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The Mideast Scramble

(Getty Images/Gail Tibbon)
Paul J. Gough at the Hollywood Reporter has a nice roundup of how television networks are now "ratcheting up" their Middle East coverage. All of the broadcast networks have bureaus based in Israel, but NBC News is the only one with a Beirut bureau, set up just months ago. Getting to Beirut, with its damaged airport and logistical hurdles, is difficult, and getting there quickly presents its own challenges: ABC News correspondent David Wright and producer Nasser Atta, Gough notes, flew into Beirut on such short notice that they have little in the way of supplies.

As for CBS News, Lara Logan is on the Northern Israeli border, Richard Roth is in Haifa, and Elizabeth Palmer flew into Beirut last night. "60 Minutes" correspondent Bob Simon is also providing analysis from Tel Aviv. David Hawkins, who until recently was the Tel Aviv based correspondent, is no longer with the network, leaving its bureau there without a full time correspondent.

Palmer did not arrive in Beirut in time for her report to appear on last night's "Evening News," but the "Evening News" coverage did feature footage from the damaged city. News outlets generally take pride in having feet on the ground in situations like this; NBC News VP of worldwide news gathering David Verdi gave Gough a quote about how his network's Beirut bureau reflects its "full commitment to covering the Arab world." ABC News has announced it is sending a crew and correspondent to Damascus, a move that will surely prompt the other broadcast networks to think seriously about following suit.

But does a headlong rush into a war torn region always make sense? Is it important to have a physical presence in a dangerous place at a time when technology makes it easy to air compelling images from anywhere in the world? These kinds of questions have already come up in the context of the Iraq war, where journalists have been injured and killed in pursuit of stories. No one doubts the value of having brave reporters in war torn regions, but news outlets have to weigh the value in having a physical presence somewhere against the risk that comes with it. Fox News correspondent David Lee Miller has already experienced that risk first hand in the Middle East conflict; reporting live from Gaza down the road from Israeli tanks, he had to retreat into his armored car when shots were fired in his direction.

Last night's "Evening News" did a pretty good job of bringing us the story from Beirut despite the lack of a correspondent there. But it was important for the network to get someone there, despite the risk, former CBS News foreign editor (and now "48 Hours" senior coordinating producer) Allen Alter told me. "You can get pictures from anywhere in the world very quickly these days…but you want your own editorial presence to go with it," he said. "In a place like Beirut, you can get out of the hotel, talk to people on streets, and do some original reporting, which can differentiate you from the mass of pictures."