Journalists are often described as “eyewitnesses to history,” a label that seemed particularly apt last spring during the war with Iraq. Embedded journalists from NBC News experienced first hand the dangers of combat, the rigors of life in the desert, the pain of loss of a colleague. Now NBC News chronicles the story of Operation Iraqi Freedom through the eyes of those journalists and the rest of the NBC News organization in a book and DVD. Read the Foreword by Tom Brokaw below and watch an excerpt from the DVD.
President Bush’s decision to commit American forces to war in Iraq came as no surprise. The prospect of war had been with us for months during spirited debates at the United Nations, in the Congress, and on the streets of cities around the world. Nonetheless, it was a sobering moment for the nation, because no presidential action is as consequential as the decision to go to war.
For the journalists of NBC News and other news organizations, it was to be a different kind of war. It would be possible to provide live coverage-or coverage that was only slightly delayed-directly from the battlefield onto television screens throughout the world, including the Arab world, where technical and political constraints had previously discouraged coverage of unfolding news events.
At NBC News we had spent several months preparing for what we knew would be one of the most demanding assignments since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Our reporters and producers who would be embedded with military units on the front lines were sent to military training schools to learn the rudiments of survival in combat.
In New York, Washington, London, Doha, Kuwait City, Amman, and Tel Aviv, extra personnel were brought in and special production techniques were tested repeatedly. We assembled a team of retired high-ranking military specialists from all branches of the services to serve as consultants and expert commentators.
It was all in place that first night when President Bush, acting on urgent intelligence from a spy on the ground in Baghdad, decided to move up the timetable in the hopes of taking out Saddam Hussein and his two sons with a preemptive air strike against a leadership compound where they were thought to be spending the night.
Suddenly, the war was under way. NBC News correspondent David Bloom and his team were moving north with the 3rd Infantry Division. Correspondents Chip Reid and Kerry Sanders moved out with the Marines. Dana Lewis was reporting in from the 101st Airborne and Brian Williams kept us apprised of missile attacks launched at Kuwait. Fred Francis was covering the Kurds in northern Iraq, and George Lewis was tracking the on-again, off-again role of the Turks right next door. In Washington, Jim Miklaszewski, Andrea Mitchell, Pete Williams, David Gregory, and Campbell Brown were on the air from the Departments of Defense, State, and Justice, along with the White House. Other correspondents and production teams were assigned to military bases around the nation to cover the war on the home front.
The New York control rooms were humming with incoming feeds for all NBC News programs, while across the Hudson River in New Jersey, MSNBC and CNBC were covering the war and its effects around the clock. It was all going rapidly but smoothly as the animated maps unfolded stylishly on the screens, and reporters from the New York Times, the Washington Post, our British television partner ITN, and National Geographic Explorer came on the air with urgent updates.
Then, on the third day of the war, Nancy Chamberlain, mother of a U.S. Marine, gave us all pause. She had a poignant cautionary note for us about the real meaning of war beyond the television images. Mrs. Chamberlain’s son, Marine Captain Jay Aubin, had just been killed when his Sea Knight helicopter crashed during a nighttime sandstorm.
We managed to reach her on the telephone at her home near Waterbury, Maine, after the death of her son was confirmed. In a soft but determined voice she described Jay’s devotion to the Marines and his instruction that if something happened, the family should remember that he died doing what he absolutely loved and believed in. She went on to describe his wife and the two children he left behind, her grandchildren.
As I was concluding the interview, expressing the condolences of NBC News and the nation, Mrs. Chamberlain interrupted me to say, “Mr. Brokaw, may I make a point?” Then, speaking of the war coverage, she said, “I truly admire what all the network news and news technologies are doing today to bring it into our homes. But for the mothers and wives who are out there watching, it is murder. It’s heartbreak. We can’t leave the television. Every tank, every helicopter, ‘Is that my son?’ And I just need you to be aware that technology is great. But there are moms, there are dads, there are wives who are suffering because of this. That’s why I’m doing this.”
By that time I was fighting for control of my own emotions because this eloquent woman, who had just lost her son, was performing such an important public service for those of us in journalism and those who were watching.
War is about big decisions, hard truths, and deceptions. But most of all, it is about dying and surviving and taking care of each other. In this account of the work of NBC News during Operation Iraqi Freedom, you will read about all of that and more. As you absorb what we witnessed and what we learned, remember the words of Nancy Chamberlain, a mother who in her grief served the nation as surely as her Marine son served the nation and gave his life.
The foregoing is excerpted from “NBC News Operation Iraqi Freedom: 22 Historic Days in Words and Pictures” by Marc Kusnetz, William M. Arkin, Gen. Montgomery Meigs (ret.) and Neal Shapiro. Andrews McMeel Publishing. Copyright 2003 by National Broadcasting Company, Inc. All rights reserved. A portion of the book proceeds will be donated to charities including the David Bloom Children’s Trust and the Committee to Protect Journalists.