As the situation in Egypt shows no signs of settling down and the focus on Thursday turned to journalists being targeted, B&C has been in constant touch with executives from the major television news outlets to talk about how to cover the exploding situation while trying to keep their staffers safe.
CBS News and Sports chief Sean McManus spoke Thursday with B&C's Andrea Morabito about covering Egypt. An edited transcript of that conversation follows.
What have the challenges been planning this coverage and staying in touch with your team over there?
Well first of all the challenges are so apparent on video, you saw what happened to a lot of the journalists yesterday, Katie [Couric] and Mark Strassmann and Anderson Cooper and Richard Engel. With the technology we have today and the small cameras and the ability to feed so quickly, so you can see what the challenges, and quite frankly the imminent dangers are, almost on a real-time basis. Getting a signal out of Cairo has been difficult. We've used the Internet, not the traditional satellites that we would normally use. It's going to probably get more difficult since one of the television stations that is assisting and assisted foreign journalists in transmitting pictures looks like it's probably going to go off the air at some point. So it's been remarkably challenging when you combine the technical difficulties with the dangers of covering the story, it's a very, very difficult and challenging story to do. But I think the CBS team together with Katie [who returned to New York Thursday evening] and our other correspondents - we have Liz Palmer and Mark Strassmann there also - along with the other journalists have done a remarkably good job on reporting the story that literally is changing, if not by the minute, certainly by the hour.
What did you tell your team about the combative situations journalists have faced over there, in regards to balancing their own safety with the need to get the story?
Well the first and the foremost instructions we give them is you make the decisions with respect to what is the safe thing to do. Nobody in New York City would ever give any directions to a camera crew or a correspondent with respect to how to cover the story. That's up to them, they're on the ground, we would never expect any of the correspondents or camera crews to take any risks that they thought were unreasonable. In the end, safety is really paramount, it's really important, and we tell them, it's the same story in Afghanistan, the same story in Iraq, the people on the ground make the decisions on where they are going to go. We encourage them not to put themselves in danger just to be able to get a better story. Now the issue is a lot of times, not just the CBS correspondents or crews, but listen, they are journalists and they are reporters and they have this innate sense that they want to and need to go to the heart of the story. And even if at the heart of the story there is obvious danger, so many of them just will rush in because they think that's what their job is, and quite frankly it isn't even something that a lot of times they think about, it's just their instinct to go to where the story is, and that's why they are reporters and that's why they are on camera crews, that's their first instinct. It's very, very admirable, but it can be very, very dangerous also.
What has surprised you the most about how the coverage has gone this week?
I think what's a little bit different than Afghanistan and Iraq is that so much of this is taking place live, in front of our eyes, or very, very soon after it happened. Most of the coverage in Iraq and Afghanistan took place after a big incident happened, if there was a car bomb or something reporters would rush out to cover it. This basically, from the balconies of their hotels, is unfolding in real time in front of these people. I don't think anybody anticipated at the exact moment it happened that the pro-Mubarak group would come riding in literally on horses and camels. I don't think anybody anticipated that and it took place right in front of everyone's eyes. So I think the real-time drama and the fact that it is literally changing and the fact that nobody really has any idea what the next development is going to be, has provided remarkable, remarkable coverage, both live and on tape. The fact that it was very peaceful at the beginning and evolved into something that has turned into being very, very violent it's a fascinating story to watch and it's a scary story to watch, because I'm sure it's a fascinating story to cover and also a scary one to cover. To see it play out in real time and see it change so instantaneously is just remarkable.
How long do you plan to keep a presence in the region covering this story?
We're gonna have a presence there for as long as we need to. We just sent in Terry McCarthy, Lara Logan is now assigned to 60 Minutes, she's still in Cairo but she's working on a bunch of 60 Minutes assignments. Terry McCarthy, who obviously has a lot of experience in Afghanistan and Iraq and other war zones, he'll begin his reporting today on the Evening News.
[Editor's note: Time reported Thursday that Logan had been detained by Egyptian military. This interview was conducted prior to that report. CBS News said Friday that Logan has been released and is on her way back to the U.S.]
What have you learned from how the coverage went this week?
We responded as we should, we sent Liz Palmer in there last week anticipating that something was going to happen. I think one of the biggest challenges that nobody at home really understands is the technical challenges. When so much of our work is done on the Internet now and when the country shuts down the Internet... our ability to communicate with people over there. We're using the Internet connection instead of the traditional satellite and video camera that we normally use, it calls for great innovation and great creativity. All the networks are trying to continue to figure out how to make the equipment smaller and more portable and less reliant on the traditional means of communication. So if we've learned anything, it's that you've got to just really be flexible and figure out how to get your signal out, which everybody's been remarkably good at doing.
And I'll say one other thing: People talk a lot about the fact that networks don't cover foreign new as much as they do or as much as they should and they're closing the bureaus and all that stuff, but I am just continually amazed that whenever something happens in this country but particularly outside this country, the way the broadcast networks and the cable networks respond, and if you look at the kind of coverage that all of us have done for the last week, to say that there isn't a commitment to foreign news or that the networks aren't in a position to cover it is just silly. When it becomes the story that it is, I think we all have stepped up and done a remarkably good job. And I'm really proud of the job that everyone has done on this story, when there's some of the most extreme and dangerous situations you can imagine.