A U.S. senator is calling for the arrest of war correspondent Peter Arnett on a charge of treason in the wake of controversial comments the veteran reporter made to Iraqi television.
Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky.
“I think Mr. Arnett should be met at the border and arrested should he come back to America,” said Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky. “We all firmly believe in the First Amendment which protects the freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly. However, no U.S. citizen should be allowed to provide aid, and comfort, through false information, to the enemy during wartime.”
Bunning is among the many Americans outraged by Arnett’s statements in an impromptu interview he granted to state-run television in Baghdad.
“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. …
Peter Arnett: I report the truth
“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.”
In a scathing indictment on the Senate floor, Bunning called Arnett a “useful idiot for Saddam,” saying “traitor” was a more befitting term than “journalist”:
I believe it is about time we made an example of Mr. Arnett’s lies and deceit and let the media know we are watching. While we are giving the media top access and protection in this war, we must demand that they not hang out to dry our soldiers and Americans. If they do so, there should be consequences.
Some believe freedom of speech is an absolute right and that journalists have the right to say and report anything they want. I, and many others, do not believe this. I do not believe journalists should be allowed to lie and opine and aid our enemies in the time of a war. There is a line journalists are not meant to cross, and Mr. Arnett crossed this line many years ago, and he continues to do so. It is time we held this man accountable for his actions.
In other statements to reporters, Bunning – a former Major League Baseball pitcher who earned a seat in the Hall of Fame – made his intention absolutely clear.
“I think he should be brought back and tried as a traitor to the United States of America,” Bunning said. “If this was 200 years ago, I’m pretty sure Peter Arnett would be hanging in the village square.”
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Born in New Zealand, Arnett is a naturalized citizen of the United States, and has worked for some of the best known media companies, including the Associated Press, Cable News Network, and NBC News at the time he gave the Iraqi interview.
Though NBC initially defended Arnett saying “his remarks were analytical in nature and were not intended to be anything more,” it later announced: “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. Therefore, Peter Arnett will no longer be reporting for NBC News and MSNBC.”
A network executive told the New York Times that NBC News chief Neal Shapiro had hoped that the Iraqis had pressured Arnett in the interview and that he would say, “There was a guy behind this orange curtain with an AK-47.”
But Arnett told Shapiro by phone that he felt no such pressure.
Within hours of his firing, Arnett was hired by the British tabloid newspaper the Daily Mirror, where he remained defiant against criticism of his comments to Iraqi TV.
“I report the truth of what is happening here in Baghdad and will not apologize for it,” said Arnett.
The statements have caused an uproar among the U.S. populace as well as journalists.
Cronkite: ‘Arnett hangs by a rope of his own weaving’
“In the U.S. Constitution, giving ‘aid and comfort’ to a wartime enemy can lead to a charge of treason,” wrote former CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite in an opinion piece for the New York Times this week. “It seems that Arnett hangs by a rope of his own weaving.”
“His long experience makes it all the more difficult to understand how he could have been so grossly irresponsible in granting that interview,” Cronkite continued. “He besmirched his reputation, offended a nation and lost his job – justifiably so – in the process.”
The issue of treason is addressed in Article III of the Constitution, where “aid and comfort” to enemies is specifically mentioned.
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.
WorldNetDaily is among the many news agencies which have been flooded with e-mail concerning Arnett, with the vast majority highly critical:
- Peter Arnett should be henceforth referred to as Benedict Arnett. (Clark Smith)
- He must be arrested for sedition as soon as he sets foot on U.S. soil and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. (Robert Perry)
- Perhaps our troops in the field need to do what our spineless politicians cannot – uphold the Constitution of the United States of America. Arnett … should simply be taken to the nearest brick wall and shot. (Greg Alston)
- Mr. Arnett states that he just wants to “tell the truth.” Personally, I don’t think Mr. Arnett would recognize the truth if it bit him in the a–. (Dr. C. Fultz)
- If I wrote what I really feel toward Peter Arnett, I’m sure my keyboard would burst into flames! (Dottie Christianson)
WND reader Lisa Gros of Houston even took time to write Arnett and his editors directly at the Daily Mirror:
“We Americans have a saying that you might want to familiarize yourself with, it goes like this: ‘What goes around comes around.’ In English, this means that if you screw Americans, Americans will screw you.”
Despite the ill feeling many have about Arnett and his statements, there are some coming to his defense.
Kelly McBride is a former reporter for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, Wash., and is now a member of the ethics faculty at the Poynter Institute, a journalism school in St. Petersburg, Fla.
She says Arnett’s crime is one against journalism and not America.
“His sins, if you will, are common,” McBride writes in an online analysis of the Arnett furor. “He revealed his personal viewpoints. He made declarative statements that were beyond his authority to make. He crossed the line that separates reporters from opinion writers.
“Yet, I’m hearing people call him a traitor for giving aid and comfort to the enemy. That is hardly the case. And if we dismiss his actions as crimes against the state instead of as crimes against journalism, we are moving backwards, not forward, in our desire to see the war reported with balance and accuracy.”
In feedback to the Poynter analysis, Danielle Jenkins wrote that it was wrong for Arnett to be fired, saying news organizations are caving in to the White House and Pentagon.
“It troubles me that we bash Iraqi TV for broadcasting only what they want their people to hear and the news media here in this country are doing the same thing. I don’t want to hear just the party line of the White House and Pentagon. … It’s what I call whitewashing by the White House!”