Cable News Wars Find New Front In Libya

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In Libya, allied forces are fighting Gaddafi loyalists from air and sea. Gaddafi loyalists are fighting rebels on the ground. And CNN and Fox News have begun a vicious battle of their own.

It all began Monday, when Fox News reporter Jennifer Griffin announced that a British bombing mission of a Gaddafi compound “had to be cut short because of the presence of CNN television crews and Reuters journalists on the ground who had been taken to the site by the Libyan Ministry of Information.” She later said that the journalists had been brought “essentially as human shields” by Libyan authorities to the compound. She said, “Some news crews decided to go. Others including our Steve Harrigan did not go to the compound. They were concerned they could be used as human shields.” This was serious charge, suggesting that Fox News had greater interests in the success of the U.S. military operation than CNN.

CNN’s Nic Robertson, one of the reporters on the trip to the compound, pulled no punches in responding to the charges. He criticized the Fox News reporter in Libya for rarely going out to report, and pointed out that, contrary to Griffin’s report, Fox News had sent someone on the trip with the CNN and Reuters crews.

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Griffin appeared on Fox News Monday night in the 10 p.m. hour to “clarify” that her initial report had been wrong. She said that a Fox News employee had been on the trip to the compound, as Robertson reported. She apologized for the error. “But what is being lost in this discussion is that the Libyan government is using journalists as human shields,” she said.

On a side note, this last claim may be true, but Griffin has not presented any evidence that Libyan officials intended to use journalists as human shields during the visit. Robertson reported that the visit to the compound was both brief and rushed, which is not behavior one would expect if the Libyans wanted to use the journalists as shields. “If they wanted to use us as human shields … they would have kept us there longer,” Robertson said. “That’s not what happened.” Another possible explanation is that Libyan officials brought the journalists to the site for simple propaganda reasons, without any thought or expectation that the site would be targeted again by coalition forces.

UPDATE: On Tuesday, both Harrigan and Griffin gave interviews to defend their work and push back against Robertson’s criticism.

Griffin told NPR that she has “great respect for CNN’s Robertson, but that she wanted to share with viewers the repercussions of the journalists’ choices on Sunday: inadvertently interrupting ‘a rather significant military operation.'”

Harrigan cries foul to Huffington Post about Robertson’s attacks, saying he was not responsible for Griffin’s error. Then he lobs one back at Robertson: “”I think he’s dull. I fall asleep when he gives a report.”

Griffin also talked to TV Newser, criticizing Robertson for going after Harrigan: “I just think this has gotten ugly, and I think it’s beneath Nic to be saying these things about Steve Harrigan. If he has something to say he can say it about me. But to question his reporting and why he stayed at the hotel… it’s just nonsense.”