Just an hour or so before the United States began bombing Iraq last Wednesday night. BROADCASTING & CABLE sat down with CBS News President Andrew Heyward, who shared some of his thoughts about Iraq with Editor P.J. Bednarski and Deputy Editor John M. Higgins, starting with Higgins's question about how networks keep jingoism out of war coverage. An edited transcript follows:
Heyward: I don't even like the phrase jingoism. We are American citizens also. We're rooting for the U.S. to win, with no apology and with as few casualities as possible. That doesn't mean that we are going to distort our reporting, but it's possible to be a citizen and a patriot and also an objective reporter. So this notion that we're indifferent as to the outcome of the war is absurd, and only an idiot would think that. I know that's not what your question implies. I hope it isn't.
Higgins: How can you say you're going to stay an independent reporter while you're saying you are rooting for one side to win?
Heyward: Because we are going to present the facts in a fair way. We're not advocates. The fact that we want the outcome to be favorable to the U.S. is obvious to anybody. Wouldn't you be horribly shocked if you found out that a fellow citizen didn't care if Iraq or the US won the war? You answer me that question.
Higgins: I would like not to be able to tell what you think.
Heyward: Well that is ridiculous. That is one of the stupidest things I've ever heard from a journalist. In other words, the story is going to be told from the U.S. point of view. We're American reporters, the ones who are with the troops. That doesn't mean we are going to obscure the facts or we're going to distort. Our job is to be honest brokers of information.
I think the real question is, do the "embeds" become imbued with the kind of rah-rah spirit because they are surrounded and have been living with these soldiers. The answer to that is, we have other non-embedded reporters and we have an anchor who's the most experienced at this as anybody in the world and we watch out for that. But I am willing for the audience to know that I, as the president of CBS News, am rooting for the US to win the war. So there. Sue me. OK?
I think this whole notion of objectivity needs to be understood for what it is. It is a function of fairness and open-mindedness to the facts. It means you don't distort what you find out. And if there is something that the American troops do that should be reported, you report.