Wednesday, April 28, 2010
We won't be seeing any more of Michael on CNN...
In addition to having taken a break recently in order to work on his book, it is no secret that he has been grappling with PTSD, brought on from the hellish years he worked in Baghdad. I was told that, unfortunately, when he needed more time off in order to deal with things, his request was denied. So he will not be returning.
While it is a huge loss for us (and for CNN) I am extremely relieved that he chose to take care of his own needs first. And while I sincerely hope that he will return to US television someday on another network, it is far more important that he gets the care he needs.
His work for CNN over the past four years has been an astonishing and brutally honest look at the causes and results of war. Not easy subject matter to watch… but he made us care. His urgency and passion burst through our television sets and made us pay attention, made us want to understand.
Personally, I will never forget the first time I heard him, speaking with Anderson Cooper via telephone to discuss Saddam Hussein’s trial as well as an article he had just written about an embed he had been on in Ramadi. It wasn’t even five minutes of airtime, but it was riveting. When it was announced that he would be joining CNN, I was delighted, because it meant we would be getting even more insight from him. And that we did — he worked like a stevedore, appearing on CNN at all hours of the day and night to make sure that we knew what was really going on in Iraq. As a viewer, you could tell that it mattered to him that the American people understood the issues in this far-away war of ours. He didn’t give a damn about the politics; he cared about what the grunts were going through and what the innocent Iraqi citizens (whose blood, he had to keep reminding us, is no less valuable than ours) were suffering.
His work was always insightful and informative, and on the too-rare occasions when he was able to do longer-format programs for them, it was like being in a classroom. He knew the material cold and presented it in a way that made it easy to comprehend. He is far from the average buffed-and-polished pretty boy posing for the camera. He’s real. He’s a guy — sorry; a bloke — you’d want to sit down and have a beer with, to ask how he’s doing and how he copes with all the craziness he reports on. And want to ask more about what he knows, what he’s seen, what he’s witnessed … no matter how unpleasant the answers would be to hear.
And exactly how does a news organization justify (to themselves, even!) not giving their war correspondents whatever they need in order to deal with their wounds, whether they are visible ones or not? If ABC had treated Bob Woodruff so callously, there would have been hell to pay. I don’t doubt they wanted him back in the field ASAP — doubly so after losing Christiane Amanpour — but don’t force him to make a choice between getting better and getting paid. That just sucks. Surely it would be better to have him off the air but still yours once he is ready to come back than to have him off the air and someone else’s upon his return? So not only has CNN made a callous move here, they have made a stupid one, as well.
What a tremendous asset he has been to CNN. And how foolish they are to lose him. Especially when the ratings are plummeting and the number of columns about how quickly they are losing stature are multiplying. Although, truly, ratings should not enter into these decisions, and none of us really expect corporations to display a modicum of decency or fairness anymore… Still.
When I first heard the news, I was angry at their foolishness. Now, I’m just sad. They blew it. Their loss will be another network’s gain.
I will, of course, continue to keep track of whatever work he does -- his book or other writings, or if he makes appearances here or in Australia.
When I started my site, he was working for Time magazine. I was delighted when he transitioned to CNN, knowing that it meant we would get more of his remarkable work. And now there will be a new chapter in his career to look forward to ... but only after this brief intermission.
Thanks, Mick ... be well.