Last night (Tuesday) on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, senior international correspondent Nic Robertson touted his “exclusive” exchange with a Hezbollah propagandist who led Robertson on a tour of a bombed-out block of southern Beirut. Hezbollah claimed to show that Israeli bombs had struck civilian areas of the city, not the terrorist group’s headquarters.
The Hezbollah “press officer,” Hussein Nabulsi, even directed CNN’s camera: “Just look. Shoot. Look at this building. Is it a military base? Is it a military base, or just civilians living in this building?” A few moments later, Nabulsi instructed CNN to videotape him as he ran up to a pile of rubble: “Shoot me. Shoot. This is here where they said Sheikh Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, is living. This is wrong!”
Robertson seemed to endorse Hezbollah’s claims: “As we run past the rubble, we see much that points to civilian life, no evidence apparent of military equipment.” And, while an animated Nabulsi gesticulated at what he claimed was evidence of Israel’s errors and damage done to civilian sites, he quickly ended the tour after Robertson brought up how Hezbollah had killed civilians.
“Now there is jet fighters. We have to move,” he instructed Robertson.
After Robertson’s taped report, co-anchor John Roberts saluted his colleague: “Well, extraordinary tour that you took there today, Nic. And a lot of people here at CNN say you’re very, very brave for doing it, but we expect nothing less.”
During the 1991 war with Iraq, CNN was given favored status in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, as then-reporter Peter Arnett served as a willing conduit for the regime’s anti-American propaganda, a role Arnett briefly reprised for MSNBC during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Does Robertson aspire to become the Peter Arnett of this conflict?
CNN went to Robertson’s taped piece at about 11:20pm EDT, after he alerted viewers to new bombing in the same area of southern Beirut:
“Tyre, the port city in the south of Lebanon, took a pounding from Israeli bombs Tuesday. Civilians were caught up in the carnage."
Robertson continued, over footage that included an injured Lebanese child: “Other Lebanese towns and villages in the south and east of the country were also targeted, and as it has every day since the bombing began last Thursday, Beirut's southern suburbs, the heartland of the Islamic guerrilla organization Hezbollah, part of which, until now, kept off-limits to outsiders.”
Viewers saw Robertson in a blue shirt running amidst debris alongside the Hezbollah operative, who wore a red shirt. Robertson asked: “Where are we going now?”
Hussein Nabulsi, labeled on-screen as a “Hezbollah Press Officer”: “Now we are moving to where Israeli jet fighters bombed what it called Hezbollah headquarters.”
Robertson narrated: “In a reverse of recent policy, Hezbollah took CNN on an exclusive fast-paced tour of the most sensitive bomb sites.”
To Nabulsi: “You are really worried about another strike here right now, yes?”
Nabulsi: “Of course, of course.”
Robertson: “How dangerous is it in this area at the moment?”
Nabulsi: “It is very, very dangerous. It's — we are now the most dangerous place in the most dangerous moment.”
Robertson: “In civilian housing.”
Robertson narrated: “Israel says it targets Hezbollah's leadership and military structure. Hezbollah wanted to show us civilians are being hit.” At the base of a heavily-damaged multi-story concrete building, he asked Nabulsi: “What was here?”
Nabulsi gestured to the cameraman: “Just look. Shoot. It is civilians, buildings. Look at this building. Is it a military base? Is it a military base, or just civilians living in this building?”
Robertson: “Are you going to have — go for this cease-fire? Are you have going to hand back the soldiers that they ask for?”
Nabulsi threatened: “We always teach Israel a lesson. We always teach it a lesson. Now we will teach Israel a lesson again. I tell Ehud Olmert we will not surrender. We will not surrender. We will not surrender. Dignity.”
Robertson narrated: “Fearing renewed bombing, we move off again.”
Nabulsi: “Okay. Hurry up. Hurry up....”
Robertson narrated: “As we run past the rubble, we see much that points to civilian life, no evidence apparent of military equipment.”
Nabulsi: “This — I will show you something.” He gestured to the cameraman: “Shoot me. Shoot. This is here where they said Sheikh Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, is living. This is wrong.”
Robertson: “This looks like a bunker-busting bomb has been used here to go down below ground level.”
Nabulsi: “This was destroyed by Israeli — the Israelis are coward. They don’t come to fight us face-to-face. They come with jet fighters from high above in the sky.”
Robertson: “Is that what you want them to do, fight you face-by- face?”
Nabulsi: “If they have — if they are brave enough, face us! You know, we want you, we want to fight you face- to-face.”
Robertson: “How long is this going to-”
Nabulsi, still speaking to the Israelis: “You don't dare to do it!”
Robertson narrates — “I have more questions ” — and is shown posing his first tough question to Nabulsi: “But they say you’re killing civilians.”
Nabulsi points to the sky: “Now there is jet fighters. We have to move.”
Robertson, running, talks directly to the camera: “Now we have been told we have to get out of the area. They believe that more Israeli planes are coming and that we need to get out of this area right now for our safety.”
Then narrating, he points out: “As we leave, my questions are still unanswered. Has Israeli bombing degraded Hezbollah's military, as Israel claims? We track down a senior Hezbollah politician.”
He then runs a soundbite (translated) from Dr. Ali Fayyad, Hezbollah Central Committee, who insists that the Israeli attacks have been ineffective: “Hezbollah’s infrastructure remains completely sound. What will show this to be true in the resistance continued ability to launch rockets. I can say we’re still in the middle of this battle.”
Robertson concludes: “A battle that in Beirut’s normally densely populated southern suburbs, at least, is turning the city into a war zone.”
Back live, he tells co-anchor John Roberts: “I asked that politician as well if there was a possibility of a cease fire, the possibility of talks that are going on right now can bring about a comprehensive cease fire, to bring about an end to all the bloodshed and violence that's going on. He told me as it stands right now, he doesn’t see that happening at all, John.”
Roberts asked about Robertson’s tour: “Military equipment in that area, that suburb of southern Beirut that you were going through today — has Israel ever claimed that there was a lot of military material in there? Or were they only targeting it because it was a basically Hezbollah offices, a real stronghold for the organization?”
Robertson conceded: “You know, we don't know specifically what the Israelis were targeting when they were bombing that area. We know what their stated objectives are, which is to degrade Hezbollah's military and remove its leadership. From what we could see there, we didn't see any military type of equipment. We didn't go burrowing into all the houses. But of course, that's one of the problems. Hezbollah is an organization that grows out of the people in the community there. You know, you can have university professors going off to work during the day and coming home and being part of Hezbollah's military force. It's very difficult to find them and target them in an urban environment, John.”
Roberts ended by congratulating Robertson: “Well, extraordinary tour that you took there today, Nic. And a lot of people here at CNN say you're very, very brave for doing it, but we expect nothing less. Nic Robertson in Beirut, thanks very much.”