- The fraudulent story of Iraqi soldiers throwing Kuwaiti
babies out of incubators during the occupation of Kuwait in 1990 is depicted
as if it were true in "Live from Baghdad," the HBO film premiering
on the cable network this Saturday that purports to tell the story behind
CNN’s coverage of the Gulf War. HBO and CNN are both owned by
the AOL Time Warner media conglomerate.
- In the months before the Gulf War began, media uncritically
repeated the claim that Iraqi soldiers were removing Kuwaiti babies from
- The story was launched by the testimony of a 15-year-old
Kuwaiti girl before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in October 1990.
Eventually, as repeated in the media by the first President Bush and countless
others, it blossomed into a tale involving over 300 Kuwaiti babies.
- What was not reported at the time was the fact that the
public relations company Hill & Knowlton was partly behind the effort,
and the girl who testified was actually the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador
to Washington. Subsequent investigations, including one by Amnesty International,
found no evidence for the claims (ABC World News Tonight, 3/15/91).
- In the film, the story is turned upside down, portrayed
as a deft public relations move by the Iraqi government, who grant CNN
access to Kuwait in a calculated attempt to discredit the rumors that their
soldiers were pulling babies from incubators. CNN reporters are ushered
to a hospital in Kuwait, where a doctor, under obvious pressure from Iraqi
soldiers, tells the reporters that no babies had been pulled from the incubators.
- The CNN team does not believe the obviously nervous doctor
is telling the truth, and the Iraqi officials pick up on this, promptly
cutting the interview short. The scene ends with the doctor being led away
by Iraqi officials. Moments later, the CNN crew listens to a BBC report
on the radio that suggests that CNN had debunked the story of Iraqi soldiers
killing Kuwaiti babies, and CNN’s reporters are upset that they've
been used by the Iraqi officials.
- The key exchange happens as follows:
- CNN correspondent: You are aware of the allegations,
- Doctor: I have heard these stories.
- CNN producer Ingrid Formanek (whisper): This sucks. He's
- CNN producer Robert Wiener (whisper): Yeah, this is bad.
- Doctor: I can tell you, nothing has happened at this
hospital... that I know.
- Correspondent: But at other hospitals?
- Doctor: I cannot tell about other hospitals.
- Iraqi handler: Finish! Finish! We go now!
- Formanek: To the other hospitals?
- Handler: No, back to Baghdad!
- Wiener: Hey, hey, that was part of the deal!
- Handler: That is story.
- The clear implication is that the CNN reporters were
used by the Iraqi government to make a true story of atrocities seem false.
A review of the movie in the Indianapolis Star (12/1/02) arrived at that
very conclusion, noting that CNN "played into the Iraqis' hands on
a couple of occasions, including an ill-fated trip to Kuwait where the
Iraqis used the CNN crew to counter reports that their soldiers had been
removing Kuwaiti babies from hospital incubators and leaving them on the
floor to die."
- "Live from Baghdad" is a dramatization, not
a documentary, but it is being presented by HBO as a "behind-the-scenes
true story" of the Gulf War and is being released at a crucial political
moment. HBO's version of history never makes clear that the incubator story
was fraudulent, and in fact had been managed by an American PR firm, not
Iraq. Curiously, however, the truth seems to have been clear to Robert
Wiener, the former CNN producer who co-wrote "Live from Baghdad."
As he explained to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer (11/21/02), "that
story turned out to be false because those accusations were made by the
daughter of the Kuwaiti minister of information and were never proven."
- Unfortunately, HBO viewers won't know that when they
see the film.
- Let HBO know you are concerned about the distortion of
history in their movie "Live From Baghdad." With another war
with Iraq looming, HBO could better serve viewers by debunking wartime
propaganda, instead of re-airing it.
- As always, please remember that your comments are taken
more seriously if you maintain a polite tone. Please cc firstname.lastname@example.org with
- To learn more about Hill & Knowlton's role in the
first Gulf War, read PR Watch's "How PR Sold the War in the Persian
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