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CNN’s Aaron Brown On Coverage of the Anti-War Movement

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We are joined now by Aaron Brown, CNN’s lead anchor during breaking news and special events as well as anchor of NewsNight He worked previously, was as anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight Saturday and reported for World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, Nightline and other ABC news broadcasts.

We are also joined by Steve Rendall, senior analysts at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.

We spend the hour talking about coverage of the anti-war movement, the sanitization of the war in Iraq and why Brown feels this is an inappropriate time for reporters to ask questions about war.

  • Aaron Brown, CNN Newsnight.
  • Steve Rendall, senior analyst at FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.

A discussion with Amy Goodman, Aaron Brown, Steve Rendall and Jeremy Scahill on Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, April 4, 2003.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN, DEMOCRACY NOW!: You’re listening to Democracy Now!'s The War and Peace Report, I'm Amy Goodman. With more than 25 years of journalism experience, Aaron Brown is CNN’s lead anchor during breaking news and special events as well as anchor of Newsnight. Before that, Aaron Brown was anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight Saturday and reported for World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. Even before that, he was in Seattle with KIRO TV. He is a native of Hopkins, Minnesota. Thank you very much for joining us, Aaron Brown.

AARON BROWN, CNN: Thanks for asking.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m here in the studio with my co-host, Jeremy Scahill, who is our correspondent who has just returned from Baghdad, and a senior analyst at Fair and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), Steve Rendall. But first, I just wanted to start off with Aaron Brown by asking: Where are you speaking from right now?

AARON BROWN: I’m sitting in my temporary office in Atlanta.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you wish you were embedded with the troops on the front lines?

AARON BROWN: There have been times where I’ve wished that, sure, but that’s not my job, and I’m honored to have the job I do have. That’s not something I spend a lot of time thinking about. There are often times that you wish you were closer to the ground, but this is where I am in my life and I’m happy to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what you see your job as right now as anchor of Newsnight and leading the news coverage at CNN of the invasion of Iraq?

AARON BROWN: I think the essential thing for me to do in this unique coverage is to make sure that no single image, no single moment overwhelms the broader picture- and I say this literally to viewers a lot; that we show you a piece of a puzzle. Because the power if pictures is the power of pictures, that one piece of the puzzle can become the entire puzzle- and it’s not. It’s just a piece of the puzzle. So, while an embed here or an embed there delivers to us extraordinary coverage of a puzzle piece, my job is to make sure that I fit it into the broader picture of what is going on. It is no more complicated than that and it is, honestly, no more simple than that; it is what it is.

AMY GOODMAN: Steve Rendall, you’re with Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, you are a media critic who watches all the media very closely. What is your assessment of, well, let’s talk about CNN?

STEVE RENDALL, FAIR: I want to start off by saying thanks for having me on, Amy and Jeremy. Thanks to Aaron Brown, for coming on here to face the music. But let me say that we at FAIR we think that healthy journalism culture would offer broad debate, independent, accurate information, and journalists asking very tough questions —- especially tough questions of people in power. I’d have to say that what I’ve seen is media falling well short of this mark, especially television news, and I think CNN fits in there. I was on this show a few weeks ago to point out that on three commercial news networks, ABC, NBC, CBS and the News Hour with Jim Lehrer— on the four flagship shows on each of these four networks, that less than 1 percent of the guests they had speaking on stories about Iraq over a two week period in February, when a ferocious debate was going on about an Iraq war, less than 1 percent anti-war voices were heard there.

I didn’t study CNN, but even if CNN were five times better than ABC or the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, which were the best of the four networks, and I don’t think it is, they still would be selling short those people who are skeptical and those who are outright opposed to this war. The question I would like to ask is; whenever the question is war, what we see is the networks and the cable news channels running out and hiring ex-generals, former Pentagon officials, national security types- people who think in terms of military solutions. We ask: Why aren’t people hired who would serve as a counter weight to all those military voices? People who’ve spent, decades in some cases studying international law, human rights, or conflict resolution- traditions of Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King. What I’d like to ask Aaron Brown is: why don’t you consider hiring these types of people as a counter weight?

AARON BROWN: Wow, that’s a long windup for a question. When, would be my response; at what point? I don’t and I won’t talk about anything other than work that I, and that we as an organization do. Other people in other organizations are fully capable of discussing their own business, I know because I keep records of things like this and I sit in meetings where they say 'in the lead up to the war, are all the relevant voices being heard?' I am really comfortable that when the history of that period is written, Newsnight will do just fine. But I’ve also said that I thought all of us in this organization were a little late in coming to see an anti-war movement develop and I think there are reasons for that, and you may disagree with them, it’s your right.

I think the Democratic Party just rolled over- there was no congressional debate. Secondly, I think for a long time, honestly until well after the die was cast, the movement as best as I could see it, had no center to cover. There was no clear focus to it, it was a mish mash in many ways. I think that changed in the endgame. I’m not saying that there weren’t people feeling strongly, because I knew there were. I lived in Seattle and I know there are very strong feelings in Seattle. I just don’t think it had coalesced in a way that made it easy to cover, and I think we were slow to get there. I think that once we got there, we handled it just fine, but I have never argued that we were not slow to get there.

I think the generals question is a colossal red herring. For one thing, and I’ll just speak about the generals that I deal with, one in particular, General Connor. I don’t know one of them that is eager or ever was eager to engage in this war and probably any war. They know much better than you know and I know the cost of war. Political leadership is something else, but military leadership, because I’ve been around them and have some feel for what they think, I’m confident in them.

We don’t bring generals in to engage in a debate over whether or whether not the war should be fought — and that’s why the generals question is a red herring. We bring generals in to explain what is happening on the ground and why. That’s an enormous difference, and I think it is a bit disingenuous to suggest that an explanation of the tactical moment needs to be offset by someone who feels that there shouldn’t be a tactical moment at all. It’s happening, it needs explanation. Viewers are entitled to an explanation, they need to know whether or not it is effective or why. They need to understand where it’s going, they need to know the costs of it all. And that is how we use generals or military people. We don’t use them ever — well, we have not used them in the course of the war itself to discuss the appropriateness of this war, though we have about the effectiveness of the war.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking with Aaron Brown of CNN, before that ABC. We will be spending the hour with him, along with Steve Rendall of Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting talking about the coverage of the US invasion of Iraq.

STEVE RENDALL: Well, I’d like to start off by saying that I think it’s a fairly weak argument to say you didn’t cover the anti-war movement because it had no strong Democratic Party spokesperson against that. In fact, the anti-war movement was well organized as early as September and were having demonstrations that were drawing hundreds of thousands.

And what I would like to ask you is now that the war is under way — fine, you say that you use generals in the way that you do — I would like to ask you why you don’t invite people who understand the larger picture of war? You guys may do a very good job of covering the war from the battlefields with your embeds and with your generals back in the studio who know about war, but you say that generals know more than you or I about the cost of war, I totally disagree with that.

War is a much bigger story than what is told on the battlefield. It’s a story of human rights, of international law, it’s a story of politics happening in the Middle East, and in Europe, and all around the world. War is far too important a story to be left to ex-generals. Where are your analysts that are on the payroll that are discussing these larger pictures of war? That is a very fair question. It comes down to a balance.

AARON BROWN: Wait. Stop- do you want to ask a question or make an argument?

STEVE RENDALL: I am making an argument. I’m a guest here like you.

AARON BROWN: I know you’re making an argument. If you want to listen; please I have neither the time nor inclinations to make argument with you. If you want to field questions, I’ll be happy to answer them, I’m willing to do that. But these are really long polemical windups that I’m not — if you want me to listen, I’ll do that too. It’s your 15 minutes, but wow.

AMY GOODMAN: I just want to clarify, Aaron Brown, Steve Rendall is our guest here, as you are, and he’s posing his arguments in terms of a question. So, why don’t you respond to what he’s put forward about war being too important to be left to ex-generals.

AARON BROWN: I would just say 'watch the program'. I don’t feel like I ever need to sit around and throw this stuff around, because what I do, and what we do as an organization, Newsnight speaks for itself. In the course of the last 2 and a half weeks, we’ve spent considerable time talking about the broader impact of this moment in history.

STEVE RENDALL: I’m going to stress that I’m glad Aaron Brown came on here, and I meant what I said- to face the music. And it just so happens that I have looked at some of the transcripts, and what I see is gross imbalance. Some of the conversations you had with retired General Wesley Clark are downright gushing. I’ve heard Clark on there saying, ’Don’t those troops look great?’ Quote, 'Now I'm looking at the troops, they’re all in uniform, they’ve got their gear, they’ve got their stuff together, you look at those men, they’re physically fit, they’re ready- that’s a great Army’. And a few minutes later you say, 'They are, they are, in many respects, marvelous things to see'

Contrast that with a few nights ago you had on Daniel Ellsberg, it was one of the rare times we were actually hearing articulate anti-war voices on the television and I’m grateful for that and it’s good that you put these voices on. But, one of the questions you asked him was that if he didn’t think part of the Iraq strategy was to play on the anti-war sentiment around the world, you asked Ellsberg if he wasn’t 'playing into the hands of what even you would acknowledge is a bad regime'. Two things about that; one thing — a legitimate anti-war movement — maybe that’s legitimate coming from a devil’s advocate journalist. But the second implication there, is that Ellsberg, a member of the anti-war movement, would be soft on Saddam Hussein.

AARON BROWN: Whoa, whoa, whoa–quote the question respectfully. Quote the question correctly. ’Because of what even you would say is a terrible regime.

STEVE RENDALL: The implication in that wording was that even someone in the anti-war movement would agree that Saddam Hussein is bad. The left- especially the western left–has nothing to apologize for Saddam Hussein. I’d just like to flip that scenario and ask that if you had Rumsfeld on, would you have shown the picture of Donald Rumsfeld smiling and shaking hands with Saddam Hussein in 1983 when Saddam Hussein was using poison gas on the Iranian troops with the help of DIA intelligence? These are ironic, compelling stories that you could be putting on and we’re not seeing. So I’m asking — and again it’s a matter of balance — ask tough questions of Ellsberg, yes, but ask tough questions of those in power, and don’t sit there with a former member of the military -

AARON BROWN: Tell me what your question is, I’d like to respond.

STEVE RENDALL: I’d like you to respond to these charges of imbalance. This is gross imbalance.

AARON BROWN: OK, then let me do that. We have talked on the program about the irony of an American administration that 20 years ago sided with Saddam Hussein in the Iranian war. Helped arm Saddam Hussein and had relationships with Saddam Hussein. This is not something we have ignored, number one.

Number two, I find the Ellsberg moment particularly interesting because I think it says a lot about the times in which we live and how people view the role of journalists. I don’t know you and I don’t know how old you are, but Dr. Ellsberg, in my view, is a true hero, he was very courageous in what he did during Vietnam. I’ve had him on the air on more than one occasion. I have always, consistently before this began, and not only put anti-war demonstrations on the air, but acknowledge the appropriateness of them in this time and how it speaks to the democracy and the utter joy of a democracy. But, if I am going to be allowed to ask, as I did, people who were proponents of the war, 'what is wrong with giving the inspectors another month, or two months, or whatever they need?'. Why is that such a horrible thing. Or am I allowed to ask proponents of the war why we, as a country, stand so singularly-with the exception of the Prime Minister of the British government-singularly, apart from the international community on this — if I’m going to be able to ask those kinds of questions of those people, then I as a reporter —- that is what I do. I have to be allowed to ask the people you like and support and believe are correct— questions that are equally uncomfortable.

These are the times in which we live and these times are such that passions are so hot right now that there are people out there — and you may or may not be one of them — but there are people who only want really hard questions asked of the people they disagree with. And what they want from their guys, their side, is a hanging curve ball. That’s not my job. That’s not the kind of job I have, and frankly, that’s not the kind of job I’m interested in.

The kind of job I have and the kind of job I’m interested in is to make sure that each side has to defend its position so that the people I actually care about the viewers have enough information on their plate that they can make a cogent decision about what they honestly think is right. But I don’t think either side, your side or the other side, wants me to do that. I think you want me to say, ’Aren’t those demonstrations cool?’ to Mr. Ellsberg. The fact is that the only strategy the Iraqi regime has is to hope that international public opinion will be such that pressure is brought to bear on the American government to stop. That is the only strategy; there is no effective military strategy in place, only this political strategy is in place.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to CNN’s Aaron Brown and Steve Rendall of Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting.

STEVE RENDALL: I’d like to say, and I’ve already said twice at the top of the show, I think it’s important to ask questions during a time of war of both sides. I just gave you an example of you asking a tough question of Daniel Ellsberg, who is a one or two shot guest in the studio, and throwing hanging curve balls to General Wesley Clark.

AARON BROWN: It wasn’t a hanging curveball, it was something we saw. There was no question — we weren’t saying, ’Aren’t those wonderful looking troops’, we were looking at something, and you might have seen it differently. That’s how I saw it. That’s not to say they should be going in killing anybody.

AMY GOODMAN: Aaron Brown, I just wanted to bring in my co-host, Jeremy Scahill, who’s just recently returned to Baghdad. Jeremy?

JEREMY SCAHILL, DEMOCRACY NOW!: Yes, I’d just like to bring it into practical terms; give me an example of some of the tough questioning that you’ve done of one of the generals on your show on the issue of the killing of civilians, on the use of cluster bombs, the issue of the use of depleted uranium munitions. Just give us an example of some of the hard questioning you’ve done of a general that was on Newsnight or any of the shows clearly you are involved with that shows clearly that you are looking at those issues and how this is impacting the civilian population and the legality or illegality of this invasion.

AARON BROWN: Well, a question of the legality or illegality of the invasion is not an appropriate question to ask any of the generals, it’s just not their wheelhouse, and it would be unfair to do that. Those are questions leading up to the war itself. And clearly, in my view, those questions were asked during the UN debate and the inspections debate that went on and whether a second resolution was necessary-


AARON BROWN: I’m sorry, I thought I was finishing a sentence. As for the question of collateral damage; we’ve talked a lot, actually, about overselling the issue of precision. But precision is different from perfection. No one — even the general has said — that no one ought to think that precision and perfection are the same thing. While, yes, if everything works right, you could take a tank out, but everything only works right a certain percentage of the time and sometimes the tank is a schoolhouse. I think there are actually legitimate questions here about having over sanitized this, and I think that is a legitimate question. But I’m really comfortable that people understand that when we talk about the air campaign, although now I think that we’ll start to hear more about the kinds of munitions used on the ground campaign, that precision means one thing, but it doesn’t mean that Iraqi civilians aren’t being harmed. We report it aggressively, whether or not, for example, warning shots had been fired in the run up to this terrible tragedy where seven Iraqi civilians were killed.

We questioned — you might want to look at the transcript here — the official over at CentCom’s version of it and how it was not in synch with the version of the Washington Post reporter who was standing on the scene. I have to execute this stuff every day and I know the skepticism I bring to the table. Any reporting, any words that come out at briefings, and we talk about those things too.

AMY GOODMAN: Aaron Brown, one of those issues that is often raised when you ask the question, for example, the sanitizing of war, I heard you ask it the other night of Steve Brill. He didn’t agree. And I think the overall thrust of these questions is not the exceptional question, but the drumbeat coverage that you and others at CNN bring that is of concern to those who have a very different view f what’s going on. It’s the regular commentary, whether you get it on CNN or the front pages of The New York Times. Who was brought in, not for the protest, not when you decide if you’re covering a specific event, but the daily coverage. And, are you bringing as many voices who are opposed to what is going on right now as those who are for it? That is a very serious question.

AARON BROWN: No, we’re not.

AMY GOODMAN: If you don’t think you’re bringing 50/50, what do you think you are bringing, 60/40?

AARON BROWN: I don’t know-

AMY GOODMAN: OK we’re not going to count, but do you think you’re coming close?

AARON BROWN: I think right now in the business I’m in, which is the daily news business, I’m covering the daily news. I think the question of the degree to which — and I think we’ve talked about this —- the way the anti-war movement was covered; were the debate covered prior to the war is one thing. I think the degree to which the demonstrations at home and abroad had been covered hadn’t been covered fairly and thoughtfully is fair. If somehow, and perhaps your listeners do expect a kind of 50/50 balance at this stage about whether there should or shouldn’t be a war or not— in my view- it’s just not a relevant question.


AARON BROWN: Because it’s over- it’s on, it’s being done. To talk now, at this moment, about whether it should or not have been is not the right time

STEVE RENDALL: I would like to ask a question that I find very disturbing about something Aaron Brown said. He said that after war starts it’s not appropriate to ask a general about the legality of a war. The BBC has done this, Kofi Annan says that this war is being waged against the UN charter, in violation of the UN charter, which would make it the waging of an aggressive war, a crime against the peace, a higher crime in international law than genocide, and so the BBC thought it was an interesting enough story. And to ask a general what the obligations of a soldier at any level in the military, to serve in a war, an in fact, that’s the Nuremberg principles. These are real stories. The Nuremberg principles said you have an obligation as a soldier not to fight in an illegal war. Many people, including the Secretary-General of the UN, think this is an illegal war, but you have removed that. What’s disturbing about it is that you have adopted the US administration’s point of view on this. Otherwise, you couldn’t even think about entertaining the notion that this could be an illegal war and you asking a general that question.- I can come to no other conclusion.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask Aaron Brown; when Jeremy just asked you about civilian casualties as you were talking about collateral damage, I thought that was an interesting response because I don’t think, in this country, we would ever refer to someone as collateral damage. It’s sort of inappropriate, then you went on to say a school was bombed. Even that issue, and the question of reporting the facts. The facts of war are casualties. There are many, many pictures that are now coming out of Iraq of dead children, women and men. There are hundreds of them. In the foreign press, it is a very different picture that is being shown on the TV screens and in the newspapers- they’re showing dead people. We don’t see that very much in this country, what are your thoughts on that?

AARON BROWN: There are clearly differences in what kinds of pictures CNN would consider appropriate to put on television — on any side — than the ones Abu Dhabi television would put on. I have seen it, and the program has, at least on 2 occasions specifically, and on many occasions more broadly —- discussed whether or not we have over sanitized. This is not, to me, a political question, I understand, that in the context of this discussion, everything is political. It is a journalistic question, it is a question of taste. It would be a very difficult decision to make for me, I make them as well as I can. I saw things on the first Sunday of the war, that, if you put a gun to my head I wouldn’t have put them on TV because it was just too— it was pornographic, in my view. But it certainly showed the violence of war.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Aaron Brown, of CNN, and Steve Rendall of Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting. Many people say that the picture of the little Vietnamese girl who was napalmed helped to turn the war around.

AARON BROWN: There is no question in my mind that that picture would be shown today, there is no question.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet we are seeing picture after picture- we’re broadcasting them here on Democracy Now! on our show of children like that- we are not seeing them on CNN.

AARON BROWN: Well, be careful about what you say you’ve seen, because you’re not really right. We show- there are some practical limitations, let’s say because the Iraqi government won’t allow it, we do not have, in country, correspondents and crews.

AMY GOODMAN: But you’ve been showing many photographs.

AARON BROWN: You just have to let me finish, then if you want to beat me up, you can beat me up all you want. You at least have to let me finish. What we’ve done is taken the pictures that we can get and tried to assess what happened, which in war is extremely hard. Then we, both through the use of stills and in the use of video, show those Iraqi civilians–soldiers in some cases–those human beings on all sides who have suffered with this for the last 2 and a half weeks. You want to argue, it seems to me, whether we’ve shown them enough. OK, go ahead. I have to make these decisions every day. I try and make them appropriately to where I think the line is between understanding the horror that war is and being pornographic in the use of pictures. That’s a judgment I make, and you can freely disagree with that judgment, that is cool. I have no issue with that. Where I do have a problem, and it’s the only problem I have is for anyone to think that I don’t think about these things and I don’t reach these conclusions as fairly as I possibly can.

STEVE RENDALL: You mentioned that it was a matter of access in some cases to get these images, but CNN has used a lot of Al Jazeera footage. You’re happy to use it to see the bombs going off over Baghdad, but can’t you also follow Al Jazeera into the hospitals?

AARON BROWN: We have run those pieces and those pictures.

STEVE RENDALL: I guess it’s a matter of degree.

AARON BROWN: Well, I think I just said that two or three minutes ago. We can argue if you want, I’m not going to. I made my argument, I think we’ve done it about right. This is not science, this is art; we make the best judgments we can, but we don’t make them — although you will argue that we do — for political reasons. We make them because we believe this is enough to tell that story. This explains why that hospital was hit or that explains why these innocents were shot, but you disagree with that I said that was enough. Fine.

JEREMY SCAHILL: But, aren’t the civilians sort of an afterthought. I think on every network in America, the civilian toll is an afterthought. It’s not something that has been a primary focus. You did not see the footage of the little girl in the Basra hospital with half of her head blown off her and brains oozing out. And quite frankly there is no such thing as a “tasteful civilian casualty,” that term shouldn’t even be in the realm of journalism.

AARON BROWN: It’s a question of how you choose to show it.

JEREMY SCAHILL: What about the accurate shot that shows, 'this is what happens when the US drops missiles on their village'.

AARON BROWN: Let me give you another real life example, and you can decide whether I dealt with it responsibly or not. There were pictures that were shot the first Sunday of the war of the 507th, who were American soldiers who were shot. They were, by my standards, beyond the pale. We didn’t need to show them in the detail that they were shown to show that these people were dead and that their deaths were attributed to this war. So, do you need a tight shot of the bullet hole in the head to make that point? Is that necessary? I don’t think so. You may think otherwise, and when you have to make those decisions, have at it, my friend. But for right now, I have to make those decisions

JEREMY SCAHILL: what I’m really asking you, Aaron Brown; CNN is not putting these images on because you say there is a sort of taste barometer of sorts to the images you just discussed, you described them as pornographic. Isn’t that an accurate representation of war and shouldn’t it be the job of media organizations to represent, in its entirety what war looks like to civilians on the ground. And if that means it’s going to ruin someone’s coffee in the morning, then so be it, because this is war that the president of this country is waging against Iraq.

AARON BROWN: Yes. But again — not getting involved of the politics of this situation because I’m not interested in it — it is our job to show the horrors of war, period, end of story. There’s nothing else to discuss there. The question is, do I think we have done that. It’s an interesting question, and in some ways, yes, but not in some ways more than others. What I have done and what the program has done, is to ask the question of our critics, two of whom have been on the air this week; do you think we’ve over sanitized this war? In the end, I still have to make the judgment, but I am not afraid — witness this conversation — to engage the discussion. But in the end, I do have to make these judgments. People can think what they think, if they want to think I made these decisions because I support the war or because I’m a tool, I can call all this crap, I’m a warmonger, I’m a tool of the president, all I care about is my paycheck, I could go on for an hour about all the things one side or another has said about me. But I go to bed — in the morning, when I finally get to bed — and I ask myself the last question of the day; do I do this work as well as I can do it? As honestly as I can do it? And that’s the only relevant question to me. I know that I bring an honesty to the equation.

AMY GOODMAN: Aaron, you said that you’re speaking to us from Atlanta, and I was just looking at a piece, by Robert Fisk, maybe you’ve heard of him. He’s a reporter for the Independent newspaper in Britain. His piece talks about the embedded reporters, but then it goes on to talk about how the Pentagon makes cuts from reporters’ dispatches. It reads, 'A new CNN system of ’script approval' —- 'the iniquitous instruction to reporters that they have to send all their copy to anonymous officials in Atlanta to ensure it is suitably sanitized suggests that the Pentagon and State Department have nothing to worry about, nor do the Israelis. Indeed, reading a new CNN document entitled ’Reminder of script approval policy' fairly takes the breath away and quotes, 'All reporters preparing package scripts must submit the scripts for approval', 'Packages may not be edited until the scripts are approved. All packages originating outside Washington, LA or New York, including all international bureaus must come to the row in Atlanta for approval'. The date of this extraordinary message, Fisk says, is January 27th, row is the row of script editors in Atlanta who can insist on changes or 'balances' in dispatches. And then it says, 'A script is not approved for air unless it is properly marked approved by an authorized manager. When a script is updated, it must be re-approved, preferably by the originating approving authority', and then Fisk notes, ’watch the key words here— Approved and authorized’.

AARON BROWN: OK, I’m really glad we are going to talk about this. I’ll bet 50 people have sent me Fisk’s article — this piece preceded the war, for one — just to give a context. I looked at this, and I said to someone who sent it to me, 'This may be the single dumbest thing I have ever read'. It’s certainly in the top five. Do you believe, and I don’t know where you guys have worked in your lives, what newspaper or television organizations you have worked for, but do you think that there are not, at The New York Times or the Village Voice or just choose a responsible news organization, maybe even Mr. Fisk has editors, I don’t know —- that there aren’t editors who sit there and go through copy and say, 'does it make sense'? There’s a question an editor often asks. ‘Is it fair?’ These are questions an editor often asks and should. This is the business of journalism, this is what we do. There are reporters, there are editors, that’s there job. There’s nothing new about 'the row'. When I was at ABC, it’s called the 'rim'. A correspondent would write his or her story, we would then take it to our editors on the rim. In the case of World News Tonight, Peter [Jennings] would look at it, a domestic editor would look at it, a foreign editor might look at it if it seemed like a high profile enough story that we wanted to get a number of sets of eyes on it. And we look at it— that’s what editors do. It happens at every news organization in the country.

What is fascinating about this — and in fascinating I’m being charitable — is that in the Fisk article he sees this as some sort of conspiracy, when this is, in fact, the way every news organization worth a damn functions. There are reporters who report —- they see what they see, and they report it. Editors then look at it to be sure it makes sense. All these things are the concoction of journalism everywhere in the world that journalism is practiced responsibly. For him to make the argument, as he did, and we should be honest about Mr. Fisk, he is a reporter with a point of view. For him to make the assumption that this is extraordinary when it is about as routine as toothpaste is remarkable to me and says a lot about him, and in this case, you guys than it does about us. That’s journalism, isn’t it? Aren’t there editors at The New York Times who sit around and mark copy and change words and kick it back to the correspondent and say 'are you happy with this it seems to make more sense'. That’s the job, and for him to write what was a truly silly piece as if this were somehow——as if Secretary Rumsfeld was actually sitting on the row making judgments about the appropriateness of something, was stupid.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us. Why are you in Atlanta? Why is it you have moved from New York to Atlanta?

AARON BROWN: That’s where the organization is, CNN is based in Atlanta and moments like this of big stories and continuous coverage and important meetings about what we put on and what we don’t — I need to be at the table, and some things are best done across the table than on the telephone.

AMY GOODMAN: Sitting across the table from…?

AARON BROWN: The whole range of people involved in the editorial process.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Aaron, will you consider hiring a paid anti-war news analyst for Newsnight?

AARON BROWN: I don’t think it’s a relevant question. We’re in a war. There are going to be times after the war when we’re going to have to talk about how the occupation is going to be run, whether it’s being run appropriately by the right people in a fair and smart way, and what the implications are. It’s an important Arab capital, and at that point, by and large, the generals go away because there’s no war to cover- or there’s a different war to cover. We’ll look for a range of people to talk about those issues.

AMY GOODMAN: But not right now?

AARON BROWN?: No, because I think it’s a red herring issue.

AMY GOODMAN: To have a paid anti-war analyst on board to be at your beck and call like the generals?

AARON BROWN: Yes as my daughter would say ’I’m not sure which part of that answer was confusing’, but yes I don’t think that’s the question, and I don’t think it’s how we use the generals at all–period. I don’t know how many times we’re going to go over the same thing — I just don’t think we use the generals to argue the war. We use the generals to explain what is happening on the ground and why. That’s an important thing to do and that’s the role they play.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us, Aaron Brown, speaking to us from Atlanta.


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