Live From Baghdad

Produced by Home Box Office and telecast on HBO Dec. 7, 2002, color, stereo sound, 120 mins.

Bruce McGill, left, as Peter Arnett and Robert Wisdom as Bernard Shaw
Peter Arnett 1991
Bernard Shaw 1991
Baghdad 1991
Baghdad 1991




Peter Arnett's most vivid memories of January 17, 1991, in room 906 of the Al-Rasheed Hotel "were the first hours of the air war in which Baghdad was subjected to the most severe bombing in military history. We had a bird's-eye view of the whole event from the ninth floor of the Al-Rashid Hotel in the middle of Baghdad, which was where the media was staying. The bombing began at 2:30 a.m. Baghdad time on an absolute clear starry night. So we could see all the bombs exploding across the city. And it was incredibly dramatic. We had a big advantage in that our communications link to the CNN headquarters in Atlanta held up throughout this early phase of the bombing. So the three of us, Bernard Shaw, John Holliman and I, soon to be known as the Boys of Baghdad, were able to continuously report on what we were seeing. Another factor in these opening hours of the war was that we were not subject to any censorship since the Iraqi government had clearly not prepared for the bombing as far as the media was concerned. So we openly reported on buildings destroyed, the morale of the capital, the whole atmosphere of a city under severe bombing attack without interference, and we did that for the first 17 hours of the air attacks. They were the most significant attacks of the whole war. The most frightening moment was during the first hour of the bombing when the very high-powered American explosives destroyed office towers just a few blocks away from our hotel. The impact of the explosion and the heat swept through the open windows of our hotel room. Incidents like this prompted Bernard Shaw to comment on the air: "It feels like the center of hell." It was nerve-wracking to remain in the room but what motivated us to continue was the opportunity to talk to a worldwide audience about what we could see.... The bombing of Baghdad and the ground war that followed were the first time in media history, not only when both sides of a war were covered fully, but a time when much of the coverage was live. The incredible spectacle of the Gulf War persuaded CNN and other television organizations to cover successive events in the same way. So we had the O.J. Simpson trial. We had Princess Diana's death. We had wall-to-wall coverage of the recent presidential recount in Florida. What we see is what some prominent observers say is a cultural phenomenon of a "mediathon" approach to news and information. This is what the Gulf War brought to the U.S. and to the world." (quote from Peter Arnett A Look Back)

CNN broadcast
Robert Wiener has noted "the curious thing is that there were a close to a billion people around the globe watching CNN that first night - people are absolutely convinced that they actually saw Bernie and Peter and John reporting, that they saw the bombs. They saw nothing. They saw simply a television screen with their photos. If you read George (H.W.) Bush's memoirs, Bush writes, I remember calling Barbara down to the study and us watching Bernie Shaw reporting as the bombs fell all around him, and we could see that. Well, they saw no such thing. They saw a slide. It's that kind of seminal event in history that was so unique that people have a mindset that they actually saw the bombardment on the opening night, when actually the first pictures of the bombardment did not reach Ahman via land for at least twenty-four hours after the war started." (quote from HBO)


revised 12/7/02 by Schoenherr | Filmnotes