Peter Arnett, the veteran correspondent covering his second Gulf war, has been fired by NBC and MSNBC after granting an interview on Iraqi TV during which he claimed the U.S. war plan has “failed” and said media reports of Iraqi casualties are helping a growing anti-war movement in America.
Peter Arnett on Iraqi TV
“Clearly, the American war planners misjudged the determination of the Iraqi forces,” Arnett told Iraqi TV. “That is why now America is reappraising the battlefield, delaying the war, maybe a week, and rewriting the war plan. The first war plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance now they are trying to write another war plan.”
Formerly with Cable News Network, Arnett left CNN in the wake of the Tailwind reporting fiasco originally exposed by WorldNetDaily in 1998. Arnett was in Iraq on behalf of “National Geographic Explorer” and NBC News until he was terminated today.
During his interview with the state-run television network in Baghdad, Arnett also said Iraq has given him and other journalists a “degree of freedom which we appreciate,” despite the fact that several reporters including CNN’s Baghdad bureau have been expelled by Iraq, and two reporters for New York Newsday are reportedly in prison.
Arnett began the interview by praising Iraqi officials for the way they’ve handled journalists during both Gulf wars:
“I’d like to say from the beginning that the 12 years I’ve been coming here, I’ve met unfailing courtesy and cooperation – courtesy from your people, and cooperation from the Ministry of Information, which has allowed me and many other reporters to cover 12 whole years since the Gulf War with a degree of freedom which we appreciate. And that is continuing today.”
He then told the Iraqi interviewer dressed in an army uniform about his thoughts on what was happening back in America:
“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. So our reports about civilian casualties here, about the resistance of the Iraqi forces, are going back to the United States. It helps those who oppose the war when you challenge the policy to develop their arguments.”
B-2 Spirit returning from mission over Iraq
Arnett – who won a Pulitzer Prize reporting in Vietnam for the Associated Press – went on to proffer his thoughts about the weakness in the U.S. stance:
I think American policy and strategy is the weakest when it comes to the Iraqi people. The U.S. administration is concerned with the possibility of killing civilians, because the international community is very concerned about the Iraqi people. President Bush says he is concerned about the Iraqi people, but if Iraqi people are dying in numbers, then American policy will be challenged very strongly. …
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, but of course the Iraqi government says they are clearly cruise missiles that hit the population. …
For that reason the Pentagon keeps saying that maybe it is an Iraqi missile that hit the population and not a U.S. …
Whenever I gave a report on civilian casualties on CNN (in the first Gulf War) the Pentagon and the Bush administration got very angry and called me a traitor. …
However, when missiles hit the Al-Maria shelter in early February of 1991, killing nearly 400 women and children, the Bush administration had to admit that they were responsible. And when that happened, there was a different attitude to the war. They had to try and complete the war fast, because the world criticized that bombing very severely.
A White House official responded to the interview by saying Arnett was “coming from a position of complete ignorance. He’s never designed a war plan or implemented a war plan. His judgment is suspect. … For him to state that to the Iraqi people is, I’d suspect, a certain level of pandering.”
Initially, NBC defended Arnett, saying in a prepared statement: “Peter Arnett and his crew have risked their lives to bring the American people up-to-date, straightforward information on what is happening in and around Baghdad.” The network owned by General Electric said Arnett’s “impromptu interview with Iraqi TV was done as a professional courtesy and was similar to other interviews he has done with media outlets from around the world. His remarks were analytical in nature and were not intended to be anything more.”
However, after the firestorm of public outrage over Arnett’s comments, NBC reversed itself and announced it was terminating Arnett:
“It was wrong for Mr. Arnett to grant an interview to state controlled Iraqi TV — especially at a time of war — and it was wrong for him to discuss his personal observations and opinions in that interview,” said NBC News President Neal Shapiro. “Therefore, Peter Arnett will no longer be reporting for NBC News and MSNBC.”
Appearing on NBC’s “Today” show this morning, Arnett attempted to apologize for his statements.
Arnett gained much attention during his reporting for CNN during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, angering the first Bush administration which suggested he had become a propaganda tool for Saddam.
The military denounced him for claiming that the allied bombing of a biological weapons plant in Baghdad was a baby-milk factory.
On June 7, 1998, Arnett was the reporter on a broadcast of CNN’s “NewsStand,” which accused U.S. army commandos of using sarin nerve gas in a top secret operation called “Tailwind” during the Vietnam War.
The report accused Tailwind participants of using the lethal gas against American defectors who were hiding in a small village in Laos. The entire village and all in it were reportedly wiped out in about ten minutes.
The Tailwind story was first exposed as a fraud in WorldNetDaily, and both the network and Time magazine were forced to issue apologies and retractions. Arnett kept his job but was reprimanded over the report. He subsequently left CNN when his contract was not renewed.
For the present conflict with Iraq, Arnett is working for the MSNBC show, “National Geographic Explorer.” NBC News began airing his reports when other reporters left the region for safety reasons.
He told April 5 issue of TV Guide he felt some redemption reporting on the current war.
“I was furious with [CNN founder] Ted Turner and [then-CNN chairman] Tom Johnson when they threw me to the wolves after I made them billions risking my life to cover the first Gulf War,” Arnett told TV Guide.
“Now [Turner and Johnson] are gone, the Iraqis have thrown the CNN crew out of Baghdad, and I’m still here,” he said. “Any satisfaction in that? Ha, ha, ha, ha. …
“The Iraqis have let me stay because they see me as a fellow warrior. They know I might not agree with them, but I’ve got their respect.”
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