NBC's Banfield Chided Over Criticisms
NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - NBC News president Neal Shapiro has taken correspondent Ashleigh Banfield to the woodshed for a speech in which she criticized the networks for portraying the Iraqi war as "glorious and wonderful."
Banfield delivered her remarks Thursday at Kansas State University.
"She and we both agreed that she didn't intend to demean the work of her colleagues, and she will choose her words more carefully in the future," an NBC spokeswoman said Monday.
Other sources inside NBC said Banfield promised, in effect, not to do it again and to check her facts before making public statements in the future. Banfield had criticized NBC in the speech for closing its bureau in Kabul, Afghanistan, a statement that the network said was untrue.
Sources said Shapiro "bawled her out" for what were perceived as criticisms over the war coverage of all of the networks, including NBC and MSNBC.
In her speech, Banfield said the networks had portrayed the Iraqi war as "glorious and wonderful" because they had failed to show the bloody horrors of the battles.
There was no indication whether Shapiro was upset over the entire speech -- Banfield also lambasted Fox News Channel and MSNBC talk show host Michael Savage -- or just the elements that were critical of the networks' war coverage.
NBC insiders said few people took Banfield's comments seriously because of her lack of experience -- she is largely working for MSNBC these days, and her primetime show on the network failed last summer. "I don't think people look to Ashleigh Banfield to set the standards of journalism," one person said about the reaction inside the department. "People were sort of rolling their eyes."
Reporters who have returned from Iraq have defended the networks' lack of blood-and-guts video, saying it was impossible to film much of it because of logistical reasons. They also noted that embedded reporters did not see action much of the time in Iraq.
"In my situation, I didn't have the occasion to videotape many bodies or anything," said Don Dahler, an ABC News correspondent embedded in Iraq who was interviewed April 16 after returning to the United States. "I don't think I would have shied away from shooting dead bodies or injured Americans."
Banfield noted in her speech that Americans never got to see the results of mortar fire, just the smoke.
But correspondents have said it was impossible to film the damage because tanks and artillery were firing at targets miles away from them.
Banfield, who was stationed Stateside during the war, is the first network journalist to publicly criticize television's coverage of the war.
Correspondents who have returned from the front have all raved about the embedding system that placed them with troops as well as the overall network coverage of the war.
"On a more macular level, there's some sort of demystification here -- not only for the media but for the military and what the other institution is about," CBS News correspondent Mark Strassman said after returning from the war. "This vague process is a new step that will always continue to evolve. And all that's for the better. They have a story worth telling, and we have a story that we want to tell, and all that is for the good."
Lost in much of the controversy is that Banfield actually had praise for NBC News in her KSU speech, saying the network had never censored her when she covered the Arab point of view. A major theme of her speech was that both Americans and Arabs need to be educated about each other's culture and points of view in order to begin a dialogue that would lead to peace. She said that can't be done if television networks abandon overseas coverage.
But much of Banfield's criticism was aimed at television audiences who would prefer to watch stories about murder victims and missing girls than international relations -- unless there is a major crisis.
"It's crucial to our security that you are interested in this," she said. "Because when you are interested, I can respond. If I put this on right now, you'll turn it off."