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Interview with Rick Davis, NBC Television News, 1991
(Interviewer and location not identified for this Internet transcript)
It is very difficult. Want you to look good.
Rick, what are your overall impressions and how long have you been here? What do you think of the way the information set up is functioning?
I have been here for five weeks now. This is a rather bizarre way of doing it. It seems to be a pre-war condition that we are covering by photo opportunity alone, because of the way the U.S. military has it set up. The surprising thing is that the Saudis seem to more flexible than the U.S. military. After spending some time in Saudi Arabia before, I was astounded by that. They are bending the rules a little bit.
And the U.S. Public Affairs Office?
Well, I object to the total control they are having over us, that we are only able to go out on these so-called media clusters, or occasionally go out on our on. It is difficult kind of thing to cover. As I got the scoop of one of our print journalist colleagues, it is the kind of coverage that leads to "jingo-whistic" news. He said there was a time for "jingo-ism". I said, particularly, those of us who have spent a great deal of time in the Middle East and have been in Iraq a great deal, must have another kind of access because we have to tell the American people what the American soldiers may be up against here. The only way to do that is to really get a feeling for what these men are prepared for, and I don't think we are getting that kind of feeling here.
Is it because the Public Affairs Office is trying to restrict or control coverage? What is going on?
I think they are certainly trying to control coverage. There are many people here who still object to the way US television media covered the Viet Nam War. Panama and Grenada were very carefully controlled. We were in a dispute upstairs a couple of days ago with one of our military leaders, who said that when he put on the uniform the First Amendment was no longer a vital thing to him. I reminded him that one of the things that he vowed was to protect was the American Constitution and that includes the First Amendment. He said that he was only "kidding", but I think that he was only half kidding.
(Because of passing traffic, Rick was asked to repeat his answer, which he did. It is deleted since his point was expressed pretty much the same.)
Do you think that is the U.S. Military's conscious policy to control journalists' access in the field and are they succeeding?
I don't think there is any question to the fact that they are trying to control our access to the troops in the field. Now you do find individuals within some of these units -- I won't mention the units -- who know that is going on and object to it themselves, and military guys who are willing to work with you and willing to let you know what's going on -- sometimes not "on the record" but "off the record". Some of these guys are trying real hard to let the truth get through. You can't knock the military totally.
Do you think that the Information Officers are trying to hide something or simply manipulate the kind of access so only certain types of coverage gets covered?
I don't think they are consciously trying to hide anything here. It is manipulation. They are trying to control what we have access to, so we only give the American people the view that perhaps the Pentagon wants to give the American people about what's going on.
Is there any difference between the way the officers in the field with the line units are reacting with the press and the way the "minders" or "press handlers" are?
I don't think there is any doubt -- the men, the officers in the field have been terrific. They give you very straight answers. They tell you what you ask.
(Rick stumbles on his words here, and after a paraphrasing of the question by the interviewing journalist, he repeats the early part of the answer and then continues.)
They are very frank about their worries. They are very frank about their strengths and sometimes about their weaknesses. There are a bunch of very good guys out there, officers and men.
Do you think in general that the American public is getting an accurate picture of what's going on here in Saudi Arabia, as far as the U.S. forces are concerned?
I think they are probably getting about a 75% accurate picture. I think there are enough correspondents here who have done this a long time who have developed their detectors and can work their way through the system. It's like working twice as hard to get half as much.
Is there a danger that the wrong picture gets sent back to the States? What's crucially important as America prepares to go to war?
What's crucially important is for those of us who have covered the Middle East for some time and have been in and out Iraq to look at the American military, to talk to the American military, and to try to analyze the strengths and weaknesses because you know the strengths and weaknesses of the Iraqi Army. If we fail to do that then we are not doing our job. And that would be a tragic situation for all of us.
Someone said that if the line units are a poorly prepared as the public affairs officers in taking us on trips, we are in big trouble if it comes to war.
(Rick smiles) Well, I think that depends. The Public Affairs Officers probably think the control is exactly what they are ordered to do by those upstairs. So they are following Pentagon orders. Let us hope that the Pentagon orders to the men in the field make a little more sense.
Have you had any interesting trips to the field, some that didn't go as well as was promised?
No. I haven't had any major problems. I have not been on a "trip to hell" that some people have had here. So, it has not been a major problem. When I have gone out with units such a 101st Airborne, I have found that they have been extremely cooperative once you get to the field and have been very frank and given you a good "show". Perhaps, too good of a "show". It is one of the problems that we are having here.
There was a trip yesterday to look as the Apaches and that was very, very well rehearsed. Just for a photo-op. Has this become just a photo-op for the most part?
I think that is exactly what we are involved in -- a photo-op. Until you can get out in the field and talk to the officers and men, then they are quite frank with you. But what is being offered to us are photo opportunities. You have to work your way under that and sometimes that is a real grind to get under.
Very good Rick. Do you have anything to add?
Not a thing.
Very nice. That was excellent.
Collection developer Eddie Foote's information on Rick Davis: In 1991, he had been a correspondent for NBC News for 15 years. He was first assigned NBC News Middle Eastern Correspondent in 1982 and stationed in London. Later he reported from Beirut and Jordan. He covered the Beirut developments which gained the release of the American hostages taken from hijacked TWA Flight #847. While not in Viet Nam for NBC, he reported the war for KNXT, CBS Television in Los Angeles, during several brief tours.
Transcriber's comments. This interview was transcribed "on the fly". While every attempt has been made to capture the words exactly, no representations of accuracy are being made.
Reviewed . Revised . Refreshed 15 November 2008 Our 13th Anniversary