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Capturing the News

Three Decades of Reporting Crisis and Conflict

Anthony Collings

Publication Year: 2010

 Anthony Collings found himself in his share of difficult situations in his thirty-four years as a newsman. Like being captured by AK-47–toting Syrians in Lebanon in 1981 while looking for missiles that threatened a new outbreak of hostilities with Israel, or being “detained” by the KGB in Moscow in 1967 during his first foreign posting for the Associated Press filing stories about Soviet dissidents.

Name a hot spot, and Collings has likely been there. From AP correspondent to Newsweek bureau chief to CNN reporter, he covered the Middle East, Rome, Moscow, London, Paris, and Washington. Now he has gathered stories about his work in a book that is both a journalist’s memoir and a commentary on the current ethical crises in the news media and how to address them. 


Brimming with entertaining stories about journalism, especially the chaotic early years at CNN when he and his colleagues established the first major cable news network, Collings’s book reveals the dangers and pressures of covering the news and the difficulties of overcoming obstacles to the truth. He recalls smuggling tapes out of Poland after the Communists had imposed martial law; flying dangerously near Libya’s “Line of Death”; interviewing world figures from Brezhnev to Kaddafi and Arafat; and winning awards for covering Iran-Contra and the Oklahoma City bombing. Collings brings fresh insights to the Oliver North affair and examines how the press was suckered in its coverage of the Jessica Lynch prisoner-of-war story in 2003. He voices his concerns regarding oversimplified reporting of complex issues and poses provocative questions about covering terrorism.


In this book, Collings presents an insider’s appraisal of the American news media’s failings and accomplishments. Easy to read, informative, and thoughtful, Capturing the News will enlighten general readers interested in how journalists cover current affairs, while offering newsmen food for thought about the craft and ethics of journalism.


Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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Prologue. Beirut 1981

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pp. 1-8

On a clear spring morning we drove east from Beirut up into the Lebanon Mountains to a pass leading to the Bekaa Valley, and one of our few protections against danger was the word sahafiya. It meant “press” in Arabic. I had been told to say the magic word sahafiya if we got into trouble. The word was sup-posed to give you safe passage but it didn’t always work. Other journalists had ...

Part I: Overseas

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Chapter One: No Building Collapsed

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pp. 11-25

Peaceful empty white snowfields shone brilliant and beautiful in the morning sun, seen from the train speeding toward Moscow from Brest, yet super-imposed on the quiet empty fields were the explosions of tank fire and the shouts of Red Army soldiers fighting Nazi German invaders. There were no tanks on the snowfields spread out before us. There were no Red Army sol-...

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Chapter Two: Christmas Presents

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pp. 26-39

Our flight from Rome was the last plane to arrive in the snow-covered Polish capital of Warsaw that cold and dark Saturday evening. In fact, although we didn’t know it at the time, our flight was the last regularly scheduled flight allowed into the country for weeks. Purely by chance, we would soon be cut off from the outside world and plunged into the middle of a world event....

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Chapter Three: The Pope Has VD

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pp. 40-48

The phone rang in our Rome bureau. I recognized the musical voice of a producer in Atlanta. This producer was famous for odd story assignments, so I braced for this one.
“Is that Tony?”...

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Chapter Four: Line of Death

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pp. 49-62

They called it the Line of Death.
It was an imaginary line drawn on the map by Colonel Muammar el- Qaddafi, the Libyan leader. The line went across the mouth of the 150,000- square-mile Gulf of Sidra, a huge indentation in the coastline of Libya. Although the area south of the line was clearly in international air and sea space, Qaddafi...

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Chapter Five: Welcome to Tripoli

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pp. 63-70

The plane descended to a desolate runway at Tripoli International Airport in Libya on a dark evening, the view out the airplane window bleak, mostly flat land, and here and there a dim light. It was 1985, a dangerous year, a time of wave after wave of terrorist attacks, with Americans abroad increasingly concerned...

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Chapter Six: Call the Palace

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pp. 71-83

We were stuck in the middle of the desert, on the border between Jordan and Iraq, unable to move forward and unable to move back. We sat on a bench in a remote, forlorn building, looking at the fly specks on the dusty windows, and the one person who could get us out of there was asleep on a cot in his office. Israel had bombed a nuclear reactor in Baghdad the day before. It was the top ...

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Chapter Seven: You Said That Yesterday

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pp. 84-93

The man who shot the Pope stood in a cage in the courtroom. He was a bewildered-looking young Turk named Mehmet Ali Agca, thin and wiry with short black hair. He had already been convicted of attempted murder, after his 1981 assault with a pistol in St. Peter’s Square. Now, in a separate trial in 1985, he was on hand as a witness against three Bulgarians accused of conspiracy in ...

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Chapter Eight: Two Endings

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pp. 94-100

Clark Todd was a tall, cheery, gray-haired Canadian in his thirties who worked as a radio and television correspondent for NBC and CTV, the Canadian television network. His room was next to mine in a hotel in Belgrade, and that is how I met him in January 1980. We were there to cover the medical treatment of Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito for a blood clot in his left leg, a major story at ...

Part II: Washington

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Chapter Nine: Face Down in the Mud

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pp. 103-112

Oliver North, jaw jutting, eyes glinting under dark brows, chest puffed out, medals on display, sat there ramrod straight in his Marine uniform. In many respects it should have been a solemn occasion, the televised testimony by this lieutenant colonel at a hearing in the Senate Caucus Room, a serious investigation into suspicions of lawbreaking, deceit, and diversion of funds by officials ...

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Chapter Ten: All the Earmarks

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pp. 113-121

One spring day I was sitting in the courtroom of the Supreme Court, listening to arguments in a case about racial patterns of voting in Louisiana, when I noticed that, one by one, all of my colleagues were being pulled out of the room. Someone would enter from the rear left of the room, make his or her way to the press section at the front left, tap a journalist on the shoulder ...

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Chapter Eleven: Scoop

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pp. 122-134

In addition to the misery that reporters experience when getting a story wrong, one of the worst feelings is to be on the receiving end of a “rocket”—a complaint by your editor or producer that you’ve been beaten by the competition. Many journalists get these rockets, especially in Washington, where the competition for scoops is intense and where the government often favors ...

Part III: What’s Wrong

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Chapter Twelve: Dead Baby

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pp. 137-145

I made my way in the bitter November cold to the village of Muradiye, where bodies of the dead lay on the ground covered with straw. The chubby hand of what looked like a doll stuck out of one pile of hay. The baby’s hand was blue-After interviewing survivors of the earthquake in this eastern Turkish village in 1976, and talking to rescue workers in several towns and villages, I returned to ...

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Chapter Thirteen: Down, Down

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pp. 146-158

“As he whistled southeastward out of Oakland, Calif. in his T-33 jet one day last May, Air Force Lieut. David Steeves, like any pilot, could survey the earth beneath him . . .”
So begins a stirring account in Time magazine in July 1957. It told the story of what sounded like an amazing adventure that was experienced by an Air Force pilot. ...

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Chapter Fourteen: Firewall

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pp. 159-165

As part of their culture, journalists respect what they call “the firewall”—an inviolable separation between the business side and the editorial side of a news organization. Reporters are not supposed to tell the circulation and advertising managers how to do their work, and the people who sell the papers, market the cable distribution, sell the advertising, or handle other business matters are not ...

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Chapter Fifteen: Only Time Will Tell

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pp. 166-172

Almost every summer ominous reports emerge from Texas telling of a swarm of deadly insects heading north. These creatures are portrayed as marauders who invade peaceful towns in the Lone Star State looking for helpless women, children, and old people to slaughter before moving on to other conquests farther north, the murderous insects spreading an ever-expanding swath of death ...

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pp. 173-174

After thirty-four years as a journalist I decided to fulfill a longtime desire to teach and to have enough time to reflect. (There was never time when I was under deadline pressure to do anything but concentrate on the current story and plan the next one.) I accepted an offer of a teaching position at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1997 and have been here ever since, first as a ...


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pp. 175-180


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pp. 181-187

Back Cover

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p. BC-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272119
E-ISBN-10: 0826272118
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826218810
Print-ISBN-10: 0826218814

Page Count: 200
Illustrations: 10 illus
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1