Mast Fall 2001
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From the Front Lines:

Saying goodbye

D-Day for Operation Anaconda

Entering the fray

Left in the dark

Weathering the combat

Realities of the job

Making hard choices

 

Other Features Stories:

We're Changing Things

A Degree of Difficulty

United by a Friend

From the Front Lines

CNN correspondent Martin Savidge has covered the world. He's reported on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks; school shootings in Arkansas and Oregon; wildfires in Florida; hurricanes Bonnie, Georges and Mitch; and international crises from Iraq to Israel to India and Pakistan. For 11 years before he joined CNN in 1996, he was a special projects reporter and anchor for WJW-TV in Cleveland. He and his wife of 13 years, Blis, live in Atlanta with their son, Stehl, 10, and daughter, Blis, 9. Savidge's foreign correspondent duties this year started the second week of January in Afghanistan. Here, he shares details of that assignment, which lasted 80 days, and thoughts on his career and personal life.

Martin SavageLike many journalists covering America's war on terror, Martin Savidge, BSJ '81, became increasingly frustrated that while military missions were occurring almost daily in Afghanistan, very little information was being provided to the media and, therefore, to the American people.

"We had been camping out, literally, at the Kandahar airport, living on the base for about six weeks. You could see military coming and going, and it was frustrating that this sort of activity was going on and we couldn't go on it. We really were very much in the dark. The only insight we had was in the next day's briefing (when) they might tell us how many people were detained. And a lot of times information was coming directly from the Pentagon."

Savidge says he got frustrated with the public affairs officers, explaining to them that the journalists looked foolish by being so close to the action yet not having any information to share. Some journalists weren't even living at the base; they had a house in town, with cooks, a staff and showers. He, on the other hand, was living in a tent at the airport.

"A few of us stuck it out on base. We felt at least if we did that we'd gain more insight and access."

After six weeks, a public affairs officer told the media he had a good story for them. They got their gear and were led to the mailroom, which was loaded with Girl Scout cookies that had been donated to the troops.

"I have nothing against Girl Scouts. My daughter is a Girl Scout. But that was enough to make my cookie snap. We had reported all this 'rah rah' news without any reciprocating access."

About the same time, ABC announced it had made a deal with the U.S. Defense Department to do a reality-based program on troops in Afghanistan.

"That's when I really got angry. Here they made a deal with the Pentagon to have their people swinging out to front lines when I'd been living in tent and gotten nowhere."

He accepted an offer to appear on CNN's "American Morning with Paula Zahn" to share his views on news coverage in Afghanistan.

"I think she asked one question and for about 2 1/2 minutes I did a verbal download about access, about how angry I was, about how important I thought this news was. This war is much more personal than any others that have been fought in recent times because of how many people died on Sept. 11. All we asked as a nation was, 'Are the bad guys being sought? Is justice being done? Is money being spent wisely?'"

About five days after the on-air tirade, another public affairs officer approached Savidge.

"His words were, 'Let's go look at the mountains,' which I knew was not a sightseeing trip. We went outside and pretended to look at the mountains. Without looking at me he said, 'There's a mission coming up.'"

The officer told Savidge only a few media would be selected for the mission, but he had to be willing to go on a moment's notice and not tell anyone, not even CNN, that he was going. The mission could be three days, seven days, or a little longer, the officer said, asking Savidge if he could abide by those rules.

In the end, Savidge spent nearly two weeks with the soldiers, first in training and then in actual combat situations.

"I really thought it was just going to be simple mission, a one-day hit: go into the suspected area, quickly search and leave. But at that point I was just willing to see anything."

He later found out that his cameraman, Scott McWhinnie, got the same offer, as did four other members of the media who were living on the field.

They weren't told when the mission would be or its destination. The only tip was to pack as much cold-weather gear as possible.

NEXT: Saying Goodbye

 

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