Better late than never? On CNN's Reliable Sources on Sunday, CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Robertson added all of the caveats and disclaimers that he should have included in his story last week that amounted to his giving an uncritical forum for the terrorist group Hezbollah to spout unverifiable anti-Israeli propaganda. Back on July 18, Hezbollah took Robertson and his crew on a tour of a heavily damaged south Beirut neighborhood. The Hezbollah "press officer" even instructed the CNN camera: "Just look. Shoot. Look at this building. Is it a military base? Is it a military base, or just civilians living in this building?"
In his original story, Robertson had no complaints about the journalistic limitations of a story put together under such tight controls, and Robertson himself at one point seemed to agree with the Hezbollah propaganda claim that Israeli jets had targeted a civilian area: "As we run past the rubble, we see much that points to civilian life, no evidence apparent of military equipment."
[This item, by Rich Noyes, was posted Monday afternoon on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]
Challenged by Reliable Sources host (and Washington Post media writer) Howard Kurtz on Sunday, Robertson suggested Hezbollah has "very, very sophisticated and slick media operations," that the terrorist group "had control of the situation. They designated the places that we went to, and we certainly didn't have time to go into the houses or lift up the rubble to see what was underneath," and he even contradicted Hezbollah's self-serving spin: "There's no doubt that the [Israeli] bombs there are hitting Hezbollah facilities."
But the closest Robertson came to making any of these points in the taped package that aired last week was admitting that "we [he and his CNN crew] didn't go burrowing into all the houses," after pointing out (for the second time) that "we didn't see any military type of equipment" in the area Hezbollah chose to let them tour.
Five days later, Robertson argued that "journalistic integrity" required skepticism: "When you hear their [Hezbollah's] claims, they have to come with more than a grain of salt, that you have to put in some journalistic integrity. That you have to point out to the audience and let them know that this was a guided tour by Hezbollah press officials along with their security, that it was a very rushed affair."
While some viewers undoubtedly deduced out that it was "a guided tour" from the numerous soundbites from the Hezbollah press officer, it's not as if Robertson ever complained about his limitations or explicitly warned viewers that there was no way he could confirm any of the claims.
The July 20 CyberAlert recounted: Tuesday night (July 18) on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, senior international correspondent Nic Robertson touted his "exclusive" exchange with a Hezbollah propagandist who led Robertson on a tour of a bombed-out block of southern Beirut. Hezbollah claimed to show that Israeli bombs had struck civilian areas of the city, not the terrorist group's headquarters. The Hezbollah "press officer," Hussein Nabulsi, even directed
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CNN's camera: "Just look. Shoot. Look at this building. Is it a military base? Is it a military base, or just civilians living in this building?" A few moments later, Nabulsi instructed CNN to videotape him as he ran up to a pile of rubble: "Shoot me. Shoot. This is here where they said Sheikh Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, is living. This is wrong!"