Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Hemmer praises first-hand war reports



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Bill Hemmer has been as fascinated as you - and the rest of the world - live TV war reports from the front lines.

"The star of this conflict has been these reporters embedded with their (military) units," said Hemmer, the Cincinnati native anchoring CNN's war coverage 5 a.m.-noon from Kuwait.

"They are getting first-hand information before Centcom or the Pentagon. Never before have we been able to watch live combat on a battlefield with reporters handling the narration," said Hemmer, 38, a 1983 Elder High School graduate.

Hemmer was skeptical about the Pentagon allowing "embedded" reporters to accompany Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force units, a reversal of the ban on battlefield access during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the Afghanistan war.

But Hemmer, who anchored from Afghanistan last year, instantly became a believer after seeing reports by Walter Rodgers, Martin Savidge and Jason Bellini.

"In the history of television, we've never seen anything like this - to see Walter Rodgers live at the front line," Hemmer told viewers Friday morning. Live TV reports "have been the greatest single source of information, giving us an up-front and very personal account of what is happening."

Embedded reporters have provided accounts 24 to 36 hours before details were officially released by Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. Central Command. At his Qatar briefing Monday, Franks said they have given the world "a sense of what's going on on the battlefield. I'm a fan of it. I think this was a very good thing to do."

Hemmer, who quit WCPO-TV (Channel 9) in 1995 for CNN, has been impressive as the network's morning man in Kuwait, interviewing an army of correspondents in Iraq and the region. He has asked insightful questions, demonstrating his command of the geography, politics, military hardware and battle tactics.

"He likes that kind of stuff. I could never be in that field," says his father, Bill Hemmer of Delhi Township, a former Serta Mattress Co. vice president.

Bill Sr. and wife Georgeann have watched their son on TV with mixed feelings. They worry for his safety, while feeling guilty that they - unlike the parents of U.S. soldiers in combat - can see their son daily. He also calls home every afternoon, after completing his CNN shift.

"He assures us he's not in harm's way, but it's been frightful" Bill Sr. said. "I can't imagine being a parent of a soldier. I feel so sorry for them. My heart goes out to them."

Soldiers' parents saw the first glimpse of war horrors Sunday, when the networks aired Iraqi video of prisoners of war and dead U.S. soldiers.

"This could turn nasty, and we must be prepared as journalists and as viewers for that strong possibility," Hemmer said from Kuwait. "When this war gets closer to Baghdad on the ground - Hang on! - because the images have the potential to get ugly."

If the Allies take Baghdad, the Hemmers worry that their son could soon follow. They'd rather have him back home in time for the wedding of his sister, Ann, on April 11. Breaking news has prevented him from being here for Thanksgiving (Florida recount) and Christmas (Afghanistan).

"I made him promise that he'd get back for that, since he always seems to miss things," Bill Sr. said. "We hope he's back by then - safe and sound."

TV today: The Discover Civilization Channel becomes the Discovery Times Channel, a partnership with the New York Times, with Al-Qaida 2.0 (8 p.m., Time Warner digital Channel 139).

Talk shows: Today's guests from TV Data:

Regis and Kelly (9 a.m., Channel 9): Sean "P. Diddy" Combs.

The View (11 a.m., Channel 9): Booke Shields, Jeff Foxworthy.

Caroline Rhea (3 p.m., Channel 19): Ana Gasteyer.

E-mail jkiesewetter@enquirer.com




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