| Marines pray before leaving Camp Soup, north of Kuwait City. Allied troops gathered in positions near the Iraqi border to start their advance into southern Iraq. (AFP)
Los Angeles, March 21: The invasion of Iraq was brought live to American living rooms yesterday night, as cable news networks CNN and Fox aired live footage of military units making the charge through the southern Iraqi desert.
CNN’s Walter Rodgers, with the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division, sent back the ultimate “reality television” — live video of the desert charge. At one point, he noted that his videophone cameraman was riding on the hood of their vehicle. Later, the M-1A1 Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles were shown halted near Bedouin shepherd encampments while soldiers stretched their legs.
Meanwhile, a Fox News crew, also in the desert and broadcasting with a videophone, showed an American soldier seizing an Iraqi flag from a piece of military equipment that appeared to have been abandoned and destroyed.
The live invasion coverage came after a day in which network reporters wearing gas masks and thick flak jackets and looking like they were broadcasting from the set of a science fiction film began in earnest their war coverage.
Early returns showed that in the fight-to-the-death battle among the three cable news networks, Fox News Channel claimed the early victory, averaging 5.8 million total viewers between 9.30 pm EST Wednesday (8 am IST Thursday) and 3 am EST Thursday (1.30 pm IST Thursday), as compared to 5 million for CNN and 2.3 million for MSNBC.
Despite their competition, cable and broadcast networks agreed to extend for 24 hours, until tonight, an agreement to share their footage from Baghdad. And in some East Coast cities like Washington D.C., a few networks went back to their regularly scheduled prime-time entertainment programming yesterday night.
CNN’s medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta in the Kuwaiti desert and Fox News Channel’s William LaJeunesse were two reporters frequently on air, seen wearing gas masks that at times made them sound like “Darth Vader” from Star Wars.
As the war began to accelerate, the networks conceded what many had already suspected, that their embedded reporters were not completely free to say what they liked. “Our reporters do not say things on air that they do not clear with their local commanders,” ABC’s Peter Jennings said of journalists “embedded” with, or attached to, specific military units on the ground.