to Vietnam, was told by producers to concentrate on"timeless pieces" such as helicopter patrols, prisoner interviews, and artillery barrages," and to"be careful" about filming events that"might date themselves."


From Alessandra Stanley,"Show of Awe: A Thrill Ride, but No Blood," New York Times (March 23, 2003):

In the swirl of confusing facts, the first scenes of the invasion of Iraq were astonishingly clear. Television did more than bring viewers closer to the front lines of battle than ever before, however. It looked at warfare through an entirely new prism.

Television cameras' usual route to battle is the trail left by its victims. Whether in Kosovo, Israel, Chechnya or Afghanistan, combat is mostly conveyed by shots of a crowded refugee tent or a collapsed high-rise, a bloodied sidewalk, a full hospital ward or an open grave.

This time, the Pentagon took viewers on a thrilling ride-along with the warriors. Videophones, portable satellites and night-sight scopes brought the world a riveting display of American power ....

The NBC correspondent David Bloom, in helmet, bulletproof vest and sunglasses, delivered reports live on the move from a specially designed armored vehicle. Others hollered updates from the flight decks of aircraft carriers, and even through gas masks.

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Bill Heuisler - 4/4/2003

"Show of Awe: A Thrill Ride, but No Blood,"
Michael Kelly, 46, the Atlantic Monthly editor-at-large and Washington Post columnist who abandoned the safety of editorial offices to cover the war in Iraq, has been killed in a Humvee accident while traveling with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division.