“Cooperation pays but only when trust your fellow contractors to keep to their agreements,” Hank Green of Crash Philosophy says about Thomas Hobbe’s theory of Contractarianism. This philosophy wonderfully applies to the HBO Film from 2002, Live from Baghdad and the stakes executive producer Robert Weiner and his crew face when covering the invasion of Kuwait, only to be thrust into covering the bombing of Baghdad.
Contractarianism is defined as “right acts are those that do not violate the free rational agreements that we have made.” These right acts in the case of the coverage begins when Weiner, played amazingly by Michael Keaton, is told by the president of CNN to head over to Baghdad, but with one condition in mind. That condition: prove he has good judgment and ensure the safety of the team of journalist with him. He is joined by fellow producer Ingrid Formanek, played by the always outstanding Helena Bonham Carter, cameraman Mark Biello and sound technician Judy Parker to get the coverage for CNN. Along the way, however, Weiner must go to some lengths to get what he desires. This is all based on trust, how far he is willing to go and if the others will accept or disagree with the decisions.
The film dives into this with a sense that Weiner has somewhat of an ego, but know how he wants the job to get done much to the chagrin of his crew. One moment that reflects this is when the scheduled attack on Baghdad is about to take place. As President Bush and Saddam battle it out on news network delivering threats and speeches, Weiner and his crew gear up for the inevitable as they must come to terms with staying or leaving from Baghdad before the bombing can take place.
Weiner is staying and recommends that his crew make a choice of leaving with CNN reporter Bernard Shaw in the morning. It’s in this moment that the crew deliberate with their own lives and goals in mind. Biello decides to leave, with Parker being told by Weiner to head out too. After many decide to stay, Weiner and Formanek have a private conversation about her decision.
Even after the conversation, the team sticks together as the bombing of Baghdad occurs in the middle of the night, all united together to cover the story despite the danger. Yet, there is nothing really there to tell them they cannot leave (besides the massive amount of gunfire and chaos). The crew still has the task of getting the story out into the world and to outlets around the world, since they are the only ones reporting on the scene seeing the chaos from the Al-Rasheed Hotel.
They could have gone down to the shelter, but they stayed to ensure people knew what exactly was happening. It was not only part of the contract with the world of journalism, but to us, the news viewer, to let us in on their experience as Desert Storm rears its head on the world at large.