NBC Correspondent Ashleigh Banfield Lashes Out at Own Network

By Andrew Grossman -- Apr 28, 2:32 am ET

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - NBC News correspondent Ashleigh Banfield has ripped television news networks, including her own, for their "glorious" coverage of the Iraqi war and a lack of focus on international news overall.

In a speech Thursday at Kansas State University, she also attacked NBC News for hiring right-wing radio talk-show host Michael Savage to do a show on MSNBC. Savage recently called Banfield a "slut" after her reports portraying the radical Arab point of view.

Banfield, who won her first notoriety for her coverage from the World Trade Center on 9/11, might be in some trouble for her comments. In a statement issued on Friday, NBC News said, "Ms. Banfield does not speak for NBC News. We are deeply disappointed and troubled by her remarks, and will review her comments with her. In the meantime, we want to emphasize how proud we are of the journalism produced by NBC News and of the men and women who worked around the clock, even risking their lives, to bring this story to the American public."

War coverage is an especially sensitive subject inside NBC News, whose embedded reporter David Bloom died in Iraq.

Her comments, coincidentally, came on the same day that Greg Dyke, director general of the BBC, ripped American radio and TV networks for their "shocking," and "gung-ho" coverage of the Iraqi war, according to British newspaper reports.

Banfield, who hosted an unsuccessful talk show on MSNBC last year and is now reporting for both MSNBC and NBC News, criticized the networks for showing a bloodless war that gave a skewed picture which glossed over the horrors of battle. She did not report from Iraq during the war, but has been stationed overseas in the past.

"It was a glorious and wonderful picture that had a lot of people watching and a lot of advertisers excited about cable news," she said at the college's annual Landon Lecture in Manhattan. "But it wasn't journalism because I'm not so sure we in America are hesitant to do this again, to fight another war ... because it looked like a glorious and courageous and so successfully terrific endeavor."

What was wrong with the coverage?

"You did not see where those bullets landed. You didn't see what happened when the mortars landed. A puff of smoke is not what a mortar looks like when it explodes, believe me," Banfield said.

She ripped NBC for putting Savage on the air saying, "He was so taken aback by my daring to speak to martyrs ... for being prepared to sacrifice themselves, he chose to label me a slut on the air, and that's not all, as a porn star and an accessory to the murder of Jewish children. These are the ramifications for simply bringing the message in the Arab world."

Banfield said it was vital to present the Arabs' viewpoint because of a lack of understanding among them and Americans in what has driven them to such violence.

She blamed the networks for failing to air enough international news except after 9/11 and during wars and pointed to the lack of stories emanating from Afghanistan these days as an example of the networks' lack of focus overseas.

She said NBC was preparing to close its Kabul bureau, a statement that NBC News denied.

"If we had paid more attention to Afghanistan in the '80s, we might not have had 9/11," she said.

In the past week, she noted, cable networks with an eye on their declining ratings since the war has wound down have devoted extensive coverage to the Laci Peterson murder case and less to the chaotic situation in Iraq.

But Banfield also exonerated the networks to some degree by blaming viewers for being more interested in titillating crime stories than vital international news.

"It's critical to our security that you be interested in this," Banfield urged the audience. "Because when you are interested, I can respond. If I put this on the air right now, you'll turn it off and we'll lose our numbers as we're finding out now."

Banfield also criticized Fox News Channel for merging entertainment value with news, saying the network has risen to the top by targeting conservative viewers. "Fox has taken so many viewers away from CNN and MSNBC because of their agenda and because of their target marketing of cable news viewers. I'm afraid there's not a really big place in cable for news," she said.

She added that networks like MSNBC have tried to compete by aping Fox's format. "You can see the big hires on other networks, right- wing hires to try and chase after this effect," she added.

Fox declined to comment on Banfield's comments.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter