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Pamlico viewers weigh TV choices

By By MIKE VOSS, Contributing Editor
War coverage – especially reports filed by journalists embedded with U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East – is fast becoming, to borrow a phrase from NBC, "Must See TV" in Eastern North Carolina.
Offensive and defensive strategies in the Iraqi desert are holding their own when it comes to offensive and defensive moves on basketball courts, according to area television viewers. Five military bases in Eastern North Carolina provide five more reasons for area residents to watch the war unfold on television.
Bombardment of Baghdad is replacing basketball as viewers' choice these days at the Mill Cafe in Washington.
Usually, the restaurants's three television sets are tuned to sports events. But since the battle against Iraq began, the screens have been displaying war news. Earlier this week, the two big-screen TVs in the bar area were tuned into CNN's war coverage. The third television set, an average-sized one, was turned off.
Roger Meyland, the restaurant's owner, is keeping at least one television set tuned to war news.
"That's pretty much what everybody wants. They want to watch the war stuff," Meyland said.
He did acknowledge tuning into NCAA basketball tournament games at times to appease some patrons.
It appears most of his customers support the troops fighting the war and how the war is progressing.
"I don't hear much in a negative way," he noted. "I think everybody is concerned. They want to see what's going on. They want to see how we are doing."
One restaurant patron, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who asked not to be identified, watched the war news while sitting at the bar. This veteran, who commanded a company in Vietnam in 1970, said he prefers watching war news on CNBC or Fox. He watches about four hours a day.
He sees a major difference between coverage of this war and the Gulf War.
"The depth of the coverage, that's primarily because of the embedded guys, the journalists, with the units," the veteran said.
He also noted a difference between coverage of the war with Iraq and coverage of the war in Vietnam.
"I must say I'm surprised at the tone and tenor of the reporting. I think it's much more unbiased than it was in my time," he said to a reporter. "I'm surprised. In my time, we hated you guys."
The veteran said be believed most journalists covering the Vietnam war were opposed to the war, and their reporting was slanted in an anti-war fashion.
The former lieutenant colonel wishes some of the journalists in the Persian Gulf region would learn to identify military units properly.
"These guys went to school (to learn military matters) before they were embedded with the troops. … I'm nitpicking, but it's important to me," he noted.
Ed Denny, owner of Fizz Ed's at Washington Plaza, said he's keeping one or two television sets tuned to war news so patrons may keep up with latest developments.
"People are watching … unless there's a really interesting basketball game on," Denny added.
Teenager Robbie Pickens, skateboarding at the N.C. Estuarium, said he watches a "little bit" of war news on television station WITN.
Pickens believes journalists should not be with U.S. forces in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. He also believes U.S. and coalition forces should not be fighting against Iraq.
"I think it's kind of wrong. I don't think a reporter should be in that country. We shouldn't be in that country. … We don't need to report something like that. … They're getting paid to report all that mess," Pickens said.
Derrick Nelson, another teenager, watches television station WNCT for his war news.
"I've been watching the last couple of days," he said.
His views on journalists accompanying U.S. forces and reporting from the front lines are different from Pickens', his skateboarding colleague.
"I think that's good. But in a way, that's not good. A reporter covering the war could get killed. Then you have no one with that unit covering the war," Nelson said.
Garry Payne, a 32-year old Greenville resident walking along Washington's waterfront, said he watches the war "for about an hour at night and a few minutes in the mornings." Payne said he mostly watches Fox's coverage, but he views CNN's and MSNBC's offerings as well. He also acknowledges watching war coverage at other times during the day, if he's near a television set tuned to a channel showing reports.
"You kind of want to know what's happened in the last hour or so," he explained.
There's a big difference between coverage of the Gulf War in 1991, Payne said, and coverage of the current conflict.
"These reporters with the troops are providing information that's just minutes old. In the Gulf War, information was hours old … because reporters were in the rear where it was safer," Payne said. "What's on TV today is almost like being there with the troops yourself."
For some, a little dose of war coverage is enough.
Wanda Wilson, 54, a New York resident visiting family in Martin County, who was shopping at Washington's Wal-Mart, said her war news is limited to what's on the six o'clock news and if networks break in during "my stories" (soap operas) to give important updates about the battles.
"I just don't want to watch much of it," Wilson said. "I don't like looking at all that damage and death."