After 2 1/2 days of vivid reports and pictures of the U.S. air assault on Baghdad, Iraqi authorities yesterday ordered all remaining foreign journalists out of the country.
Cable News Network correspondent Peter Arnett said in his last broadcast that 38 foreign reporters, including a dozen Americans, were packing for the 350-mile journey to the Jordanian border. An NBC News editor, John Stack, said later that a convoy of vehicles had left for Amman and that it contained 110 foreigners, including NBC's Tom Aspell. A similar convoy Thursday took 14 hours to reach Amman.
"We're all saying a prayer," Stack said.
The official reason for the expulsion was a lack of water, electricity and sanitary facilities, and Iraq's Ministry of Information said the reporters might be able to return in a few days. But Arnett said Iraq was also dismantling the satellite communications used by the media.
"When I suggested it might be because of what we'd been broadcasting, this was very strongly denied," Bob Simpson, a British Broadcasting Corp. correspondent, said in a report from Baghdad.
Attempts to televise the war ran into more censorship yesterday afternoon when CNN's video transmission was halted by Israeli censors during an air raid warning. "Due to censorship restrictions, I'm limited in what I can say to you," CNN's Larry Register said in a report from Jerusalem. The sirens, warning of a possible third Iraqi missile attack, turned out to be a false alarm.
The question of censorship also surfaced at the Defense Department, which has imposed a controversial "security review" system for all stories filed in the Persian Gulf. In the first such clash since the war began, Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams said he had reviewed -- and approved -- a disputed pool report by Boston Globe reporter Colin Nickerson with a Marine unit about two military units linking up on maneuvers. The dispute was appealed to Williams after military officials in Saudi Arabia insisted on deleting the information. Williams consulted with senior Pentagon officials before deciding that the information could be published without jeopardizing U.S. forces.
The world's impressions of the bombardment of Baghdad have been shaped by the dramatic, radio-style narratives of CNN reporters and the spectacular videotape of bright flashes filling the sky, shot by an ABC cameraman through a night vision device.
George Watson, ABC's Washington bureau chief, said he believed Iraq had pulled the video plug because "the losses being inflicted on their installations and forces make it less appealing to have reporting of any sort coming out."
Bill Headline, CNN's bureau chief here, said that "a disgruntled international press corps that can't go to the bathroom or get something decent to eat" would be "an automatic liability" for Iraq.
Arnett, in a censored report from Baghdad, described the allied bombing raids as "remarkable. I can't go into detail about what targets are being hit, but there don't seem to be any civilian casualties... . Buildings are being taken out in populated areas without damaging adjoining structures."
Most print reporters left Baghdad before the U.S. bombing began. In the past two days a number of network correspondents -- including CNN's Bernard Shaw and John Holliman and ABC's Gary Shepard -- have joined the convoys to Jordan.
"We had become very concerned for their safety," Watson said of the six ABC staffers who arrived in Amman yesterday. "The time had come, in our judgment, for people to leave."
Watson said Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could still score propaganda points by making Iraqi television pictures available "if they wanted to parade U.S. POWs or show civilian casualties." He said the networks would undoubtedly air such pictures, after appropriate editing and labeling, because "as a viewer, I'd want to see what the Iraqi government is portraying from their side of the war."
USA Today published an unprecedented weekend edition yesterday, and the Washington Times, which also published a rare Saturday extra, planned to publish the first Sunday paper in its history today. Still, the Persian Gulf conflict remained primarily a television war. In an unusual hat trick, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of U.S. forces in the gulf, is scheduled to appear this morning on "Meet the Press," "Face the Nation" and "This Week With David Brinkley."
Ratings for continuous war coverage on the three major networks dropped by about 3 million households Thursday night compared with the previous evening, according to overnight figures. Analysts attributed the drop to viewer defections to CNN and Fox's "The Simpsons." CBS, NBC and ABC resumed much of their regular programming Friday and yesterday.