July 19, 2006

ABC pulls up Mideast anchor, NBC may follow

By Paul J. Gough

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - ABC sent its anchor back to
New York Wednesday after several days in the Middle East and
NBC was apparently leaning that way, although both networks
were continuing with their expanded reporting presence in the

The Mideast crisis, now in its eighth day, has engaged
high-profile journalists like NBC's Brian Williams, ABC's
Charles Gibson, CNN's Anderson Cooper and Fox News Channel's
Shepard Smith.

NBC and ABC decided late last week to send their anchors, a
decision that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each day.
And while they weren't saying how long they would remain in the
region, ABC confirmed that Gibson was scheduled to leave Cyprus
for New York after Wednesday's broadcast.

It wasn't clear late Wednesday when Williams was going to
leave, although it could be as soon as Thursday.

Despite the expense, both networks said it was important
for their anchors to go to the story.

"This is an important story. There's a lot of U.S. foreign
policy involved in every aspect of this story," said "World
News Tonight" executive producer Jon Banner, who was with
Gibson. "It deals with Iran and Syria, two countries that are
of central interest to U.S. foreign policy. . . . The easiest
and best way to do that story is to have your anchor on the
scene to explain it to your audience."

Sitting on a concrete slab overlooking the Mediterranean
Sea before Tuesday's "NBC Nightly News," Williams said they
were playing it day by day but it was important to be there.

"This is why we do what we do. This is one of the things we
cover. No one has said a word about cost," said Williams. But
there's also a time, executives noted, that having the
high-profile anchors on the scene isn't as important.

"Brian is 'Nightly News' managing editor and we very much
want him to be at the center of this type of story," said David
Verdi, senior vp worldwide newsgathering. "Of course, there's
always a critical mass where a story like this will present
itself as an ongoing story that will take a lot of time to

But he, like his counterpart at ABC News, senior vp Paul
Slavin, thinks that the on-the-ground perspective is

Slavin said the network had kept its options open, but
whether Gibson would remain there for a week or more would
depend not as much on cost but on what's the best use of

"Having an anchor there is a big deal, and ultimately a
strain on the organization," Slavin said. It was, however,
Gibson's first foreign trip in the six weeks that he's been
permanent anchor of "World News Tonight." Gibson did anchor the
network's coverage of the death of Pope John Paul II and the
election of the new pope last year for the ailing Peter

In an appearance via satellite at the Television Critics
Assn.'s summer press tour Wednesday afternoon in Pasadena,
Gibson said that he thinks an anchor's role in traveling to a
story is important but doesn't want it to interfere with the
correspondents on the scene who know the story best.

"Just because the guy is an anchor and flies in doesn't
mean he knows it better than the people who are on the ground,"
Gibson said. "So what's really important is that we do maintain
coverage around the world and people around the world and
bureaus around the world."

Israel is one of the few places relatively untouched by
network budget cuts during the past several decades.
Network-news analyst Andrew Tyndall said each of the networks
realize that news of the longtime ally, where Americans have
family or business ties, is critical. Tyndall also notes that
most Americans are familiar with the issues in the Mideast,
which makes it easier for networks to tell those stories unlike
other parts of the world where the background isn't so

"It's the tsunami or other natural disaster that gets you
to Indonesia, not a political story," Tyndall said. "You don't
have to do any of that (explaining) with Israel."

Yet stories from Israel, Tyndall said, have suffered by the
enormous commitment that the U.S.-based networks have made to
cover the war in Iraq. The amount of airtime the Big Three
newscasts devoted to Israel has declined during the last
several years.

"Iraq sucks all the oxygen out of the room," Tyndall said.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter