Last night, we ran a controversial piece produced by our Baghdad correspondent Michael Ware. The backstory is that through intermediaries Michael had been communicating with Ibrahim Al-Shimary, a shadowy leader and spokesman for the Islamic Army. Michael had sent him a series of questions concerning the insurgency in Iraq and its motives. He was surprised when he received two videotapes in response. We aired portions of both last night.
One had Al-Shimary himself on camera -- his face electronically concealed -- responding to Michael's questions. The second tape surprised us even more. It documented 10 incidents of insurgent snipers attacking U.S. military personnel. To be clear, insurgents shot the tape themselves. This group has released similar tapes in the past. Indeed, you can find them on the Internet. But this tape uniquely included audio from the sniper team as they selected targets, waited for their opportunities and then praised Allah as they made their escapes.
We are assuming they included the sniper tape to prove the authenticity of the Al-Shimary interview tape and to establish their credibility. Of course, we also understood that some might conclude there is a public relations benefit for the insurgents if we aired the material, especially on CNN International. We also understood that this kind of footage is upsetting and disturbing for many viewers. But after getting beyond the emotional debate, we concluded the tape meets our criteria for newsworthiness.
Moreover, with 73 U.S. military casualties so far this month, October is already the third highest month for U.S. deaths in Iraq since the war began. In fact, many of them are victims of sniper attacks.
You should know we dipped to black at the moment of actual impact of the rounds. A number of us felt airing that precise moment was simply too horrific. That decision, as well as the decision to build a piece around the sniper tape -- in fact, all the decisions about this story -- were subject to hours of intense editorial debate at the highest levels here at CNN.
You should also know we tried to put all of this in context. Our reporting included an interview with a current U.S. sniper in Iraq. He's been both under attack from insurgent snipers and he has himself operated as a sniper. We also heard from Major General William Caldwell, a coalition forces spokesman in Iraq, and CNN military analyst General David Grange, formerly with the Green Beret, Delta Force and Army Rangers.
Instantly, the piece received many strongly-worded responses from viewers.
Many viewers thought it inappropriate for us to air video of Americans being shot: "If I had a son or daughter over there serving, I would be outraged by what I feel is your aiding and comforting the enemy."
Some worried about kids who might have watched the program. (We clearly warned viewers the video was not appropriate for children before we aired it.)
Others praised us for showing the threats U.S. military personnel actually face: "Thanks for having the guts to show the sniper update and to show us the other side of the story. Please continue to give us the truth; I know the network is bound to be taking heat."
And still others thought by dipping to black and not showing the moment of impact of the sniper rounds we were sanitizing the horror of war: " ... I think the reason it took Americans so long to come around on this war is because they somehow did not think it was real because they never saw anyone hurt ... you guys need to show the unvarnished truth."
Whether or not you agree with us in this case, our goal, as always, is to present the unvarnished truth as best we can.