amanpour2ABC's Christiane Amanpour says that it would have been "impossible" for her not to travel to Cairo this past weekend.
"This is in my DNA. I'm a foreign correspondent," said Amanpour, who spent decades reporting abroad for CNN before becoming host of ABC's "This Week" last year. "I really do think what we've shown is that when news happens, we're going to go there and report for ourselves and for our viewers from the ground."
Amanpour was the only host of a Sunday morning public affairs show to broadcast from Egypt yesterday—but she's not the only high-profile American TV journalist now covering the popular uprising against President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian regime. CNN's Anderson Cooper hosted a two-hour live show Sunday night from Cairo, while CNBC's Erin Burnett contributed to the business network's special, "Crisis in Egypt: Markets, Money and The Middle East." The larger NBC team in Egypt also includes Lester Holt and Richard Engels; Fox News and Fox Business Network have correspondents on the ground as well.
Meanwhile, a couple of the biggest names in TV news have arrived: Brian Williams got there in time for Monday's broadcast of "NBC Nightly News" while "CBS Evening News" Katie Couric was on route Monday evening.
Although networks had some correspondents in the region when Egyptians hit the streets last Tuesday, U.S. news coverage was dominated by President Obama's State of the Union address. Many news consumers seeking the latest out of Egypt turned to Middle East-focused blogs and news sites, Twitter, and Al Jazeera English, which has won rave reviews for its extensive coverage and has faced repression from the Mubarak regime.
Mark Jurkowitz, associate director for Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism, told The Cutline that through Wednesday, only about 5 percent of network coverage was focused on the Middle East—including the Egypt revolt. But that's changed dramatically in the past few days. Between Jan. 27-30, more than half of network news coverage—both morning shows and evening newscasts—has been Middle East-focused, according to PEJ. During those same days, roughly two-thirds of cable news coverage has been filled with live reports from Egypt, together with footage of analysts discussing possible fallout from the protests for U.S. interests in the region.
While increased coverage from U.S. networks could be positive for the protesters, some expressed concerns that the media might not portray them accurately and that their uprising could be unfairly tied to Islamic fundamentalism.
"What they keep telling me, 'tell the world, tell America that what we want is what you have,'" Amanpour said by phone from Cairo, adding that the protesters say they want freedom, democracy and the ability to elect their own leaders. She continued: "The second thing they say is, 'please tell the world, please tell Americans this is not an Islamic revolution. This is not Iran 30 years ago.' "
Cooper, also by phone from Cairo, said that the protesters he's encountered have been "overwhelmingly friendly and happy to see journalists there and want to make sure they're getting the message out." Cooper also reported that some are concerned that the mass protest could be misinterpreted in the U.S. as an Islamic revolution. After CNN filmed protesters praying, for instance, Cooper said that several reiterated to the crew that this "isn't fundamentalism" and that the revolt against Mubarak's 30-year reign is not a "religious-based protest."
cooperDespite the Egyptian government cracking down on media outlets (and shutting down the Internet), Cooper said that CNN's reporters have still managed to get out and cover the protests. Still, he acknowledged that Egyptian government "can do whatever they want" and there are always concerns for reporting on the ground. "I'm very well aware of that every day I'm out on the streets," Cooper said, adding that there could definitely be "some dicey situations" for journalists. (Indeed, a CNN crew tussled with state security on Friday).
Cooper said he wished he'd personally covered Egypt "a little more aggressively" early last week but said that he's "very proud of the way CNN is covering it." CNN had three reporters covering Friday's major protest from Egypt and continues to field a sizeable team of reporters on the ground, including Ben Wedeman, Nic Robertson, Frederik Pleitgen, Ivan Watson, Arwa Damon, and Jose Levy. CNN's also covering through social media and its user-generated iReport.
Many network correspondents can be found at the Hilton Hotel, which is located near Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protests. Teams from CNN, NBC and Fox News, along with international media outlets, have worked from there.
"We've basically got a balcony view of a revolution," said Greg Palkot, one of two Fox News correspondents on the ground in Cairo. "It's like a ringside seat to all the action that's happening, which is very good for television."
Nevertheless, Palkot's been spending the majority of his days hitting the streets and speaking with protesters. "There are a lot of frustrations out there," he said. "They do not feel that the U.S. is supportive, so as members of the U.S. media, there have definitely been some questions put to us. They see us as a conduit to get word back to the U.S., and they have been making quite articulate pleas for the White House, for President Obama, for the U.S., to do something."
As for the local authorities, "They haven't made it easy," said Palkot, whose cameraman had his equipment confiscated upon entering the country last Thursday. (They ended up having to rent a camera, and were told not to broadcast from their hotel.) "Out on the street, it's been pretty hairy. If you're shooting from on the side of the police, you get rocks from the protesters. If you're shooting on the side of the protesters, you get the tear gas, potential rubber bullets and water cannons from the police."
The Egypt uprising has attracted business journalists, too.
"There's a very strong business element to this story," said Fox Business Network's Ashley Webster during a break Monday in Cairo. "From a financial network's point of view, this is a country that's very, very poor with a government that continues to ignore the calls for reform. Egypt itself and the stock market here are not heavyweights by any means, but the instability here has big implications for global markets worldwide. The banks are all closed, and there's also the question of what the American companies that are based here are doing."
Burnett, one of CNBC's biggest stars, arrived Sunday night after getting a one-way ticket from Dubai. It wasn't easy making her way to Cairo, with a 30-minutes ride from the airport taking more than three hours (given the nightly curfews and road blocks). But now in Cairo, Burnett has been making appearances not only on CNBC but across NBC's networks.
"I think it's all one story," Burnett said by phone, noting that "politics and business are so linked together."
"This is a situation where you realize that money and the ability to provide for your family is a crucial part of human dignity," she added. "When people don't have that, and it keeps getting taken way, that's why people rise up."
[Ed. note: This piece was updated from its original version to accurately reflect the timing of Brian Williams and Katie Couric's arrival in Cairo]
(Screenshot of Amanpour courtesy of ABC News. Photo of Cooper with opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei courtesy of CNN).