When CNN began broadcasting the first pictures of death and destruction in Baghdad yesterday morning, network officials grappled with a fundamental question.

"How many times do you repeat it in an hour?" asked Ed Turner, executive vice president. "You can't keep repeating it over and over because inadvertently it becomes a propaganda statement, although that's certainly not the intent of any producer or editor."

The casualties reported at the bombed building graphically underscored the difficulty facing Western journalists in Baghdad as they attempt to report the other side of the war despite blatant attempts at manipulation by Iraqi authorities.

Officials rounded up about 20 journalists -- including those from CNN, ABC News, BBC, Associated Press and Reuter, the British news agency -- and bused them to what they called an air raid shelter. Iraqi censors did not review the first report by CNN's Peter Arnett, apparently in an attempt to expedite it.

When Arnett reported that the victims were "mainly women and children" and that "the clothes had been burned off," the story had been framed the way the Iraqis wanted. While U.S. spokesmen insisted that the bombed building was a military command center, CNN viewers saw angry bystanders and saw Iraq's health minister calling the raid a "criminal" and "premeditated" attack on civilians.

Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Kelly bristled when he told reporters at a Pentagon briefing later in the day that "everything that we're seeing relative to this facility is coming out of a controlled press in Baghdad. . . . We don't have a free press there asking hard questions like you all do here."

Asked why the correspondents reported seeing no camouflage atop the shelter, as military officials insisted, Kelly said they had "bad eyes."

Conservative groups led by Accuracy in Media have mounted an advertising campaign urging CNN to leave Baghdad. "What Peter {Arnett} is able to report is Saddam Hussein's version of the truth," AIM's Reed Irvine said. "There's no way his reporting is helping America win this war."

Arnett told Reuter this week: "There are two sides in a war and, if a news organization does not report both, it is falling down on the job."

Iraqi censors, who have been shepherding Western reporters to bomb-damaged sites, review all stories in advance. On live TV reports, a censor stands next to the correspondent, ready to pull the plug.

"We stay in the hotel until we have permission to go somewhere," ABC's Bill Blakemore said Monday. "So our movements are naturally controlled."

Reuter correspondent Bernd Debusmann, who recently left Baghdad, wrote yesterday that Western reporters "had the opportunity to talk to scores of ordinary Iraqis," often "out of earshot" of government censors, "and the mood they conveyed was often at odds with official statements forecasting victory."

Andrew Nibley, Reuter's editor for North America, said: "We deplore censorship of any kind, when the Iraqis do it, when the Americans do it, when the Israelis do it. The press has been used on more than one occasion by more than one government. . . . It's for the reader to make the judgment whose casualty figures to believe, the Iraqis' or the Americans'."

The immediacy of the CNN report contrasted with the media's exclusion from the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983, when officials insisted that no civilian casualties had occurred. Four days later, U.S. officials confirmed that 21 civilians died when a Navy plane accidentally bombed a mental hospital. No pictures were ever broadcast.

After temporarily barring all news organizations except CNN, Iraq admitted 16 Western journalists Jan. 30, appearing to give preference to those with international audiences, such as Reuter, BBC and AP.

A BBC announcer said some of yesterday's casualty pictures were too gruesome to show.

"Some of this stuff just makes your blood stop -- close-ups of charred lumps and half bodies," CNN's Turner said. But, he added, "It's a painful part of the story, and we have to report it.

"One still can't be sure what it is we have seen," Turner said. "Was this a civilian shelter, or was it an intelligence post? Were these people rounded up and put in there to be propaganda bodies? With each of these stories, there are as many questions unanswered as are resolved."