For days, the images of the violent demonstrations in Cairo have looked eerily like a movie, especially when colorfully-clothed men on horseback swooped through, attacking the crowds in Tahrir Square. Yesterday the look and feel changed as American journalists found it wasn't safe to report from the streets. "Anyone with a camera was a target" of pro-Mubarak demonstrators, Anderson Cooper said on CNN, and around 10:00 PM last night Eastern time, near dawn in Cairo, you could see how dangerous it had become.
On MSNBC, a camera looked down on burning cars and a diminished crowd throwing Molotov cocktails in the Square, while anchor Brian Williams and reporter Richard Engel were mainly disembodied voices narrating from the relative safety of a hotel balcony.
Earlier, Williams had reported from that balcony by flashlight.
On CNN, Cooper and two other reporters were hunkered down in front of a single camera inside because, he explained, they'd been told that the neighborhood they were in wasn't safe. Shots were being fired outside the building and the CNN staff had been warned to turn off the lights and get on the floor. What you see in this video is Cooper crouching into the camera and narrating images from the day, when the crowd closed in on him and his crew.
It is a little disconcerting to see a snippet of a commercial before the CNN video, but TV goes on as usual.
It's always tricky when reporters become the story, but if they were going to grandstand it would be by getting close to the action not far from it. These scenes of journalists keeping their distance provide the most visceral sense yet of how dangerous the situation is.
And here's MSNBC's live, unnarrated video feed from Tahrir Square: