"Be patient, Saddam Hussein said today, victory is near," the anchor intoned.
Moments later, the camera lingered on a huge pile of rubble. "The Iraqis say this is -- or was -- a girls' school at Basra," the anchor said.
The woman narrating the news is Lyse Doucet, who works for "BBC World," a global broadcast whose tone is so different from that of the American networks that it sometimes seems to be examining a different war.
The key, BBC News Director Richard Sambrook says from London, is "not having a particular country's agenda or values at the forefront of what we're doing. We try to take an international approach to the news, to a greater extent than any of the U.S. nets. We try to build in a perspective from other Arab countries."
This cover-all-sides style, even as British troops are under fire, has brought the BBC a steady fusillade of criticism.
"The Beeb is a mandatory government-run service staffed with the usual people who go into government-run media, i.e. left-wing hacks," British expatriate Andrew Sullivan writes on his Web site. "The BBC is increasingly perceived, even by sympathetic parties, as the voice in part of the anti-war forces. . . . How the Beeb ceased to become an objective news source and became a broadcast version of the Nation is one of the great tragedies of modern journalism."
At the same time, says Sambrook, some British officials have fired off faxes, saying that "we need to point out more strongly than we are the history of human rights abuses under Saddam Hussein. They don't think we give enough emphasis to the wrongs of the enemy."
The stark contrast of the understated British tone makes the American broadcasts seem flag-waving and patriotic. The underlying assumption in these broadcasts seems to be that the U.S. of A. is fighting for a just cause, and the embedded correspondents, while providing unvarnished reports, are openly sympathetic to our fighting men and women.
But on Tuesday's edition of "BBC World," Washington anchor Mishal Husain seemed to regard British military reports of a local revolt in the southern Iraqi city of Basra with skepticism.
"Iraq has denied that there's been any uprising at all," she said before airing a clip of the Iraqi information minister, Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf: "I officially deny the hallucinations from the Americans, through CNN and others." The invaders have "found resistance," he said. "They have found death." Claims to the contrary were just "propaganda."
Next was an interview with the Lebanese ambassador to the United States, Farid Abboud, who worked the conversation around to U.S. support of Israel and "5 million Jews controlling 5 million Palestinians, who happen to be the natives of the land."
As for official Washington, reporter Matt Frei did a piece that questioned what President Bush was doing during the run-up to the war: "Playing ball with his dogs on the South Lawn of the White House. It is the image of a man remarkably unfazed -- he likes to delegate." This did not sound like a compliment.
On another day, Doucet, who anchors from Jordan, declared that "many commentators say it's not just Saddam Hussein who is under attack, but Iraq, its dignity and honor, and the honor of the entire Arab world." A reporter read a headline from an Arab newspaper: "A Day of Glorious Losses."
Of course, the BBC is playing to a different constituency from Fox, CNN and MSNBC. Sambrook, whose organization is indirectly funded by the government through licensing fees, points out that a majority of Brits opposed the war before the shooting started.
"If we were simply to take the justification for the war, we would have lost half our audience," he says. "There's a strong body of opinion in Europe that the grounds for this war haven't been proven and aren't clear. Our coverage has to reflect that."
Katty Kay, a Washington correspondent for the BBC, says there's been no shortage of criticism in this country "that the American media has been trying to sell the war. Perhaps the BBC all along has been questioning both sides on whether the war was justified.
"British journalism has a culture of being quite critical and quite aggressive in our interviews of politicians and officials," Kay says. When Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's closest ally on Iraq, took questions at the White House, "the toughest questions to President Bush all came from British journalists, not the White House press corps."
This attitude permeates the BBC's sober coverage, which does not feature a parade of retired generals or emotional interviews with families of injured soldiers. On "Breakfast News," a morning show seen only in Britain, anchor Natasha Kaplinsky began a discussion with her "defence correspondent" by saying: "Let's talk about the politicians and how they're manipulating public perceptions."
The BBC's Pentagon reporter, Nick Childs, says his American colleagues are not "as tough as the sorts of audiences I have to address would like. There is a greater degree of skepticism about what comes out of the briefings outside the United States." The U.S. reporters who question Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and military leaders are quite knowledgeable, says Childs, but "it can look like too cozy an atmosphere."
While the American media were filled with outrage over Iraqi TV displaying U.S. soldiers who had been captured and killed, BBC reporter Bridget Kendall was quick to remind viewers that the Bush administration has detained Afghans at Guantanamo Bay without charges for months. "Only now that America's own soldiers are at risk," she sniffed, "has the Geneva Convention suddenly become important again."
British Member of Parliament Alice Mahon said this week that the BBC "is almost alone among reputable news media in failing to cover the deaths and injuries to Iraqi civilians." According to London's Morning Star, Mahon contended that "their blatant bias does not reflect the concerns of the majority of the people in Britain, who still remain unconvinced of the case for war."
But Times of London columnist William Rees-Mogg offered the opposite view, calling the BBC "defeatist. . . . Americans are thought of as people who recklessly bomb innocent civilians; therefore, to a BBC editor, a picture of an injured baby in a Baghdad hospital is an entirely natural event, to be shown repeatedly."
Even the BBC's defense correspondent has criticized the company's coverage. In an internal memo leaked to London's Sun, Paul Adams wrote from Qatar: "I was gobsmacked to hear, in a set of headlines today, that the coalition was suffering 'significant casualties.' This is simply NOT TRUE."
Sambrook sounds accustomed to the not-so-friendly fire.
"We're pleasing no one," he says. "I get some criticism that we're too antiwar, and from the other side that we're a government mouthpiece and a spokesman for the coalition. That's inevitable, I think."
"BBC World" can be seen locally at 6 p.m. on WETA (Channel 26) and 7 p.m. on WHUR (Channel 32).