As I posted on the site, Michael has left CNN.
His work for them 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.
CNN has released this statement on their PR page:
CNN’s Statement Regarding Michael Ware
“With regard to Michael Ware, CNN has been and continues to be very supportive. Any issues regarding his contract remain confidential between Michael and CNN.
On the wider issue of PTSD, CNN is rightly regarded as an industry leader in this area. We offer outstanding help and support services to employees, past and present, in this area.”
Wow. Classic non-denial denial. Notice what they DON’T say: they don’t say that he is coming back.
(And there are many ways that they could have, without going into contract issues — something as simple as “we anticipate his return” would have done nicely.)
As for CNN being regarded as “an industry leader” in regards to PTSD, I have no idea. Maybe they are. But maybe the industry standard would cover giving him six months off and when he asked for additional time, that was more than they could do.
ANOTHER UPDATE: for those of you who are not regular readers and happen to come to this page, PLEASE continue reading the blog — Michael will be returning to CNN in 2011. The network offered him a one-year leave of absence in order to deal with his PTSD. If all goes well, we will be seeing him again next spring.