Another way to tell a war story
Allen Pizzey, a 60-year-old veteran war correspondent who considers himself a bit of a Luddite, never imagined that he would embrace blogging.
But the CBS newsman found himself turning to the Web during a recent stint in Baghdad after he noticed the numerous pieces on the network evening newscasts devoted to the pet food recall in the U.S.
“There seems to be an inordinate amount of time spent on what started out as 12 dead pets,” said Pizzey, who can catch the American newscasts every morning on the Baghdad bureau’s grimy television monitors, beamed in via satellite like day-old dispatches from another world.
Don’t get him wrong: Pizzey is an animal lover. (He and his family have four cats, two dogs and a terrapin at their home in Rome.) But he was disheartened by the disconnect between the horrors of the war and the preoccupations of American viewers.
Rather than stew quietly, he vented his concerns in an online reporter’s notebook, posted March 22 on CBSNews.com.
“What is depressingly clear is that what seems important here is far removed from what viewers in the U.S. seem to be concerned about,” he wrote, adding: “How 12 dead animals in a country the size of the U.S. rates with the sliding scale of mayhem here is what I’m finding hard to gauge. When only 12 human bodies are found on any given morning in Baghdad with marks of the kind of torture the ASPCA would quite rightly have a pet owner in court for, it is judged as ‘progress’ for the security plan.”
After covering conflicts around the globe for three decades, Pizzey has joined the ranks of television correspondents who have turned to the Internet to convey the messy realities of war that can’t be encapsulated in two-minute reports.
“It’s nice to be able to have that outlet,” he said in an interview this week from Rome, back home after a five-week rotation in Iraq. “One of the things that blogs provide is an opportunity for people who are interested in the news to understand a little bit about what it feels like. I don’t think I should personalize everything I do. But if you’re sitting in the middle of the kind of horror that is Iraq today, you sort of wonder, ‘How do I make these people understand?’ ”
NBC’s Richard Engel, ABC’s Terry McCarthy and other network war correspondents also supplement their on-air pieces with extensive online reports.
But Pizzey’s dispatches are often notable for their frank, personal assessments. They share a common theme: a deep-set frustration that the real story of the war is not getting through.
Mike Sims, director of news and operations for CBSNews.com, said he believes stories on the website can strike a more opinionated tone than those that air on television, as long as they’re clearly labeled.
“Allen has been there so many times; he’s earned the right to give his observations,” Sims said. “We think if we clearly let people know what they’re getting, that we can do more on the Web than just report the Joe Friday facts.”
Last week, in an essay labeled “Opinion,” Pizzey took Republican Sen. John McCain to task for asserting that some neighborhoods in Baghdad were safe enough to stroll through.
“For Senator McCain to claim there are places here where all is well is to woefully minimize the dangers faced by the troops he otherwise so admirably supports,” he wrote. " ... Any time Senator McCain wants to walk the streets of Baghdad, unarmed and without a serious security detail, we’d be glad to lend him a camera so he can record his experience.”
Pizzey said he felt compelled to write the piece because McCain “was talking utter rubbish.” (In a piece airing Sunday on “60 Minutes,” McCain said he misspoke.) He was also motivated by a belief that the media were not skeptical enough in the run-up to the war -- a mistake he does not want to repeat.
“We the media gave the Bush administration a free ride for this war,” he said. “We did not question sufficiently the statements made by politicians. I’m as guilty as anybody else. We climbed on board, and that’s not what we should do.”
A former newspaper reporter in Africa who joined CBS in 1980, Pizzey is part of the network’s core group of correspondents who rotate through Iraq regularly. He said many of his colleagues in the U.S. reporting corps there share a frustration that the war does not get more air time. “I think that more coverage could and should be given to it,” he said. “But I’m not the guy who has to answer to the executives about the ratings.
“The people who run the newscast perhaps think people aren’t interested,” Pizzey added. “Our job isn’t to tell people the news they want to hear, but the news that is. We can’t make people care, but we can tell them what’s out there.”