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Peter Arnett: American true and blue?

Posted By David Hackworth On 07/22/1998 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

CNN still stands, but the hallways of its Atlanta headquarters run
deep with blood and network staffers around the world ain’t happy. Three CNN
producers who concocted the once-upon-a-time-nerve-gas-was-used-in-Laos
fairy tale have bit the dust. But Peter Arnett remains standing.

Arnett, like every occupant on death row, protests he’s not guilty.
He says he “contributed not one comma to the story.” Duh. Who then was the
fast-talking New Zealander who said on the TV program, ” We’ve nailed down
the fact that nerve gas was used and American defectors were killed in the
course of the war?”

The talking head looked like Arnett and he sounded like Arnett.
Yet, he now claims “I didn’t know whether (the story) was true or not.”

And was this the same “reporter” whose name was on the Time
Magazine story claiming our Special Operations warriors were guilty of heinous war crimes in Laos? Col. Art Bishop, one of the pilots who supported the Green Berets
during their daring raid in Laos, says he told Arnett before the stories
ran that “Sarin gas had not been dropped.” Why would any reporter put his
name on any report, especially a story that painted Americans as war
criminals, if he didn’t know he was signing off on the whole truth?

Perhaps the answer is Arnett-style “journalism.” I’ve seen him
report from the bloody streets of Port-au-Prince while standing behind a palm tree
in Haiti’s safe Montana Hotel; report from the sniper-infested alleys of
Sarajevo while on a hotel roof in far away Belgrade. His credibility and
license to stretch the facts are not exactly up to “60 Minutes” standards.
I met Arnett in Vietnam in 1965 right after he published a yarn saying U.S.
Marines used “poisonous chemicals” against innocent civilians. Arnett was
referring to tear gas. The same nonlethal stuff every grunt gets a whiff of
during basic training. His source was Communist Radio Hanoi.

Immediately, peaceniks around the world claimed that Americans in
Vietnam were using weapons of mass destruction against the Communists. Many
soldiers who fought in Vietnam consider war correspondent Arnett a traitor.
We were “All the way with LBJ” but he was from the school that “Ho Chi Minh
has got to win.” In one unit in my “Kill a Commie for Mommy” 101st
Parachute Brigade there was actually a price on his head. You could bet
money that had he accompanied that unit on a mission he wouldn’t have
returned. This hatred still exists among tens of thousands of Vietnam vets
with long memories and after his recent phony story, they aren’t going to
take any more Arnett lies.

In the old days, it wasn’t only the warriors who roiled against
him. Both LBJ and Richard Nixon complained about his anti-American reporting. During that war, Arnett joined the anti war propaganda campaign and made a
pilgrimage to Hanoi. At least to his credit, he didn’t climb into a Red gun
position for a photo op as did his Siamese twin “Hanoi Jane.”

During the Gulf War, he was for a time the only U.S. journalist
allowed to stay in the Iraqi capital, where he nightly presented “The War According to
Saddam Hussein.” Remember his “baby milk” factory story which showed the
pummeled plant and Iraqi workers with curiously convenient English
lettering on their coveralls? The facility was a Pentagon-confirmed Iraqi
intelligence unit.

Angry CNN journalists say they have no confidence in Arnett’s
reporting because of past journalistic sins and his long-term obsession that
Americans used nerve gas during the Vietnam War. It doesn’t help that many
of his peers think he didn’t get canned because he’s still connected
ideologically at the left hip with Jane Fonda-Turner.

Gen. Perry Smith, the former consultant who quit CNN over the now
retracted story, says, “We don’t need a liar like him reporting news to
us.”

CNN star Christiane Amanpour says “I believe, contrary to what
Peter Arnett appears to believe, that a network correspondent should be
responsible for what he or she says on the air.” Roger that Smith and
Amanpour!

Scores of other good CNN journalists agree. They’re “grievously
wounded by this shoddy piece of journalism,” says CNN’s Jamie McIntyre.

And I don’t blame ‘em. So are a lot of folks!


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