Tuesday, March 22, 2011

All Out War - CNN vs. Fox

CNN Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson was fuming. Accused by the rival Fox network of being an unwitting "human shield" duped by the Gaddafi forces, he was lashing out at his accuser.

"This allegation is outrageous and it's absolutely hypocritical," ranted Robertson, in a rare direct attack on Fox. When you come to someplace like Libya you expect lies from the dictatorship here. You don't expect it from the other journalists."

Strong words.

One problem: Robertson had no information to contradict the central allegation in Fox's report, namely that British planes called off a missile attack on Muammar Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli because a busfull of reporters, including from CNN and Reuters were being given a tour of the damaged building at the time.

Deborah Haynes of the London Times had a decidedly different take, conceding that she and the other foreign media in fact "effectively became temporary human shields on Sunday night."

Robertson's ire is understandable. Like the other journalists, he was doing his job, going to see for himself the damage, instead of relying on second-hand reports. And he would have no way of knowing if an airstrike was planned, during the brief window he and the other reporters were there. For that matter, Gaddafi's forces would NOT have known either.

If the journalists effectively became human shields, then it was a very temporary shield, and more of a random coincidence than a deliberate effort to dupe and use the western media.

And contrary to some of Fox's own reporting, Fox did send a representative with a camera on the trip, so the charge of hypocrisy rings true.

Still Robertson would have been better served to keep his cool, and lay out the facts, which show the Fox report to be overblown at best, and misleading and hypocritical at worst.

Reporters should be careful about charging other reporters with lying. Lying is the deliberate, knowing promulgation of a falsehood. There are many reasons news organizations get things wrong, most are not deliberate lies.

And it never becomes one to level personal attacks on fellow journalists. Nic was in full rant when he went after Fox correspondent, (and former CNN producer) Steve Harrigan. Fox had indicated Harrigan skipped the Libyan government tour to avoid being a propaganda tool. That prompted Robertson to charge that Harrigan rarely gets out of his hotel to actually report. "I see him more times at breakfast than I see him out on trips with government officials here," Robertson said, "We very rarely see the Fox News team. If I sound angry, it's because I am."

I understand Nic's anger. And maybe he just had to vent, but he would be better served to calmly refute the charges by laying out the facts, which show CNN was simply doing its job.

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