CNNs Bernard Shaw on 20 years and his Gulf War coverage
May 30, 2000
(CNN) Since the networks launch on June 1, 1980, CNN has been witness to many major events. The idea of a 24-hour news station attracted some of the best journalists in the business. The dedicated coverage of the professionals who joined the risky venture of an all news station paid off as CNN grew in stature with its award winning coverage of the Gulf War, Tiananmen Square and other breaking news around the world.
One of the best-known faces on CNN due to his continuous coverage, with two of his colleagues, of the first night of the Allied Forces' bombing of Baghdad during the Gulf War, Bernard Shaw has been at the forefront in news coverage of breaking events. He can be seen regularly on "Inside Politics," "CNN WorldView," and "CNN&Time."
Chat Moderator: Welcome to CNN@20 Chat, Bernie Shaw.
Bernard Shaw: Hello to our chat room participants around the world as we approach our twentieth birthday, Thursday. I'm very pleased to be with you!
Chat Moderator: How did you come to join CNN, and what did you think about this new network concept at first?
Bernard Shaw: Two well-respected journalists and friends, Daniel Schorr and George Watson, respectively, from CBS News and ABC News, were the first hires by Ted Turner at CNN in January of 1980, before CNN launched on June 1, 1980.
I had been covering Latin America and Capitol Hill for ABC News, and prior to that, I was a CBS news correspondent. The presence of Schorr and Watson convinced me that CNN was serious about journalism.
Personally, I believe that CNN represented the last frontier in network television news, and because I decided I wanted to be a part of that, I decided to walk the plank and take a chance.
Now, 20 years later, I am convinced that the choice my wife Linda helped me make was not only the best choice, it was the only one that we would have been satisfied with.
Question from Tribe: Bernie, was there ever a point that you seriously feared for your safety during the reporting?
Bernard Shaw: Without question, there have been a few fears for my life. Once, back home in Chicago when I was covering a 5-11 alarm fire, I got too close to the burning structure and fire equipment.
Another time was when I was Latin America bureau chief and correspondent for ABC News. I was covering back-to-back civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador. In Nicaragua before the fall of General Somoza, I was shot at. By whom, Sandanista rebels or Somoza's forces, I don't know.
And another story, this one, the Jonestown mass murder/suicide in Guyana, in the initial hours of the tragedy, no one felt secure.
But I suppose the ultimate fear was on the ninth floor of the El Rashid Hotel in Baghdad, as the Gulf War broke out. The problem there was that I had zero control over my physical safety, and of course, that was the case for my two friends and colleagues, the late John Holliman, and Peter Arnett.
We had Saddam Hussein's anti-aircraft batteries on rooftops less than 50 yards away, firing wildly into the air at coalition airplanes they could not see. Down below in the streets, we had militia groups of young boys and old men with rifles and handguns, also firing frantically skyward.
But what I feared most were undisciplined members of Saddam's Baath Party, who knew we were reporting to the world bombing targets being taken out, and the fact that Saddam did not control his own Iraqi airspace. If you do not control your airspace in a war, it's unlikely that you will win. I feared Baath Party members would storm our CNN suite of rooms and summarily execute us.
People think journalism is glamorous. I disagree. Sometimes our work can be extremely dangerous. I, like other journalists, have lost a few friends in the line of duty.
You will recall just last week in Sierra Leone, two journalists died in ambushes. In fact, this Thursday, here in Washington, one will be memorialized in special services.
Question from New: What did you think when you heard that a reporter was captured in Iraq?
Bernard Shaw: I recall a CBS News correspondent and his camera crew being taken into custody. His name was Bob Simon. Bob Simon is a veteran journalist with nerves of steel, and extraordinary determination.
When I heard of his capture by Iraqi forces, initially I held my breath, and hoped for the best. Eventually, Bob and his crew were released.
Question from Tribe: What one news item did you find the most important in the last 20 years?
Bernard Shaw: That is an utterly impossible question to answer with authority, given my history major's respect for events in the human span. My personal and professional experiences, even my nationality, being an American, would tend to color whatever answer I might give to your question.
To be elementary for a moment, if I lived on the other side of the world, and were a national from a given nation, I might tend to think that an event that happened there, or nearby, was more important than say a person from yet another part of this globe. That's the kind of question that my cautious tendencies make me wary about trying to answer.
As I think over the CNN 20-year timeline, there are just too many stories important to and affecting humankind to single out.
Question from GoodOleMom: Do you request your assignments, or are they automatically assigned to you?
Bernard Shaw: Because journalism is a collegial undertaking, meaning women and men work to decide what is worthy of covering, and then proceed to cover stories, there is a general agreement as to what is important. So, professionally, it is not difficult to designate who will cover what.
Generally, such decisions are made easy if you are in, say, Moscow, and you have a Moscow correspondent. That person would cover President Putin and goings-on at the Kremlin, the same with your Beijing bureau chief, or for that matter, your reporter at City Hall.
Usually correspondents with certain experience and expertise are assigned certain stories. There is an unwritten rule in journalism, which thus far I have obeyed. Professionally, you never refuse an assignment, unless you have extremely overriding reasons.
From time to time, as a correspondent, you can suggest, propose, volunteer, and in some instances, insist on covering a certain story. In sum, I would say, we tend to be assigned stories by implicit agreement. I hope that answers the question. I wanted to give some perspective on how decisions are made.
Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Bernie Shaw.
Bernard Shaw: A final thought and observation: This Thursday, June 1, 2000, will mark CNN's 20th anniversary. From day one, our charge has been very simple, yet utterly serious, to cover human kind and news everywhere on this planet, showing favoritism to no one, and fairness to all.
Ratings go up, and ratings go down, but never have we been deterred from our simple, yet obviously complex, mission. I hope that the next 20 years will confirm that the women and men of CNN never swerved from that basic goal. Happy birthday, CNN.
Mr. Shaw joined the chat via telephone from Maryland. CNN provided a typist for him.
The above is an edited version of the chat.
|Back to the top||
© 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.|
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.