Gulf War

Live on TV

Technology arrives.In a time when technological advances were more conservative, news coverage maintained the traditional tools. Nobody suspected the entire media machine to drastically change, especially in the way how big war journalistic coverages were done.

The Gulf war was known like this due to involvement of the countries that extend around the Persian Gulf.

Problem started when Saddam Hussein, then president of Iraq, decided to annex Kuwait. Besides the territorial matters, the Iraqis accused Kuwait of exceeding the oil production quota, being big debtors to country, due to the war between Iraq and Iran.



On August 2nd of 1990, Iraq invads Kuwait.  Saudi Arabia, the biggest oil producer and exporter, was threatened with Iraq’s action, and the United States, to safeguard its primordial oil source, pressure the United Nations (UN) to intervene in the conflict.



On November 29th, UN’s Security Council authorized the use of force from the USA and demanded the retreat from Iraq until January 15th, 1991. James Baker, north-American Secretary of State, emitted the final ultimatum to Iraque using CNN, and not the American Foreign Affairs responsible in Bagdad.

So it was created the CNN effect. The governments and newspapers no longer held public information; the power had been transferred to the media, namely through television.

The CNN effect and the Arnett factor became essential characteristics in the post-modern wars: the governments and the military had to adapt to the journalists’ capacity in showing the other side – the enemy side – of war.

The international consensus over the gravity of the invasion from Saddam led to the creation of the biggest military alliance gathered since World War II. The USA obtained the support from the Middle East, through Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Oman. In the West, through Portugal, Spain, Italy and, mainly, from the United Kingdom.







USA’s first offensive, called, Operation Desert Storm, happened on January 17th of 1991, with the air bombing of Bagdad. In the night the hostilities started, there were in Bagdad two televisions with satellite telephone: CNN and BBC.

John Simpson, BBC special envoy, abandoned the hotel searching for images, faithful to traditional war coverage habits. When he came back, he come to see that his own station put on air CNN’s live report. The journalist didn’t understand how things had change, e that at the time live came to be essential.

The Gulf war saw to be born war live report, with the description of events done by three CNN journalists, from their rooms’ window, by satellite phone. The whole world watched, amazed, to the development of events, side by side with the leaders of the biggest world potencies. The rules of journalistic coverage changed and there was no turning back.

The first really post-modern war was the Gulf War, with the accelerated media globalization that was felt due to television.



Even though several journalists were in Bagdad in January of 1991, CNN was the only channel that had the technical means to transmit to the outside. Such advantage gave to the station the scoop of the first bombings to the Iraqi capital, allowing it to stand out regarding the three other major north-American TV stations (ABC, CBS and NBC).



 CNN earned a lot of popularity for the intense coverage it made of the conflict. By being the only channel at the time that transmitted news 24 hours a day, CNN had already the experience that allowed them to possess all the necessary equipment to follow the events in Bagdad.



Besides, when the north-American government warned the journalists about the bombing and that they couldn’t assure their safety, Bernie Shaw, John Holliman and Peter Arnett decided to remain in the capital. The Gulf War propelled to fame the north-American television station CNN.




The decision to remain in Bagdad, however, had negative repercussions. CNN was flooded with protests of furious viewers, accusing them of treason. The White House spokesman, Marlin Fitzwater, even claimed that the station had been transformed in a “channel of Iraqi disinformation”. Arnett was called “Bagdad Pete”, but CNN didn’t hesitate and kept the decision of covering the war from the Iraqi side.




After the USA’s first bombing, Paulo Camacho, Expresso’s special envoy, and Artur Queirós, from Jornal de Notícias, contradicted themselves in their chronicles about the first bombing made in Bagdad by the USA.

«Apparently, the Ministry of Defence hadn’t been hit. They hit an apartment building, ‘peanuts’ that are the responsibility of sophisticated devices that equip the combat aircrafts», reported Artur Queirós, in Jornal de Notícias, on January 19th, 1991.

«In the centre of the Iraqi capital, the only building that I saw hit were the Ministry of Defence and a chemical products factory», countered Paulo Camacho, in Expresso, on the same day.

However, Peter Arnett’s reports, from CNN, supported Paulo Camacho’s testimony. Also Alfonso Rojo, envoy from the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, equally claimed that the American airplanes «have an enviable aim», also referring the pilots’ «diabolic precision».

New technologies such as satellites, high-tech cameras and night vision equipment set the turning point for a new type of media coverage. It continued to show, however, a big dependency on the information and the images disclosed by military forces. The Pentagon disclosed a document with guidelines called “Annex Foxtrot”, where it established that only chosen journalists could visit the warfront or interview soldiers, always accompanied by officials.

Besides previous authorization, journalists had to be subject to censorship, protecting the disclosure of sensitive information. These guidelines had as base the military experience of the Vietnam War, in which the unfavourable public opinion grew in the United States.


War media coverage was censured and «clean» of deaths and blood. In contrast, technologically advanced images were published. The Gulf War was a simulacrum war. Viewers thought to be watching the war live, but they didn’t really see it, since journalists hadn’t access to the battlefield.




The Gulf War, in terms of image, was the simulacrum conflict. The videos of the cameras incorporated in the missiles and the live images of journalists with anti-gas masks gave to viewers the illusion that they saw the war when, in truth, journalists didn’t had direct access to the battlefield.

During the bombing of Al-Amiriya’s bunker, the images of the massacre captured by the western television teams present in Bagdad were lacking the most repulsive scenes, due to the preoccupation in protecting the public. Yet, the disclosure of images provoked outrage in England, resulting in thousands of viewers calling to televisions contesting the decision of showing the images. The Daily Maileven accused BBC of being the “Bagdad Broadcasting Corporation”.

Restrictions were also registered regarding the images’ graphic content. The photography of Ken Jarecke, a carbonized Iraqi soldier, was banished from the United States. But it was still showed in Europe.



Two weeks after the beginning of the war, Peter Arnett was able to interview Saddam Hussein.



The permanence of Peter Arnett in Bagdad came to gravely shaken war traditional conceptions. The report even defied, live, the declarations of American chief militaries. The most famous event was the bombing of Al-Amiriya’s bunker, which killed more than 300 Iraqi civilians.

In Washington, the military responsible had troubles in dealing with the collateral effects of Arnett’s stories. Colin Powell, chief of staff, revealed that CNN coverage over that specific event influenced the decision of going forward with land warfare and, that way, rush the end of the conflict. The Arnett factor was created. Politicians no longer could conduce a war in the same way due to the reporter’s influence in Bagdad.

According to Jamie Shea, NATO’s spokesperson, in Yugoslavia’s disintegration war, in the absence of restriction or imposition mechanisms, the solution went through a vigorous news management, in other words, an informative management that leads, subtly, journalists in the direction intended by the military machine.

The Arnett factor constituted itself as a blessing for the populations of countries under attack. Once civilians didn’t count in the military aftermath, results were disastrous: carnages that would never be news.


As retaliation, Iraq bombs Tel Aviv, in Israel. Saddam Hussein’s goals was to provoke a military response in Israel, forcing Arab countries to leave the alliance with the USA.



Duarte Valente, special envoy of Rádio Atlântico and Rádio Nova, was the only Portuguese correspondente in Tel Aviv. A few kilometres away, journalists of Público, Diário de Notícias, Expresso, TSFand RTP were in Jerusalem.

João Almeida, from TSF, went live: «I apologize for talking with a mask but it is only a safety matter. I hope you can hear (…) I have the mask on, as the rest of the people here in Jerusalem has the mask on, because it is confirmed, more than confirmed, that it is an attack. There were two missiles that had already hit Tel Aviv at the moments». Information came to prove wrong. Only a missile had hit Tel Aviv.

Errors multiplied. Manuel Neto, from Diário de Notícias, reported a news that also was far from truth: «What as feared, happened, in the first hours of today’s morning, warheads containing chemical weapons fell over Tel Aviv». But it wasn’t launched any chemical weapon. However, that was the news that was even disclosed during the night, being transmitted by CNN and reaching the White House through its own channels.

Israeli censorship kept from being disclosed the exact spot of impact. By registering in Israeli press centres, all journalists had to sign a document where they committed to submit their works for previous visioning by the Censorship Office of Israel Defence Forces.



On February 20th, the president George Bush launched an ultimatum: if Iraq didn’t retreat its forces from Kuwait in within three days, it would be launched a land warfare offensive. Mário Rui Carvalho, a CBS Portuguese cameraman, accompanied the military in this offensive.




The Portuguese correspondents received order to advance to Dahran, a city in the north of Saudi Arabia that the allies chose for their forces’ headquarters. In Dahran, American armed forces controlled journalists through pools: only some journalists were authorized to accompany the militaries, who chose the theme that would be covered and the corresponding day. Images would then be shared among all journalists.

Reporters were outraged and started to disguise as militaries to obtain images near the warfront. Among these journalists, called unilateral, where Artur Albarran, from RTP, and Adelino Gomes, from Público. The news that the land attack had started was disclosed in the radio, and Adelino Gomes wrote: «It is almost not enough to be quiet in the tent, as if the news wasn’t just the mere repetition of what was already known as exact science».

The alliance’s land offensive was finally able to enter Kuwait. The image of Artur Albarran, live, hidden at the country’s entrance, would become very famous in Portugal through RTP. «We are accompanying the column of multinational Arab forces and we’ve just entered Kuwait. We’ve now surpassed the famous sand barrier that Saudis have constructed over their border line with Kuwait. This train is the biggest military movement I ever saw in my life».

Meanwhile, Cáceres Monteiro, special envoy of O Jornal (publication managed only by journalists and a project assumedly supportive of the left-wing) and TSF, and Adelino Gomes, from Público, accompanied the Egyptian and Kuwaiti military column.


«We’ve passed by Iraqi tents, abandoned bunkers, and we see helmets, grenades, cans, parts of uniforms, of backpacks. Around us, it is deafening the sound of mines bursting and, in the desert’s surface line, thick smoke rolls rise» - Cáceres Monteiro.

«It is party, since the first minute, the long and slow march initiated 48 hours ago. Soldiers perch over the tanks’ tour, rise fingers in a sign of victory» - Adelino Gomes, Público.

The Portuguese reporters would meet Iraqi soldiers in their journey. On March 1st, 1991, O Jornal headlined about this encounter: «IRAQIS SURRENDER TO A REPORTER OF O JORNAL». Cáceres Monteiro added: «As we got closer we were able to see, between the water the mudd of the jeep’s windshield, a white cloth on the tip of a stick. Starving, tired of days of journey, of long hours of fear, he wanted to surrender». The journalist of O Jornal and of TSF quickly realized that the Iraqi Army «wasn’t more than a few disgraced that had been sent there as cannon fodder».


On February 27th, Saddam Hussein commanded the retreat of Iraqi troops from Kuwait, and the presidente of the USA declared liberated territory. «Children and old people and women in black ‘abaya’ run from the houses to the side of the road, with flags, shouts, drawing with the fingers the sign of victory», Adelino Gomes writes.



David Borges, TSF’s envoy, reported live to Lisbon: «I apologize for the emotion that may eventually my voice shows, and I also apologize in the eventuality of not being as clear as would like to, but I am in broad City of Kuwait, in an environment of perfect collective madness, in the party of the Kuwaitis over their liberation».


On February 27th, RTP’s emission was interrupted to give highlight president’s Bush communication, announcing the end of the war.



Artur Albarran goes live for Telejornal, on February 28th of 1991, in the second day of Kuwait’s liberation and the first since the war’s end: «The night fell in Kuwait City at noon, because the smoke of the oil wells that burn in Kuwait (…) covered the city right in the beginning of the afternoon, and since then that it is as night as it is now, absolutely dark, you can’t see ahead».

On March 1st, RTP and TSF teams were the only Portuguese media there. A live by Artur Albarran sided with a body coming out of a semi-opened door of a car, in a confrontation in Mutla, generated controversy. After totally cleaned images of blood and deaths, this one transmitted, for the first, the notion that this wasn’t a clean conflict. «The road from Kuwait to Basra is a desolation. It is a cemetery of tanks or armoured vehicles, or of cars attacked by air, like this, and corpses on the ground».

At the Mubarak hospital, TSF and RTP envoy descripted the horrors of spread corpses. However, the Portuguese reporters didn’t mentioned that the bodies didn’t exceeded the two dozens. Before the land attack, reports about the atrocities committed by the Iraqi troops in Kuwait proliferated.

The news that Iraqi soldiers took babies from incubators and took the machines to Iraq, leaving children to die, went worldwide. In fact, the most perturbing testimony was such story was of a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl, named Nayirah. Later, it came to be discovered that the girl was the daughter of the USA ambassador in Kuwait. The story had been fabricated by the public relations company Hill and Knowlton.