In an exclusive report Monday, Fox News Channel reported that a planned attack on the capital compound of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi had to be curtailed because of journalists nearby. According to Fox, British sources confirmed that British missiles were ready to fire, but news crews from CNN, Reuters and other organizations were too close to the target.
The group of correspondents and cameramen had been brought to the area by officials of Qaddafi's Ministry of Information to showcase damage from an earlier attack. This act, Fox reported, amounted to Qaddafi's forces using journalists as "human shields" to protect themselves from another potential attack.
That claim is "outrageous and absolutely hypocritical," CNN's Nic Robertson responded Monday evening. Robertson claimed Fox News refused to send a reporter on the trip, calling it a propaganda exercise. Instead, Robertson said Fox sent a non-editorial, non-technical staffer on the trip to Qaddafi's compound.
"When you come to somewhere like Libya, you would expect lies and deceit from the dictatorship here," Robertson said. "You don't expect it from the other journalists." If someone wanted to keep us their as "human shields," Robertson added, they would have kept reporters at the compound longer.
An angry Robertson went on to accuse Fox News of failing to fully investigate matters on the ground, claiming they "didn't even leave the hotel."
Robertson's critique seems to have more to do with Fox News than the issue at hand. Fox had reports from the British military who were prepared to launch a second round of attacks on the compound when the Qaddafi government invited journalists into the area -- a fact Robertson's critique ignores. Instead, the CNN reporter attacks Fox for the substance of their reports from the war zone.
Additionally, I might think this feud had more to do than a squabble between cable news networks. However, to compare your competitor to a murderous tyrant takes what may have been a legitimate critique to a case of juvenile bickering.
Despite Robertson's claims, Fox is not backing down from their original story and "human shield" claim. And regardless of whether they were being used as "human shields" or not, it's disappointing to hear that the presence of journalists prevented the allied forces from carrying out their mission.
During a Pentagon briefing on Monday, the coalition commanders confirmed that the compound had been targeted because it housed strategic air defense systems and a Qaddafi military command and control center. The mission was scrapped to avoid civilian casualties, they said.