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Tensions Rise as U.S. Anchor Buildup Reported in Middle East

August 20, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ As the U.S. network anchor buildup continued in the Middle East, ABC’s Peter Jennings was asked if he felt a little lonely, staying here to anchor ″World News Tonight.″

″Not at all,″ said Jennings, who used to cover the Middle East in his correspondent days. ″I’m in exactly the right place. My job is to coordinate the coverage, not just go and do one dimension of it.″

He spoke last Thursday, as the network anchor total in the Middle East rose to seven with the arrivals in Saudi Arabia of NBC’s Tom Brokaw and ABC’s Sam Donaldson, the latter there for ″PrimeTime Live.″

It was perhaps the largest array of high-priced anchors since the Moscow Summit of 1988, when there were so many news stars running loose only luck prevented a high-speed interview pileup.

But this time, they’re spread out, those who have been sent to cover and anchor, so to speak, the Middle East crisis caused by Irag’s armed takeover of Kuwait.

They’ve reported from Dubai, Jordan, Cairo, Saudi Arabia, and, in CBS’ Dan Rather’s case, a Navy carrier from which he anchored - on tape - part of one newscast. Rather and ABC’s Ted Koppel also have been the only U.S. anchors to broadcast from Baghdad yet. NBC’s Garrick Utley still is trying to get in.

Ironically, Ted Turner’s global Cable News Network hasn’t sent in an anchor star. It has stuck with its grunts, the correspondents. Why didn’t CNN send in just one of its anchors, say, Bernard Shaw?

″It’s because of what we are, as opposed to the other guys,″ says Ed Turner, CNN’s executive vice president for newsgathering. ″They have half- hour shows, and if that’s how they want to use their anchors, super.″

(It should be pointed out that Koppel and Rather have done breaking-news bulletins and report for newscasts on their networks other than their own, just like the lesser-known, lesser-paid correspondents.)

″But this story, unlike any story I can ever remember, has so many different locations,″ Turner says. ″And an anchor is supposed to tie it all together from a central location.

″The place to do that is not downtown Baghdad, or downtown Amman. The place to be is what you consider your news universe.″

Jennings gives almost the same reason - ″it’s a complicated story″ - as the reason he’s staying here.

Koppel, the ″Nightline″ anchor, has scored good beats, particularly by being the first U.S. network newsman into Iraq, Jennings says, but ″I can’t go off and pursue the one thing and still run our coverage.″

Rather, says Turner, ″is a helluva reporter. He likes doing that, he’s excited about it, and that’s fine. But that’s not an anchor’s job . . . if you’re really anchoring, you’re talking about holding the show together.″

Rather has been in the Middle East since the crisis began. Brokaw started only last Thursday, when he reported for the ″NBC Nightly News″ and anchored part of it from what seemed a palm tree-lined oasis.

Why the delay?

″We’ve been saying all along that if we can get into Baghdad, Saudi Arabia or Kuwait we would go,″ says the show’s executive producer, Steve Friedman.

Saudi Arabia, which tightly restricted correspondents’ visits even before the current Gulf crisis, gave Brokaw approval to enter last week, likewise ABC’s Donaldson.

That approval was ″why we went in″ with Brokaw, says Friedman. ″We’ve been holding off because I’m not going to send Tom to a place where I can only get a phone call″ report from the NBC anchorman.

With the advent of satellites, the wandering anchorman has become almost routine. There are varied reasons for moving about, Jennings says - to bring attention to particular event or region, or a single story.

Another reason The Anchor is sent in on a major story is clout.

The fact an anchor is well-known and has contacts with major movers and shakers sometimes gets him interviews or into places lesser mortals only might dream about. As Friedman puts it:

″An anchorman gives you cachet. Because everybody all over knows who they are. Ted Koppel got into Baghdad because he’s Ted Koppel and worked the story.″

Media critics, some of whom may yet cover a fire, sometimes question the validity of anchor expeditions, calling them show-biz moves intended more to drum up publicity and ratings for network newscasts than to commit journalism.

The urbane Jennings would give such carpers the back of his hand:

″I don’t think they watch what we do. I don’t think they even look at content, or look at the reporting . . . our audience wants to know what the hell’s going on, not where any of us are standing at any given date.

″My advice is to pay less attention to anchors and more to content.″


Elsewhere in television...

FARM AID TO CBS: Last April’s fourth annual ″Farm Aid″ music concert has been condensed to a two-hour special CBS will air this Saturday. It’s hosted by Willie Nelson, John Mellenkamp and Neil Young, and the performers range from Guns N’ Roses to the Soviet rockers, Gorky Park.

End Adv PM Mon Aug. 20

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