On the evening of Sunday, May 28, just hours before she climbed into a Humvee with her cameraman, her sound technician and members of the Fourth Infantry Division’s Fourth Brigade Combat Team, CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier sent her senior producer a “Memorial Day pitch.”
It was, she wrote in an e-mail, the story of a military medevac crewman injured after three weeks into Iraq, who had returned to active duty as soon as he got medical clearance—“A kind of ‘fighting on in memory of those who have fallen’ piece.” She signed the e-mail “Kd.”
That night, Ms. Dozier, 39, was in the hands of a medical crew herself, being rushed to a Baghdad military hospital with shrapnel in her head and severe leg wounds from a car-bomb attack. Two members of her CBS crew—cameraman Paul Douglas, 48, and soundman James Brolan, 42—were dead, as were a soldier and an Army translator. At one point, according to CBS, Ms. Dozier lost a pulse.
Ms. Dozier had been the network’s only on-camera correspondent in Iraq. CBS immediately sent reporter Elizabeth Palmer and a replacement crew to Baghdad, according to Rome Hartman, executive producer of the CBS Evening News. Another reporter, Sheila MacVicar, was dispatched to Germany to report on Ms. Dozier’s condition.
The deaths of Mr. Douglas and Mr. Brolan made Iraq officially the deadliest modern war for reporters—deadlier even than World War II, when correspondents were side-by-side with troops in full-scale infantry battles, under aerial bombardment.
The May 28 bombing involved a different sort of danger: an attack without warning, in the relatively quiet Baghdad neighborhood of Karada, not far from the Green Zone. This is the way the war is being waged in Iraq. On-the-ground coverage is perilous. The stories do nothing for the ratings—if they even make it to air, which Ms. Dozier’s segment wasn’t guaranteed to do. Is this worth it?
“If this doesn’t give you pause or cause you to re-examine and think through the way you do things, then that would be wrong,” Mr. Hartman said. “This is a very, very hard story to cover, and it’s also a very hard war for our soldiers to fight. It’s just a brutal, ugly situation.
“But it’s also a story that we have to cover, and we have to try to find a way to cover it, and at the same time do everything humanly possible to protect our people and keep them safe. Those two things are hard to balance.”
In its rough outlines, the bombing closely tracked the one four months earlier, to the day, that wounded then–ABC anchor Bob Woodruff and his cameraman, Doug Vogt. Another network news crew had gone out on a routine assignment with an infantry division and had stepped out of their protective vehicle to film a segment. The crew wore flak jackets and protective goggles, to little or no avail. After multiple emergency surgeries to remove shrapnel, another prominent on-air talent was in critical condition, but “responsive,” at the Landestuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Encouraging early reports had Ms. Dozier wiggling her toes en route, just as Mr. Woodruff had reportedly done. Doctors were cautiously optimistic, again.
“I think we may have to rethink, on some level, our embed policy, because the common denominator in both of these attacks is that they happened with embeds,” said ABC war correspondent Dan Harris, who worked with Mr. Brolan during a recent tour in Iraq.
“Not only is the appetite at such a low level, but also the restrictions are ratcheted up all the time,” Mr. Harris said, referring to his network’s increasingly strict limits on when a news crew can leave the compound. “At the same time, this is still a really important story, and so it is incumbent upon us as journalists to find ways of making people care.”
Ms. Dozier, a Hawaii-born Wellesley grad, had been in Iraq for the better part of the last three years. She worked for WCBS in Israel and has been the London bureau chief and the chief European correspondent for CBS Radio News. She met her current boyfriend, a New Zealand–born security consultant, while on duty in Iraq. After a short trip to New York this month, she returned to the war zone with Mr. Douglas last week.
“She’s very tenacious and always looking for the story,” said Chris Albert, a CBS cameraman who worked 15-hour days with Ms. Dozier covering shootouts in the West Bank. “It gets to the point where sometimes you have to say to her, ‘Kimberly you need to rest now,’ ‘Kimberly, you need to eat now,’ ‘Kimberly, you need to stop now.’”
Ms. Dozier was always the one running after bullets, Mr. Albert said. “She lives for her job.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Dozier was alert and recovering in Germany, said Mr. Hartman, describing her condition the same way ABC executives have discussed Mr. Woodruff’s: “She’s got a long, long road ahead.”
Paul Douglas, the cameraman, was a father of two, “a tall, strapping Brit of African heritage, a great bear of a man with a smile as wide as the Thames,” wrote Dan Rather in a statement. Douglas traveled with Mr. Rather through Sarajevo. A veteran war reporter, he once rolled on top of Mr. Rather as the two dodged an incoming shell on the outskirts of the city.
“He was physically huge, black, shaven-headed and had a booming voice that could silence a room with a syllable,” wrote CBS correspondent Allen Pizzey in a statement, “a combination that by its mere description would seem to be intimidating in the extreme, unless you knew his smile.”
James Brolan, the soundman, was a father of two, a comparatively slight presence but an outsized personality. Brolan spent much of his career with ABC, where he was embedded with Mr. Woodruff during the start of the war in 2003.
“He had this sort of standard bag of performance tricks that he would unload in the strangest places,” said Jim Sciutto, an ABC correspondent who worked with Brolan in several war zones. “He would always have a crowd around him. There was the missing-thumb trick, the fake high-five and this gorilla walk that he would do—he would assume this bowlegged form, walk down the street in front of the kids.”
Mr. Harris also remembered the ape walk, as well as Brolan’s affinity for practical jokes. Before the war began, he said, Brolan liked to steal his Iraqi driver’s car when they stopped for cigarettes and try to trick the man into saying mean things about Saddam Hussein. “It doesn’t feel real,” he said, “but to the extent I’ve been able to focus on the details of what happened, to have somebody who was such a source of personal and professional pleasure get killed in a massively gruesome way is just really depressing.”
The same night Ms. Dozier sent the story memo to her editor, she e-mailed Mr. Albert a list of ideas for stories they would do when he returned to Baghdad in July. They were going to “hang out with a search-and-rescue unit,” among other things. Mr. Albert said he still plans to go, even though she won’t be there—and even if her injuries give him pause.
“I mean, this was in the middle of Baghdad,” Mr. Albert said. “It was a couple-hour shoot, just get some shots of the boys for Memorial Day. It’s not like they were going on a combat mission.”
Producer Cathy Chermol left Good Morning America two years ago, but she still has influence in the newsroom.
“The staff at GMA tells me a lot of times that they’ll be sitting at a table and someone will pitch an idea,” said Ms. Chermol, who now works in syndicated programming, “and someone else will say, ‘That’s such a Chermol story.’ Somehow I know it’s not a story about the federal deficit burgeoning out of control. It’s a beautiful blonde who’s threatening to kill her husband and blah blah blah.”
Husband-killing blondes were Ms. Chermol’s specialty—along with child-rearing service pieces, missing-white-woman stories and whatever other segments could be seen as reaching female viewers.
Executives and senior-level producers from all three old-line networks say that the news operations are hungry for stories that play to women—and for the women who can produce them.
That’s because, paternal anchormen aside, news is women’s programming. The female audience for the morning news shows is twice the size of the male audience. Nielsen Media Research figures for this season show the two-to-one ratio across the board: CBS draws 1.8 million women to 900,000 men; ABC, 3.3 million women to 1.6 million men; NBC, 3.8 million women to 1.9 million men.
In the evenings, the gap is smaller but still dramatic: The female evening-news audience across those three networks is 14.4 million, the male audience 10 million.
“You have to be aware of the female nuance as you’re doing a show,” said Alexandra Wallace, a senior vice president of NBC News. “You have to be aware of how your audience views the show and views the story. Maybe it’s just not ignoring that much of your audience—most of your audience—is female. I guess it sounds old-fashioned, but I don’t think it is in practice.”
Ms. Wallace is part of a group of female producers who have risen through the ranks of network news in recent years.
All three of Good Morning America’s senior-level recruits in the last six months have been women, two of them replacing men, according to network sources. Last year, NBC brought in Amy Rosenblum, a former producer for Maury Povich and a veteran of women’s chat shows, to generate female-friendly feature-segment ideas, according to NBC sources. CBS, meanwhile, is overrun.
“I’m looking for males to counter the female population,” said Susan Zirinsky, the executive producer of CBS’s 48 Hours. “Men are becoming a minority in the world of production. I don’t even know how this evolution has occurred, but the number of talented women now in the field is enormous.”
Leading the networks in the quest for double X chromosomes, NBC recently spent $600 million to purchase iVillage, an online women’s community that has 15 million unique visitors a month. The sale closed on May 15, the same day as the network’s upfront presentation at Radio City Music Hall. Calling this a “major announcement,” NBC-Universal president Jeff Zucker told an auditorium full of advertising executives that these users fell squarely in his network’s audience—the Today show’s in particular. (Already the alliance has proven fruitful: The news broadcast and the Web site are collaborating on a series of popular dad makeovers in the run-up to Father’s Day.)
Not to be outdone, ABC and CBS have hastened to develop female-friendly morning segments, shipping viewers off to the set of Desperate Housewives or reporting at every opportunity on the latest in breast-cancer treatment or wedding planning. Even a story about gas prices can be done for women, Ms. Wallace said.
“I think the Today show has done a great job of programming the gas story so it’s interesting to both genders, not just men,” she said. “If you did the pure business aspect, that would be more male-oriented. But if you do how this is affecting not just women but parents—how this is affecting commutes, how it affects your everyday life versus how it maybe affects Wall Street—that’s how you make it appeal to women. It’s a slight personalization of the news versus a pure hard-fact way of looking at it.”
Good Morning America has run a series on gas prices called “Pain at the Pump,” covering the more mundane elements of the story, and a few more personal reports from correspondents. In one such segment, on May 18, correspondent David Muir explained how gas prices would raise the cost of his family’s summer vacation in Cape Cod. “The little nieces and nephew loved the Chatham candy store, but we learned that it’s not just the candy that will cost more,” he told viewers.
Is news of the high cost of fuel really improved by putting candy sprinkles on it? “I don’t think there is a female way of doing the gas-price story,” said Lyne Pitts, the executive producer of Weekend Today. Weekend Today, which has recently featured stories on finding the perfect pair of white pants and treating mom to a “tried-and-true chicken dish,” has indeed played the gas story straight and gender-neutral.
But most programmers are intent on making things woman-friendly—and the networks tend to subscribe to the theory that the best programmers for women are their fellow women. And are women better at knowing how to reach female viewers?
Yes, many said—although “I know many men who have incredibly evolved feminine sides who are great producers for women,” said Ms. Chermol.
“We breed metrosexuals in this industry,” said Ms. Zirinsky.
“An executive once said to me interviewing for a job, ‘You know why we like you? You know how to bring an audience in,’” said Tammy Haddad, the executive producer of Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC—where four of the five prime-time executive producers are women. Ms. Haddad is one of a group of hotly sought-after female producers seen to be capable of programming hard news—politics, in her case—for coed viewerships. She declined to discuss recent job interviews with the broadcast networks, but sources said there have been several, including one for a prominent position at ABC.
The networks are “looking for people who have successfully gathered an audience,” Ms. Haddad said. “If you have gathered an audience and created ratings or buzz somewhere, if you’ve brought people into some media property, the networks are gonna look at you and say, ‘How can we do that?’” She said she gives no thought to the gender makeup of her staff or her audience.
Still, the 2008 election just might involve a very prominent female candidate, and a producer who could capitalize on that would be very valuable to his—or her—network. By then, there will be at least one female evening-news anchor, an untold number of female news executives and, more than likely, a female perspective imbued in the news.
“For years, the best people in news got that you need that,” Ms. Chermol said, “but they didn’t really wanna cop to it because it sounds like you’re dumbing it down.”