Thursday, July 16, 2015

War of the Worlds: The Martians Have Landed!

February 21, 1998, Los Angeles Times, Rehearsal of War Coverage Backfires at CBS News, From a Times staff writer, diigo,

NEW YORK — CBS jumped the gun Friday on a possible U.S. attack on Iraq: The network inadvertently transmitted a practice news report via satellite that could be picked up by television stations and viewers with special equipment.

To try out new graphics for combat coverage in the event the U.S. goes forward with the threatened bombing of Iraq, CBS anchor Dan Rather was rehearsing with Pentagon correspondent David Martin over a closed line between CBS' New York headquarters and its Washington news bureau. The report was mistakenly sent up to a communications satellite.

"This was very embarrassing," one CBS staffer said Friday. "If I'd seen the report, I would have thought we were at war."

A technician at a West Virginia TV station who was checking satellite transmissions was shocked to see Rather describing aircraft being used in a bombing run on Baghdad.

Officials at the station, WTAP-TV, an NBC affiliate in Parkersburg, W. Va., called the Associated Press to find out if Iraq had been attacked. "It looked like a real broadcast of what was going on," said Bill McClure, master control operator at WTAP.

CBS News spokeswoman Kerri Weitzberg said that, as far as CBS knew, the practice report did not air on any TV stations during the 20 minutes that it was up on the satellite. Weitzberg said the network received "a handful" of calls from people who were concerned about the mistaken report.

March 4, 1998,, Rather rehearses his lines,

A technical error recently provided a glimpse into the workings and mentality of the American media. On February 20, as war fever raged in Washington, CBS News anchorman Dan Rather and Baghdad correspondent David Martin were caught rehearsing coverage of a US bombing raid on Baghdad. For twenty minutes the test report, intended to be seen only in the network's New York and Washington newsrooms, was mistakenly beamed to a satellite where it could be picked up by anyone with the required receiving equipment.

The incident became public--although not widely covered by the media--when Bill McClure, master control operator at an NBC affiliate in Parkersburg, West Virginia, picked up the transmission and telephoned Associated Press to see if an attack on Iraq had indeed been launched. "It looked like a real broadcast of what was going on," he told the news agency.

The CBS News anchorman, in pancake makeup, could be seen describing the bombing raid and the type of aircraft involved. He declared that the number of Iraqi casualties was unknown.

An explanation from a CBS spokeswoman made the incident, if anything, even more chilling. She said the network wanted to test new graphics and theme music that would be used to cover the attack.

"It felt like Wag the Dog," commented a senior news producer who had watched the rehearsal. "I bet the network is living in fear that someone on the receiving end of the transmission had tape rolling."