Michael Keaton stars as CNN on-location producer Robert Wiener in Baghdad, Iraq during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. The movie focuses on the news media's (primarily CNN's) coverage of the war. Fundamentally an action/drama, the characters grapple with the ethics and implications of 24-hour journalism in the days leading up to and during the United States-led bombing of Baghdad.
The movie received some criticism for its inclusion of the journalists' attempt to investigate claims that infants were being removed from their incubators in Kuwaiti hospitals under control of Iraqi forces. The scene in the movie suggests doctors were trying to hide something, but it was later determined that the allegations were untrue. A disclaimer was added to later broadcasts and the home video version.
As they settle in their hotel rooms, they notice that they are being monitored. The crew report their first story on a young British boy held as a hostage by Saddam Hussein (Jerry Haleva). As they continue to report stories, they get pressured by the Iraqi government. Wiener later meets the Iraqi Minister of Information Naji Al Hadithi (David Suchet), and requests pieces of equipment and an interview with Hussein. As the movie goes on, Wiener and Al Hadithi become friends.
Wiener and his crew get access to interview Americans forced to stay in the country by the Iraqi government. The Iraqis use the American hostages as human shields for potential bombing sites. After Wiener's crew interview an American named Bob Vinton (Murphy Dunne), Vinton goes missing. Wiener becomes worried about Vinton. Later, Al Hadithi gives CBS and Dan Rather the Saddam Hussein interview. Instead of the Hussein interview, Al Hadithi gives Wiener and his crew a trip to Kuwait. They arrive in Jahra Air Force Base, Kuwait on October 17. The crew cover the incubator story in 3 hospitals, but then Iraqis call off the interviews because the CNN crew broke some ground rules. As soon as they arrive back in Baghdad, Wiener and the crew become the story as the only Americans to be in Kuwait.
After an argument between Wiener and Al Hadithi, Al Hadithi agrees to give CNN a Saddam Hussein interview. On October 29, Bernard Shaw (Robert Wisdom) and the CNN crew interview Saddam Hussein at one of his presidential palaces. In the interview, Hussein states that Iraq withdrawing from Kuwait, would be like the U.S. withdrawing from Hawaii. The crew then covers the release of American hostages from Iraq. Wiener then finds Bob Vinton and is emotionally moved by him being safe.
The United Nations gives Iraq until January 15, 1991 to withdraw from Kuwait, or face military action. As the deadline comes to an end the crew sees that the Iraqi Army is installing anti-aircraft guns in Baghdad. The crew then gets a piece of equipment called the four-wire, which gives them communications to CNN in Atlanta. The four-wire is essentially a direct phone line to their CNN facility in Jordan. From that point it can hit the satellite above and then go to Atlanta, CNN H.Q.. The Iraqis eventually findout that the crew have established communication with Atlanta. The CNN crew is the only foreign news group with the four wire. On January 9, the crew eventually believe that there will be war.
Bernard Shaw arrives in Baghdad again on January 13 to interview Saddam Hussein again at the deadline. As soon as the deadline expires, streets in Baghdad are empty and businesses are shut down. Americans and foreign news groups begin evacuating Baghdad on January 15 in fear of American bombing strikes. Wiener decides to stay, and some members of the crew decide to leave. At around 2 a.m. on January 17, U.S. F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Fighters begin to bomb Baghdad. Iraqi soldiers begin to fire anti-aircraft guns into the sky to shoot down the bombers. As soon as the bombing strikes begin, CNN correspondents Bernard Shaw (Robert Wisdom), John Holliman (John Carroll Lynch) and Peter Arnett (Bruce McGill) begin to report and describe the bombings on the four-wire communicator. The reports are broadcast live on CNN in America. The film shows the points of view from Saddam Hussein and U.S. President George H. W. Bush watching the CNN reports. It also intersperses actual archival footage of news anchors from rival networks, having to report off of CNN's live feed, since CNN was the only news source transmitting during the invasion. Other archival footage is of Dick Cheney, during a news conference as Bush's Defense Secretary, stating "The best coverage I've seen of what transpired in Baghdad was on CNN," and NBC News Anchor Tom Brokaw stating, "CNN used to be called the little network that could. It's no longer a little network."
At around 5 a.m., the crew is forced to stop reporting by Al Hadithi and Iraqi soldiers.
Most of the crew leave Baghdad including Formanek and Shaw. Wiener stays in Baghdad. Wiener returned back to America on January 23. The film ended showing the destruction of buildings from bombings in Baghdad.