War coverage is over the top


STRANGE AS this may sound, I've never had a desire to cover a war and have missiles fly over my head and bombs explode at my feet and strangers shoot at me.

If I were chronicling the war in the Persian Gulf, I'd be doing it from, say, Iowa. Preferably from a Ramada Inn with cable, an indoor pool and a lively Happy Hour.

Nevertheless, I admire the brave men and women reporting on the fighting, although -- call me a busy-body -- I do have a few comments on the coverage.

My first comment has to do with you TV correspondents doing stand-ups on the hotel roofs in Dhahran and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

You folks are doing an outstanding job. If I may make one small suggestion, however: Once those missiles start flying over your heads, I would (and this is said with all due respect) GET THE HELL OFF THE ROOF! WHAT ARE YOU PEOPLE, CRAZY?! STANDING OUT THERE WITH MISSILES EXPLODING EVERYWHERE?!


But instead of hustling off the roof and diving under a bed when the air raid siren goes off, you people stand up there and actually -- I love this part -- POINT OUT WHERE THE MISSILES ARE FLYING!

All I can say is: Not me, Jack. I'll tell you where you'd find me if the skies were getting thick with Scuds and Patriots.

You'd find me at the airport. Because I'd be boarding the first plane out of there, elbowing aside little old ladies in wheelchairs if it looked like we were running out of seats.

And the only pointing I'd do would be at the beverage cart, as I signaled the flight attendant for another cocktail.

Now, don't get me wrong, TV people. We appreciate you pointing out the missiles, which is helpful and all, although it reminds me of a whaling tour I once took. ("Off to our right we can see several gray whales, with their blowholes and . . . oh, look! Over there! Dolphins!"

I don't know how the rest of your viewing audience feels, but speaking from a personal point of view, I don't particularly care to watch one of these missiles land on your forehead and blow you to kingdom come.

So get off the roof when the sirens go off, OK? Even if you don't want to run for the bomb shelters, at least go to your rooms and freshen up or put on a new safari jacket (did you people all hit the same Banana Republic back in the States?)

Another suggestion for you TV correspondents, particularly you folks in Israel: If there's a missile alert and someone tells you to put your gas mask on, PUT THE DAMN GAS MASK ON!

You people are making me nervous. If I hear one more ashen-faced reporter say: "Well, Peter, they're telling us to put on the gas masks but we're gonna try it without 'em for a while," I think I'll scream.

Again, we appreciate your bravery (if that's the right word) and effort to communicate with us. But we don't want to see you suddenly clutch your neck and keel over. It is not our idea of a good time and (this is just a guess) will probably not do much for the ratings.

Another thing. The televised media briefings. How many more times are we going to watch some geeky reporter stand and ask something like: "General, can you tell us where the allied bombings are scheduled to take place today?"

I don't want to get too technical here, but in the journalism trade, this is known as a "stupid question." And the reason it's a stupid question is: THE ANSWER IS CLASSIFIED INFORMATION.

See, the enemy also has access to TV sets. Which means (stay with me here) THEY TOO COULD BE WATCHING THE MEDIA BRIEFING.

And I'm sure they'd be more than a little interested to hear some careless (or dopey, in this case) general tell reporters: 'Well, ladies and gents, we'll be bombing the missile launchers at Basra today."

If an Iraqi operative gets a hold of that kind of info, he's heading right to a phone booth. ("Hey, Tariq, just heard on NBC that the Western infidels will be hitting us at Basra . . . ").

In which case those missile launchers would be gone so quick, you'd think they were loaded on Porsche 911's. Which means when the allied bombs start falling, all they'll be doing is flattening the ground for a future trailer park.

So no more stupid questions, OK?

And, hey, let's be careful out there.

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