They say war—which now seems even more imminent than it did last week—transforms a person. And if that person is on TV fiddling with a gas mask, then war can transform their career faster than a cruise missile. Hence the breathless scurry abroad of proto-Geraldos, like MSNBC’s “Dr. Bob” Arnot—who, before being dispatched to the war zone, was last heard flogging his breast-cancer-prevention diet.
Death aside, there are some pitfalls to Scud-stud starmaking. Consider Ashleigh Banfield, who was not only transformed from blonde to brunette but strode through Afghanistan as if on a Cecil B. DeMille soundstage (and, more recently, Dan Rather, whose Saddam sit-down was scorned as a sweeps stunt). “I’m not sure what the plan is for Ashleigh,” muses MSNBC vice-president Mark Effron. (Sources say she’s staying close to home.)
So, who will be shipping out to Iraq? While some newsy Norma Desmonds are staging comebacks (Peter Arnett, late of CNN, will chime in on MSNBC), other vets have been shut out: CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Christiane Amanpour are already banned from Baghdad, as is the entire Fox News Channel. “Aaron Brown is banned, though I haven’t told him yet,” mutters CNN’s chief news exec, Eason Jordan.
With the Pentagon promising more access than last time, “viewers will probably see more action,” predicts CBS News vice-president Marcy McGinnis. “There’s certainly room to go wandering about,” agrees The Atlantic Monthly’s Michael Kelly, whose previous dispatches from the last Gulf War for The New Republic turned into the best-selling Martyrs’ Day. Kelly was e-mailing from Kuwait, where he’s currently snooping around with P. J. O’Rourke.
What’s also new this time are the “embeds”—Pentagon-speak for some 500 print reporters embedded with troops, among them many rookies, like the New York Post’s hawkish movie critic Jonathan Foreman. (“I would think,” snorts one colleague, “it can’t be that easy to find reporters sympathetic to the invasion.”) Then there’s Marc Santora, Maureen Dowd’s ex-assistant at the Times, recently assigned to the “Metro” desk. He has “always been dying to smoke cigarettes and drink martinis in exotic datelines,” says Dowd, adding that she’d love to drop anchor on an aircraft carrier.
This being a real war, things may not be quite as romantic as HBO’s Live From Baghdad. But some embeds are optimistic. In his voice-mail greeting, Timesman Jim Dwyer encourages callers to leave a message with the proviso “I should be back sometime in April.”