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FRIDAY, MARCH 22, 1991
Kuwait City

There's a lesson to be learned in this business, a rule that I have violated once again and once again have paid the price: Get your sleep when you can, for it may be your last.

After staying up till 1 a.m. writing (I was looking forward to a late call in the morning), I was jolted awake by a phone call from John Towriss. It was 4 a.m. and we had to leave in 15 minutes. A planeload of Kuwaiti prisoners of war had just been released from Iraq and were due to arrive in a couple of hours. I dutifully threw on my clothes without even washing my face and dashed downstairs. Dick Blystone was already sipping his instant coffee, and my new cameraman Styke Dimas was gathering his gear. And Towriss, the man who never sleeps, was there looking as fresh and groomed and clean-cut as ever, supervising the proceedings. That man is amazing, especially in contrast to the harried producer I saw in Dhahran. I guess it's John's Midwest upbringing, but the man always looks like he just spent the day in an Indiana barbershop.

John Towriss
John Towriss at the helm of CNN Kuwait
And he's invariably polite, even when he's exhorting us to grab our equipment and get out the door. He also apologized profusely for the early call, but we were the only crew available and would have to be pool for all the networks. This was the unkindest cut of all--no one wants to do a dirty job and then have all the hard work turned over to the competition who got to sleep in. But such are the rules of the game.

It also wouldn't have been so bad had I not known it was just another case of "hurry up and Ku-wait." We got to the airstrip by 6:30--and then we sat. Styke and I had not even had time for coffee. I fished through my pockets and found a pack of gum, so we each had two sticks for breakfast. As we were chomping away, a local fellow who was part of the welcoming committee (for the POWs, not for us) sauntered up and asked if he could snap our picture. We're used to this, lots of people want photos of CNN crews. After the flash, he grinned and said, "Now I have proof that Americans violate Ramadan!" We both gulped, since it hadn't occurred to either of us that gum, too, was forbidden. We discreetly spat out our meals.

Styke Dimas
Styke Dimas at an oil well fire
Needless to say, there was nowhere to get any sustenance at the airport, even if it weren't Ramadan. The terminal building had a large bomb hole in the roof, and some of the buildings were gutted by fire. We were assigned a spot on the runway and told by soldiers to stay there. And so we waited for the plane to arrive. You can only stand for so long until you have to sit, and I could only sit for a while before I was nodding off to sleep--on a dirty stretch of pavement, with oily black soot from the well fires raining down, and jet engines revving all around. And if I could sleep there, then it's proof that sleep is the greatest of all life's pleasures, to say nothing of needs.

After two false alarms which we spent chasing the wrong plane, the prisoners finally landed. There were no smiles, no jubilation, no yellow ribbons for these. Just grim-faced men leaving months of hardship and uncertainty, finally getting home--to more hardship and uncertainty.

Sean and a BetaCam
Cameraman Sean Maroney with a BetaCam
Most were reluctant to speak to us. Few spoke English, and all were Kuwaiti soldiers taken during the August invasion, so they could have been under orders not to talk. It wasn't until the busses had taken them to the neighborhood meeting hall for their release that they finally opened up, or broke down. It was a quite emotional scene, the tearful reunions, the joyous embraces, the crowds of ululating women, even some guns fired in the air. It would have been perfect except for the press corps, which had arrived en masse and invaded the hall like so many Iraqis. In the succinct words of Styke Dimas, "It was a pig-f#ck!" The media is at its worst on these emotional occasions, surrounding their victims with a battery of cameras and harsh lights, preying upon their vulnerabilities. Stealing their souls is an apt simile. And like hogs at the trough scrapping over the same morsels, we rushed from one knot of people to the next, pushing and shoving for position. I fought to stay behind Styke with my mic and cables; I got slapped across the face by a BetaCam1 and was nearly shoved over a couch, but I stayed on my feet. And we got our shots. But Styke and I agreed, to hell with the pool. What we got we weren't sharing with anybody, since they were all there with their own cameras anyway.

We had no break till late in the afternoon; we were sent straight from the prisoners' return to a protest rally demanding the return of the other 5,000 or more still held in Iraq. This was a cakewalk compared to our morning session. Finally, I got an hour nap between 5 p.m. and 6, waking up for dinner before attending a press conference by the oil minister. He was briefing the media on the status of the oil well fires and the efforts to put them out. I could have slept through the first hour of this, since it was all in Arabic. But we had to wait for the English Q and A session that followed. By 10:30 p.m. he got tired of questions and wrapped it up. I went straight to bed, not wasting time for any other extraneous activities, like writing in my journal, washing my face or brushing my teeth.


1Editor's note, 2011: The Sony BetaCam was the industry standard at the time. With the tape deck incorporated into the camera body and a large battery called a "brick" attached to the back, it weighed about 25 pounds. But it felt like a ton when it sat on your shoulder for a while, or suddenly hit you in the face.


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