CNN’s star reporter Peter Arnett has an interesting alibi for his
participation in the journalistic fraud of the decade perpetrated by the
network in a special alleging the U.S. military murdered defectors and
dropped lethal nerve gas during the Vietnam War.
“I contributed not one comma,” to the story, Arnett claimed in his
defense, adding that he was “not going to let my reputation go down the
tubes.” Arnett professed “shock” at the idea his job may be on the line.
Hmmm. I guess we’re to believe that Arnett was handed a script of the
special defaming U.S. servicemen and just, well, read it. But most of us
have never thought of Peter Arnett as a news reader before. The image we
had of him reporting live from Baghdad during the Persian Gulf War was
one of intrepid, battle-scarred, daring war correspondent.
So exactly who and what on television news is the public supposed to
trust? How do we know when trusted anchors and reporters are actually
reporting or merely reading words put in their mouths by anonymous
Arnett explained further that he was reporting from Iraq during much
of the eight-month investigation of Operation Tailwind. When he
returned, he was busy giving speeches (on journalistic ethics, perhaps?)
Even Arnett had to acknowledge that his role as news reader on such a
high-profile investigative special might seem, er, unusual for someone
of his “stature.”
In other words, CNN used Arnett in the role of reporter to give the
special more credibility. And Arnett was a willing dupe. Though the
Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter’s byline appeared along with April
Oliver’s name on the companion Time Magazine story, Arnett says now it
was merely tacked on for “marketing reasons.”
Nice work, if you can get it, I guess. But I was always told — as
far back as Journalism 101 — that responsibility accompanied a byline.
Arnett was willing to accept credit for work he didn’t do, he’s just not
willing to accept any blame.
Then there is the role of CEO Tom Johnson. He’s the guy who forced
the resignation of CNN military adviser Gen. Perry Smith, the first guy
at the network to blow the whistle on the journalistic hoax. Then, to
compound his culpability, he presided over the decision to sue Smith for
breach of a confidentiality agreement when he did his duty to his
country by going public with the scandal.
Johnson, who once worked for President Lyndon Johnson, reviewed the
story before it aired, and, apparently, saw nothing wrong with it. He
later accepted “full responsibility” for the fraud, but, again, not the
blame. He’s still collecting his seven-figure salary at the network.
And how about CNN President Rick Kaplan? He says he was so upset by
the whole thing that he considered resigning his post. But he dismissed
that crazy notion because he had not played a significant role in the
story’s editing. This isn’t sitting well with the CNN rank-and-file
newsroom employees who approved of the story. After all, he’s got a lot
of experience with major network news frauds having presided over the
ABC “PrimeTime Live” Food Lion attack piece, which prompted a $5.5
million jury verdict against the network in his previous position. He
was even personally fined as a result of that judgment.
Kaplan is also famous for having Cokie Roberts don a winter coat in
front of a picture of the Capitol so it would look like she was actually
reporting from the Hill in winter rather than a comfy studio. The
Clinton confidante also ordered his staff to avoid using the word
“scandals” with regard to the many “controversies” plaguing the White
Jeff Greenfield, co-anchor of CNN’s “NewsStand,” on which the special
aired, defended the piece even after it was attacked. Now he says he was
“way too distant from the story for my own good. My radar was jammed.”
Meanwhile, there was one other “good guy” at CNN who raised questions
about the story before it aired. Jamie McIntyre, the network’s Pentagon
correspondent, wrote a memo questioning several aspects of the piece. It
was disregarded. So far, no promotion has been announced for McIntyre.
The problems at CNN are endemic in the rest of the establishment
press. The trouble is in the culture of the newsroom and the media
corporate suites. There just are not enough skeptics. Everyone thinks
alike. They move like a brainless herd of sheep. And, if we’re not
careful, they’re going to lead the whole industry — perhaps even the
whole nation — off the cliff.