Ignorance Is Truth.
March 31, 2003 7:42 AM   Subscribe

"Now America is reappraising the battlefield, delaying the war, maybe a week and rewriting the war plan. The first plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance. Now they are trying to write another plan." Seems patently obvious, no? But tell Iraqi state television that and suddenly you're speaking from "a position of complete ignorance," according to the White House.

Peter Arnett, highly respected, Pulitzer Prize winner and the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Laden on film, wouldn't back down the last time a network caved into craven submission at hands of the American military, and he's been sacked by NBC/MSNBC for again refusing to do so. There's no First Amendment case, obviously, and no real surprise that the military would be exerting pressure to maintain control over information, but does the firing of high-profile Arnett for the repeating the obvious increase anybody's confidence that we're hearing anything resembling the truth?
posted by JollyWanker (29 comments total)
Tough call really, on the one hand he is a journalist and should be given free reign as to how he reports what he sees but on the then on the other it is a war, and if his comments are construed as encouraging the Iraqi resistance to try even harder then it's probably not a good idea to have him out there.
posted by zeoslap at 8:04 AM on March 31, 2003

I have the feeling that some duress must have been applied in order to make Arnett speak in such a manner. After all he's been living in the area for an awful long time, and as such could easily have given an interview in Arabic; yet the interview was done in English, no doubt to serve as a propaganda tool.

Then again Arnett has been in this situation before, and we know he'll do pretty much anything to retain his access in Baghdad. However this isn't as black and white as everyone wants to believe it is.
posted by clevershark at 8:09 AM on March 31, 2003

Exactly, Zeoslap. While what he said was questionable in the first place, it would have been acceptable, if ill-advised, to say such things in a report back home. However, to all but openly encourage increased resistance while on national television in the capital of the enemy... that comes dangerously close to lending aid and comfort, imo.

I wouldn't go so far as to say it's treasonous, by any means, but I do find it very disappointing.
posted by jammer at 8:09 AM on March 31, 2003

Really, what diffrence does it make?
I'm pretty sure that the Iraqis have access to any number of non-US media channels, most of whom are giving the war a pretty dire review.
posted by spazzm at 8:20 AM on March 31, 2003

He wasn't reporting. He was the interviewee, not the interviewer -- the idea of which makes actual journalists cringe. Moreover, he was commenting on the inner thoughts of military planners in Doha and Washington, even though he has no idea what those thoughts may be -- he's been in Baghdad for weeks. And his point wasn't that the US administration considered the attacks a failure, it was that they considered it a failure on the basis of Peter Arnett's reporting.

His unctuous toadying of the Iraqi regime makes him an easy target, but it's his self-serving insistence on placing himself at the center of the story that's gotten him in trouble here. According to the article, even he's embarrassed.

(And who on television has a worse combover? Mohammed Aldouri, we're coming for you next!)
posted by coelecanth at 8:26 AM on March 31, 2003

Why is anyone surprised that Peter Arnett is being used -- again -- by the Iraqi government for its own propaganda purposes? You would think the guy would have learned a lesson after the last Gulf War! Maybe Al-Jazeera can hire him.
posted by Durwood at 8:35 AM on March 31, 2003

I would feel more sympathy for him if he were doing any reporting of real value. Journos who sit in Baghdad are cut off from everything except what they can glimpse from the hotel balcony, what the Iraqis want them to see, and what they can glean from talking to colleagues outside Iraq. You could get almost as much from a webcam.

He should have realized that given his situation, an interview like the one he gave would look bad. Like Scott Ritter, he overestimates his decade-old scud cred.

If you really want to follow an independent-minded Baghdad-based journo, try Robert Fisk.
posted by anser at 8:39 AM on March 31, 2003

Seems patently obvious, no? ... the firing of high-profile Arnett for the repeating the obvious...

Some of Arnett's words that are not obvious:
  • it is clear that within the United States there is growing challenge to President Bush about the conduct of the war and also opposition to the war That is either not true or highly debatable. Polls suggest the contrary. Certainly not "obvious."
  • For that reason, the Pentagon keeps saying that the civilian casualties, particularly in Baghdad in the last three or four days, at the market places -- the Pentagon says -- well they are Iraqi missiles that land amongst the people. They keep saying that... The Pentagon has never said that. They have raised it as a possibility, but have repeatedly stated that they just don't know.
  • ...re-writing the war plan. The first war plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance now they are trying to write another war plan. Does anyone really believe "the war plan" is some linear document that says, "move from point a to b to c" without taking into account various contingencies? Does anyone really believe that they've been planning this for over a year, and after one week have scrapped "the war plan" and are now "trying to write" another one on the fly? Is that "obvious," to use JollyWanker's word?
So the accuracy (per usual for Arnett) is questionable at best, and made all the more reprehensible in the context of an interview to Hussein-owned Iraqi TV (talk about not giving us "the truth").

One final thought: Arnett has already apologized and said he's embarassed.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:40 AM on March 31, 2003

Uh, "last time a network caved into craven submission at hands of the American military" refers to what exactly? CNN's coverage of Operation Tailwind? Please provide evidence to those that's not on a Geocities site.
posted by yerfatma at 8:42 AM on March 31, 2003

It does, in fact, refer to CNN's whipped puppy behavior over the Tailwind - "Valley of Death" incident. FAIR has a good summary of it. April Smith, one of the producers summarily fired by CNN soon after the report aired, was interviewed later, after Arnett was fired.
posted by JollyWanker at 8:54 AM on March 31, 2003

Peter Arnett - What a tool.
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:54 AM on March 31, 2003

He was also cut loose by Nat Geo:

National Geographic has terminated the service of Peter Arnett. The Society did not authorize or have any prior knowledge of Arnett's television interview with Iraqi television, and had we been consulted, would not have allowed it. His decision to grant an interview and express his personal views on state controlled Iraqi television, especially during a time of war, was a serious error in judgment and wrong.

posted by gottabefunky at 9:09 AM on March 31, 2003

If Arnett's terms of employment didn't allow him to offer opinions/analysis like all the talking heads on cable, he should have been fired.

Even if it did, NBC and NG just got rid of a hot potato, which is their right. Why should they pick up the tab for a guy who's going to give them no end of headaches?

But pinning stiff Iraqi resistance on a reporter with a big mouth is just plain silly. Arnett just echoed stuff reported by every major non-Fox media outlet, so any Iraqi looking for a morale boost has seen the same stuff a hundred times over.

That doesn't mean Arnett's not a jackass, of course.
posted by sacre_bleu at 9:22 AM on March 31, 2003

CNN, Arnett, and Oliver got exactly what they deserved over Tailwind.

I remember where I was when I first heard about the story... and my first reaction was, "Oh, shit... this is huge." I booted up my computer right away and I started looking at the details -- and the whole thing began to fall apart immediately. For example, it had the American soldiers wearing only gas masks, which makes no sense as sarin goes right through the skin -- gas masks alone wouldn't be sufficient to protect them. There were lots of things like that that didn't make sense to anyone who knew a little about the military and/or chemical weapons.

A quick internet search on the name of their prime source showed that he had written a sensationalistic little book about his 'Nam exploits -- a book that got roundly panned because it wasn't believable (read: people thought he made stuff up.) And then it became apparent that the book didn't even mention the sarin episode.

In less than half an hour of internet searching, I was convinced that the story was BS, at least the part about the nerve gas. Oliver claimed that CNN spent six months on the story and didn't catch the slightest whiff of the heady odor lingering over the story... that's either incompetence or wilful ignorance.

And then CNN turned it into a sensational story to launch a new program and gave it a huge amount of play.

It was irresponsible, and Arnett and Oliver paid the price.
posted by ptermit at 9:42 AM on March 31, 2003

Jolly Wanker,

Your comments have been noted in the building. Ari said so.
posted by nofundy at 9:57 AM on March 31, 2003

pinning stiff Iraqi resistance on a reporter with a big mouth is just plain silly

er, I don't think anyone's making that argument...

I still say he was coerced, but his experience in Baghdad should have made him realize that this would happen. Bottom line, this was made for US/UK consumption only, and from the brouhaha it's caused I'd say that Iraki psych-ops seem to be working better than their ground game.
posted by clevershark at 10:32 AM on March 31, 2003

On a similar note I'm gleefully enjoying the fact that Geraldo Rivera has been kicked out of Iraq too for revealing sensative information.
posted by bitdamaged at 10:40 AM on March 31, 2003

Geraldo says he's still there and will march into Baghdad with his beloved 101st Airborne.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:55 AM on March 31, 2003

I agree with clevershark, but Arnett has always been a tool and put himself in this position.
posted by Mack Twain at 11:03 AM on March 31, 2003

lol alright that's funny the story that I linked to just changed to reflect that, new title "Confusion Over Status of Geraldo Rivera in Iraq"
posted by bitdamaged at 11:06 AM on March 31, 2003

American journalist Arnett fired by his network for making personal "comments". And a scapegoat for networks like he was during the last Gulf War when he reported on bombing of baby food factories.

Faced with the improbable nature of reporting from within enemy teritory Is it worth it to us as Americans to send reporters when they are required to two-face any war event?
posted by xtian at 11:38 AM on March 31, 2003

Pretty sure he was coerced. Some things he said are incomprehensible coming from an educated man from the modern West. They are not the sort of statements he would think of by himself.
posted by shabrem at 12:08 PM on March 31, 2003

HehHehHeh. Tool. Asshat.
posted by Perigee at 12:12 PM on March 31, 2003

Didn't know that he interviewed Osama Bin back in 1997
posted by elpapacito at 1:52 PM on March 31, 2003

Opppps disregard the above osama link, duplicate of link in this post topic
posted by elpapacito at 2:03 PM on March 31, 2003

Did anyone else see Arnett ***SNICKER*** about some huge shock'n'awe bomb when he thought he was off-camera. Good f_ing riddance!
posted by Grand Wahzoo at 2:48 PM on March 31, 2003

He's ba-a-a-a-ack.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:58 PM on March 31, 2003

Microsoft-NBC Advertising Sales Vice President Val Nicholas writes (in an email to me):
How would you feel if Walter Winchell went on Nazi Radio during WWII and said the Allies battle plan is falling apart and in disarray with no evidence to back it up?
Nicholas goes on to say:
We simply find no way to justify one of our hired hands doing interviews on enemy television...at least, he should have let us know he was going to do it. It's only common sense that you let your bosses know what you are up to....you and I would.
posted by ericrolph at 5:13 PM on March 31, 2003

By Peter Arnett
posted by muckster at 10:46 PM on April 1, 2003

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