Strange Perk Of The Job

The latest intra-cable net skirmish is playing out very publicly between CNN and Fox. More precisely, it’s playing out between reporters for both networks. To recap quickly, Fox’s defense correspondents report that the British had to call off a missile attack on a Qaddafi-controlled compound in Tripoli because the government had bussed news correspondents into the vicinity. To wit:

British sources confirmed that seven Storm Shadow missiles were ready to be fired from a British aircraft, but the strikes had to be curtailed due to crews from CNN, Reuters and other organizations nearby. Officials from Libya’s Ministry of Information brought those journalists to the area to show them damage from the initial attack and to effectively use them as human shields.

The curtailment of this mission led to a great deal of consternation by coalition commanders, sources told Fox News, but they opted to call off the mission to avoid civilian casualties.

CNN’s man on the ground in Libya took severe exception to this report, and basically called his Fox colleague in Libya a lazy liar who never does any reporting. On the air. It was a 20 minute excursion, he says, so any claim that he and the other 40 or so reporters on the scene were used by propagandists as human shields is ludicrous.

I’m not in a position to evaluate all of this on the merits just yet, but here’s the thing: Fox’s guy in Libya didn’t break the story about the scuttled missile attack — their long-time national security reporter, Jennifer Griffin, did. So this isn’t on its face a CYA situation. And structurally, an outlet like Fox that’s been, I think it’s fair to say, sympathetic to recent war efforts, is just bound to have very good military sources in both the U.S. and allied countries. Like the U.K. Not saying it’s good — just saying that’s how it is.

This still raises plenty of questions: Is CNN’s criticism of Fox’s reporting from Libya legit? Why didn’t Fox disclose in their story that, as CNN’s Nic Robertson claims, Fox did send an employee on the excursion? Have they verified Libya’s intent here? Or is the term “human shield” a loaded one they’re borrowing from military sources?

I suspect this will all shake out soon. In the meantime it’d be easy to let existing biases (about Fox or CNN) guide people to hasty conclusions, and that would be unwise.

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