Self-Defense: CNN Asks Rep. Hunter If People Have the 'Right to Know What War is Like'
Feeling the heat from critics in Washington and across the country over airing video handed to it by an Iraqi terrorist group called the Islamic Army of God, CNN offered air time to Congressman Duncan Hunter on Monday’s 5pm edition of "The Situation Room." Wolf Blitzer interviewed Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and CNN military analyst Gen. David Grange, but if the general was brought in to debate Hunter, it backfired. Grange ended up agreeing with Hunter that the U.S. media helps the insurgents: "they are winning the information warfare front. You can argue that our -- our -- the media in the United States supports that somewhat." Blitzer framed CNN’s Sniper Theatre by asking Hunter "Do the American people have a right to know what war is like?" Hunter said "Wolf, the American people aren't made out of cotton candy. They understand, when you see 2,791 battlefield deaths, that people are killed, and they are killed in bad ways."
After the cheap stunt of airing this insurgent video, at least CNN deserved some credit for bringing in Hunter to critique their decision, and he did it very sharply. It was obvious that CNN was in its usual pose of Just Us Journalists Exposing the World to Hard Realities. Blitzer promoted the segment before the commercial this way: "Critics call it insurgent propaganda. CNN stands by its difficult decision to report the news."
Blitzer first aired a setup piece by Brian Todd which mostly sounded like a network executive’s defense brief: "When a U.S. serviceman is killed by a sniper in Iraq, it is often officially designated only as a death from small arms fire. The randomness, the sudden brutality of life taken is not mentioned. Last Wednesday, CNN not only mentioned it, but showed it to viewers on video taken by an insurgent sniper...This insurgent video showing sniper attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq was given to CNN by insurgents calling themselves the Islamic Army after CNN sent e-mail questions to the group. In correspondent Michael Ware's report, CNN only used images shot from a distance and never showed a serviceman being hit, dissolving to black before the impact. The network made clear it is not known what happened to the targeted soldiers." Todd also underlined that Anderson Cooper explained "Our decision to run it has not been taken lightly."
But even in this piece, Hunter was blunt that CNN saw the war just as a game to score profits for itself: "CNN is a world observer and they're watching what they view to be a football game between one side and another side. They don't see the insurgents as the enemy. They don't see our soldiers as our friends. They see this as a -- as something to be covered, to sell commercials."
In other words, the United States is trying to beat the terrorists in Iraq, while CNN is trying to beat Greta van Susteren in the overnight ratings.
Todd added corporate boilerplate: "In a statement, CNN said: ‘The decision to air the insurgents' videotape was a difficult one, but for a news organization, the right one. Our responsibility is to report the news. As an organization, we stand by our decision and respect the rights of others to disagree with it.’"
Blitzer began his interview with Hunter by noting the chairman had said on Friday he didn’t see the video, "because, you know, we never actually showed a U.S. military officer or serviceman being killed. We went to black before anyone was shot."
Hunter wasn’t backing down: "One, this is propaganda by the bad guys. It has almost no value in terms of the overall strategy of the war. It simply shows somebody being shot. Everybody who is killed in Iraq, every one of the 271 -- or 2,791 -- soldiers who has died is listed the next day in thousands of newspapers and media across the nation. So this isn't -- this isn't a case of people not knowing that soldiers are being shot.
"But the idea that in the invasion of Normandy, if Hitler sent us a film, sent CNN a film showing Americans going down under .50 caliber bullets on the -- on the beaches of Normandy or in Iowa Jima, the Imperial Government of Japan sending CNN images of American Marines -- 5,000 of them were killed at Iowa Jima -- going down under the impact of rounds as they hit that beach, or went out on Mount Suribachi would have been outrageous."
When Blitzer went to Grange for his take, it was clear that Grange wasn’t going to declare that CNN was right to air it, although he tried to be a good team player at first: "I believe Anderson Cooper did say, that this was, in fact, a propaganda film, and that I would talk about this as typical, just like of beheadings, of how our enemies use propaganda information warfare to influence public opinion, both overseas and in the United States. So, I -- I do know that they went through a very difficult decision on this. I'm not saying it was right or wrong. I think what came out of it, knowing that something was going to be shown, that they -- they did it the best they could, because it's a very gruesome film, if you look at the whole thing."
Blitzer tried to argue that they were only exposing the world to the hard realities, and responding to left-wing critics that the war is sanitized since gruesome death isn’t show on TV for young children to see: "Is this appropriate, Mr. Chairman, Congressman Hunter, for the American public to see how awful, to see how brutal the war can actually be? Because I -- I guess there has been criticism from the other side that we sort of whitewash, and we don't really convey to the American public the full extent of the brutality of the enemy. Do the American people have a right to know what war is like?
Hunter argued that the people have never been more able to go find images of gruesome death in an American war: "Well, first, Wolf, the American people aren't made out of cotton candy. They understand, when you see 2,791 battlefield deaths, that people are killed, and they are killed in bad ways. This is the first generation of Americans that could actually go online and watch an American be decapitated, have his head cut off by al-Zarqawi, as they watch. So, I would say that, contrary to what you are saying, this is a war in which more brutality is shown than probably any other.
"But the point is that -- that this one killing of one American doesn't really tell any statistic. Of -- of the people killed in Iraq, 524 of our Americans have been killed in accidents, mainly automobile accidents. Now, you don't show automobile accidents, because it's not sexy. It's not violent. It doesn't draw a big audience. Showing the impact of a single bullet, a single shooting doesn't tell you anything. If you isolated one American going down on Omaha Beach at Normandy, what would that tell the American public?"
Blitzer tried to get Gen. Grange to defend airing the insurgent video as a help to the war effort: "When the Pentagon announces killed in action, they -- they don't refer to snipers specifically. They refer to small-arms fire. And there have been hundreds of American troops who have been killed in small-arms fire. And -- and one of the things that we saw in this video -- and, General Grange, let me let you elaborate -- is the nature of the enemy, how they stalk and try to kill American troops with these kinds of snipers. But, go ahead, General, and -- and talk a little bit about that."
Grange sounded apologetic that he decided to comment for CNN: "No, I mean, you can argue whether the tape should be shown or not. I mean, I just looked back. Since 9/11, I mean, a different -- when you are asked to do a -- to make comment on a different segment, quite often, it's a decision you have to make, at least in my case, as a retired G.I., and working with the media periodically, that I always have a tough decision whether I should even comment or not. In this case, this thing is shown overseas. And I knew it would be shown in some extent. Thank God that we show it in a -- in a better way than it is showed in its raw footage.
"But point is that I guess I cheated a little bit, because we kind of -- my comments were kind of to turn it around and show the -- and capabilities of the enemy in this regard, and -- and how they use civilians for cover, and abuse civilian neighborhoods, and -- and just the way they operate, which is against the land -- rule of land warfare, to expose those things. So, you know, in a difficult situation like this, showing it or not, I think it's also an opportunity to exploit these guys, and give the information to our people, so we can survive and take them down."
Hunter returned to his argument that the insurgents are getting their wishes granted by CNN, and might encourage further terrorism: "General, I look at it just the opposite. I think showing Americans being killed by terrorists, with -- apparently, with impunity, because the film doesn't show the terrorists then being pursued and killed. And lots of terrorists who have shot at Americans took their last shot at the Americans, because they themselves were killed in turn. But showing the world a film, and lots of terrorists out there watching their TV sets, a picture of an American being killed in a crowd by a terrorist who operates, apparently, with impunity, and gets away, is highly suggestive, I think, and highly instructive to them. And I think it's dangerous to Americans, not only uniformed Americans, but also tourists, Americans who might go abroad and be in one of those crowds one day, when somebody who saw that film, how you just walk up and kill them while they are in a crowd, decides to replicate that action.
Blitzer tried to wrap the segment up by suggesting it’s beyond the pale for a congressman to question the credibility or patriotism of CNN: "In your letter, you suggest that CNN reporters no longer be allowed to be embedded with U.S. military forces in Iraq. We have several of our reporters all the time embedded, literally risking their lives, very courageous reporters, whether Michael Ware. John Roberts is embedded with the U.S. Army in Iraq right now. And -- and we have -- we have -- we have been doing that for three-and-a-half years. Are you at least open to this notion that good people, like you and General Grange, can disagree on this, without questioning the -- the credibility, the patriotism of CNN?
Hunter replied: "I think the question I asked when I saw this, Wolf, is, does CNN want America to win this thing? And, if I was a platoon leader there, as I once was, and I had a -- and I had a news organization which had shown, had -- had taken film from the enemy, showing them killing one of my soldiers, and they asked if they could be embedded in my platoon, my answer would be no.
"I go back to the -- to the -- the days of guys like Joe Rosenthal, who filmed the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima, and Ernie Pyle, who was a soldier's reporter, the guys who were on our side -- even though they reported the rough and the tough of the war, they were on our side. You can't be on both sides. And I would say, if I was that platoon leader, I would say, absolutely not. Take CNN out of there. You can't be on both sides.
Blitzer concluded: "I will give you a -- just a quick second to wrap it up, General Grange."
Grange agreed with Hunter: "Well, as a platoon leader in Vietnam, I would have said the same thing. I agree with you on that -- or even in Iraq today. My -- my concern is the power of information warfare, and how they use it. And I -- and I look at opportunities that we can turn around on the enemy, because they are winning the information warfare front. You can argue that our -- our -- the media in the United States supports that somewhat."