NBC announced Monday that it had severed its relationship with veteran war correspondent Peter Arnett after Arnett had granted an interview with Iraqi TV. Arnett had said in the interview that the U.S. “war plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance. Now they are trying to write another war plan.” Arnett, who insists that he said was “what we all know about the war,” has apologized for having “created a firestorm of protest.”
Such a narrow apology underscores the fact that Arnett is unrepentant regarding the soundness of his journalistic judgment. “It was entirely appropriate to grant an interview to state-run Iraqi television which is a rock-solid news-gathering organization,” he insists. “They’ve done some hard-hitting exposes over the years. Just last spring, their series that explained how President Saddam Hussein is the milk of human kindness personified must have ruffled quite a few feathers in Baghdad. Talk about speaking truth to power!”
Arnett rejects the suggestion that any decent journalist would find Iraqi TV, which functions essentially as a loudspeaker for a mass-murderer, to be offensive by its very nature and an insult to his profession. “When you’re a keen-eyed, skeptical journalist like me who’s not afraid to ask the tough questions,” Arnett says, “you learn to accept a lot of things at face value. My producer spends most of his day thinking about how to get the next story; his counterpart at Iraqi TV spends his day immersing insubordinate underlings in nitric acid. What matters in the end is getting the story and getting it right. And if you mention the ‘Tailwind’ fiasco from my CNN days, this interview is over.”
As to the validity of his interview comments, Arnett refuses to budge. “Of course, the American war plan has failed. The original plan consisted of quick strikes on the Iraqi leadership and the Republican Guard and attacks from the air followed by a ground assault. In reality, the Americans were forced to launch quick strikes on the Iraqi leadership and Republican Guard, attacks from the air and a ground assault but while having to strengthen the security of supply lines. Talk about a complete reversal of strategy! Of course, only a perceptive journalistic observer such as myself has the ability to cut through the clutter and see what’s really going on. In a way, it’s a curse to be able to see the things that others don’t. The ancients referred to it as ‘second sight.'”
After a brief pause to smooth the wrinkles out of his safari jacket, Arnett observes, “The Iraqi government probably can’t believe how well things are going. They’ve lasted almost two weeks and have only lost control of a major portion of the country as well as their airspace, allied forces are massing outside Baghdad and even the Iraqi ambassador to the U.N. says he doesn’t know for sure if Saddam Hussein is still alive. This seasoned media veteran would so far call the contest a draw.”
In what should be no surprise, Arnett has landed on his feet with a new gig reporting on the war for Britain’s Daily Mirror. And after the end of hostilities, Arnett is already training his sharply-honed critical faculties on another potential blockbuster story. “Ironically, the idea came from my old bosses at NBC, believe it or not,” he laughs. “The other night they broadcast a fascinating news documentary called ‘The West Wing.’ It seemed to indicate that the United States is actually being run by a president named Bartlett and a group of attractive but glib assistants, probably as a part of the so-called shadow government. It’s a woefully underreported story but, as luck would have it, I’m just the man to shine the harsh light of reason on it.”
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