War Stories

The networks had nearly 50 reporters in and around Iraq and last week, a few of them took time to talk to Broadcasting & Cable's Allison Romano about life during wartime
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'I'm Like A Beat Reporter'

Walter Rodgers: CNN

Army, 3rd Infantry, 7th Cavalry regiment

CNN's Walter Rodgers has covered wars in Lebanon, the Balkans and Afghanistan, among others, and says this conflict is a fantastic war corespondent's story. "We see every battle plan. We listen to the radio transmissions." In turn, "The [military] trusts us not to break the rules and blow their cover."

"I have done the Marines, the Air Force and the Navy in previous wars," Rodgers said. For this war, "I thought I'd like to do the Army."

In the field, "I'm like a beat reporter. I have my contacts, I talk to the soldiers, I get information. I'm like someone covering a state legislature." Except that Rodgers is deep into Iraqi territory.

The field commander, he said, "has never once said to us, 'Don't use any of that.' He's asked us to hold it for a bit to protect the troops.

Rodgers said: "These are austere and harsh conditions. It's the worst during a sandstorm and incoming artillery fire. Some nights, you don't even have time to break out your sleeping bag. Last night, I slept in a haystack next to a sorry excuse for a barn. I burrowed into the hay because I had to be able to move quickly, in case we had to evacuate."

Still, he admits, "It's really been fun. There is nothing more miserable than a reporter without a story. And there is nothing better than being a journalist with a great story. I would even like to go back to Fort Stewart for their welcome home parade."

In Danger and Tired

Jim Axelrod: CBS News

Army, 3rd Infantry Division, 1st Brigade

Deep inside Iraq with the advancing U.S. Army, CBS's Jim Axelrod says embedding is "working out wonderfully."

"I wish I could do every story this way. It sure beats the five hour rush to air."

After two weeks with the troops, "The more you hang out with them, eat with them, the more you're going to find out interesting human interest stories and learn a lot about the military," Axelrod said. "The glue of journalism is personal relationships."

He has few complaints about access. "We went to the front lines with the commander today.He took us as close as we could have possibly gone." Axelrod admitted it was almost suicidal. He was so close to getting himself killed, he said, "Some people will think I've drank the Kool Aid," referring to the Guyana mass suicides of 1978.

Without radio or television, "We call the news desk regularly .... and manage to stay abreast," he said. "I'm just focusing on my little slice of the story."

But sleepless for five days, a fatigued Axelrod admits, "The conflict itself is very dangerous and I can't imagine the living conditions being any more difficult."

Knowing Troops Matters

Greg Kelly: Fox News Channel

Army, 3rd Infantry Division

A former Marine jet pilot, Fox News Channel's Greg Kelly is now on the front lines as a reporter. Embedding, Kelly said, presents dilemmas, "As a journalist, you get news, you go with it ... But these are unique circumstances."

After getting to know his unit, "There is a link and that relationship makes our job easier. They trust us with information and not to release details that would compromise their security."

As for Pentagon restrictions: "They haven't imposed blackouts, but there are guidleines, like we can't talk about where we are going or where we have been. It's all related to operational security."

But even with those limits, he's had remarkable access. "We are allowed to report what we see, and so far we've done that," like showing live images of Iraqi POWs. But "brutal images may or not be close to us," as the war progresses, Kelly said. "It's the call of the editors in New York what they show or don't show."

In the "vicious sandstorms," Kelly has been hampered a bit because "I brought a flashlight that doesn't have a clip, so I keep losing it."

'A Duty to Report'

David Bloom: NBC News/MSNBC

Army, 3rd Infantry Division

Far from the weekend Today
show he usually anchors, NBC's David Bloom wants to put faces with the front line troops. "There has been a lack of stories about the front line soldiers and what their experiences have been like," Bloom said.

"Especially when you see the valor and the bravery and the pride these guys take, you can't help but be impressed." Yet, "You're still a journalist. They still make mistakes. They might engage in poor strategic decisions—all of which you have a duty to report."

"You're not here to say rah-rah troops. I'm here to say, 'Here is what your American troops are doing.' "

Bloom said besides his location, he can report with nearly carte blanche. "I'm not saying precisely where we are. When we travel through terrain that by topography was very obvious and would have revealed the route we were taking, we were careful. We either did a tight shot on me or did not go live at those moments."

For the soldiers in his division, "Our presence says people back home care. We're trying to tell their stories."

"We have everything we need," Bloom said. "I would just like a steak, a beer and a hot shower."

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