MSNBC fire Peter Arnett
NBC, MSNBC And News Services
March 31 NBC, MSNBC
and National Geographic said Monday that they had terminated their relationship
with Peter Arnett after the journalist told state-run Iraqi TV that the U.S.-led
coalition's initial war plan had failed and that reports from Baghdad about civilian
casualties had helped antiwar protesters undermine the Bush administration's strategy.
"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," NBC News President Neal
Shapiro said in a statement issued a day after a network spokeswoman initially
defended the correspondent. "Therefore, Peter Arnett will no longer be reporting
for NBC News and MSNBC."
National Geographic, for
whom Arnett first traveled to Baghdad, said it, too, had "terminated the service
of Peter Arnett."
"The Society did not authorize
or have any prior knowledge of Arnett's television interview with Iraqi television,"
it said in a statement, "and had we been consulted, would not have allowed it.
His decision to grant an interview and express his personal views on state-controlled
Iraqi television, especially during a time of war, was a serious error in judgment
Arnett, who won a Pulitzer
Prize reporting in Vietnam for The Associated Press, appeared on NBC's "Today"
show Monday to apologize for his statements. (MSNBC.com is an NBC News-Microsoft
HIRED BY ANTIWAR U.K.
However, in The Daily Mirror,
a British tabloid newspaper that announced later Monday that it had hired him,
Arnett declared that "I report the truth of what is happening here in Baghdad
and will not apologize for it."
"I am still in shock and
awe at being fired," Arnett said.
"Fired by America for telling
the truth," said the headline on the article announcing the hiring of Arnett,
whom the newspaper called "the legendary war reporter."
The Daily Mirror is vehemently
opposed to the war and has led a vigorous editorial campaign against President
Bush. On Thursday, its front page was devoted to a photo of a crying Iraqi civilian
above a photo of a grinning Bush, with the headline, "Dead British troops paraded
on Iraqi TV, 14 civilians killed in Baghdad market and Bush whoops it up. War?
HE LOVES IT."
A week ago, the newspaper's
only front-page headline declared: "Still anti-war? Yes, bloody right we are."
In the Iraqi TV interview
that led to his dismissal, Arnett said his Iraqi friends had told him that there
was a growing sense of nationalism and resistance to what the United States and
Britain were doing.
He said the United States
was reappraising the battlefield and delaying the war, maybe for 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."
"Clearly, the American
war plans misjudged the determination of the Iraqi forces," Arnett said in the
interview, which was broadcast by Iraq's satellite television station and monitored
by the AP in Egypt.
Arnett said it was clear
that there was growing opposition to the war within the United States and a growing
challenge to Bush.
"Our reports about civilian
casualties here, about the resistance of the Iraqi forces, are going back to the
United States," he said. "It helps those who oppose the war, when you challenge
the policy, to develop their arguments."
The interview was broadcast
in English and translated by a green military uniform-wearing Iraqi anchor. NBC
said Arnett gave the interview when asked shortly after he attended an Iraqi government
The interview quickly
made Arnett a target of the war's supporters. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.,
said on Fox News Channel that she found the interview "nauseating" and accused
Arnett of "kowtowing to what clearly is the enemy in this way."
NBC backed Arnett's interview
Sunday before changing its mind Monday. "His 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," NBC News spokeswoman Allison Gollust
said in a statement Sunday. "His remarks were analytical in nature and were not
intended to be anything more. His outstanding reporting on the war speaks for
BACKGROUND SINCE 1991
Arnett garnered much of
his prominence from covering the 1991 Gulf War for CNN. The first Bush administration
was unhappy with his reporting, suggesting that he had become a conveyor of propaganda.
At one point, he was denounced
for his reporting about an allied bombing of a baby milk factory in Baghdad that
the military said was a biological weapons plant. The U.S. military responded
vigorously to the suggestion it had targeted a civilian facility, but Arnett stood
by his reporting that the plant's sole purpose was to make baby formula.
Arnett was also the on-air
reporter of a 1998 CNN report that accused U.S. forces of using sarin gas on a
Laotian village in 1970 to kill U.S. defectors. Two CNN employees were fired and
Arnett was reprimanded over the report, which the station retracted. Arnett later
left the network.
He went to Iraq this year
not as an NBC News reporter but as an employee of "National Geographic Explorer,"
which airs on MSNBC. When NBC reporters left Baghdad for safety reasons, the network
began airing his reports.
The Associated Press
contributed to this report.
WAR IS NOT WORKING
The Daily Mirror
Apr 1 2003
I am still
in shock and awe at being fired. There is enormous sensitivity within the US government
to reports coming out from Baghdad.
want credible news organisations reporting from here because it presents them
with enormous problems. I reported on the original bombing for NBC and we were
half a mile away from those massive explosions. Now I am really shocked that I
am no longer reporting this story for the US and awed by the fact that it actually
happened. That overnight my successful NBC reporting career was turned to ashes.
Aziz told me the US will have to brainwash 25M Iraqis, because these people think
exactly the same as Saddam"
I stated the obvious to Iraqi television; that the US war timetable has fallen
by the wayside.
made those comments to television stations around the world and now I'm making
them again in the Daily Mirror.
angry. I'm not crying. But I'm also awed by this media phenomenon.
media and politicians are looking for any opportunity to be critical of the reporters
who are here, whatever their nationality. I made the misjudgment which gave them
the opportunity to do so.
an impromptu interview to Iraqi television feeling that after four months of interviewing
hundreds of them it was only professional courtesy to give them a few comments.
was my Waterloo - bang!I
yet decided what to do, whether to pack my bags and leave Baghdad or stay on.
what to do today, right now I'm chewing on what has happened to me.
Marines at our checkpoints are suspicious of every man, woman and child because
of the suicide bomb"
happens I will never stop reporting on the truth of this war whether I am in Baghdad
or somewhere else in the Middle East - or even back in Washington.
I was here
in 1991 and the bombing is very similar to that conflict but the reality is very
and British want to come here, take over the city, upturn the government and take
us through to a new era. The troops are in the country and fighting there way
up here. It creates a very different atmosphere.
party, currently led by Saddam Hussein, has been in power for 34 years. Tariq
Aziz told me the US will have to brainwash 25 million Iraqis because these people
think exactly the same as Saddam does.
is wrong, maybe not.
Iraqis have said officially and privately: "We will fight the Americans, we will
use guerrilla tactics, we will surprise them.
Iraqi opposition has said: "This will be a pushover, everyone wants to rebel against
reality is being played out on the battlefield. We have to watch the reality now
and some Iraqis are fighting and the government does seem very determined. For
me to see that and to be criticised for saying the obvious is unfair.
the battle for Baghdad grows, so the potential for civilian casualties grows.
This is the spectre rising for the coalition as this war continues"
has made me a target for my critics in the States who accuse me of giving aid
and comfort to the enemy.
want to give aid and comfort to the enemy - I just want to be able to tell the
to Baghdad with my crew because the Iraqi side needs to be heard too.
It is clear
the original timetable that America would be in Baghdad by the end of March has
fallen by the wayside. There is clearly debate in the US about this, reinforcements
are being sent in and there are delays.
mean it is going badly. Every casualty is a loss but they have been in limited
numbers so far.
and every day I hear the B-52s and the missiles hammering the defences Baghdad.
in Afghanistan and Vietnam, the US is bringing enormous firepower to bear which
it believes will grind the Iraqis down. I have seen it before and it has been
enormously effective. The US optimism is justified. On the other hand, at what
cost to civilians?
the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, I entered a US-held town which had been totally
Cong had taken over and were threatening the commander's building so he called
down an artillery strike which killed many of his own men.
with us asked: "How could this happen?" A soldier replied: "Sir, we had to destroy
the town to save it. "The Bush and Blair administration does not want that label
stuck on this war, it is a liberation for them. But the problem is US Marines
at checkpoints are suspicious of every man, woman and child because of the suicide
there is suspicion growing.
the south, there have not been popular rebellions and uprisings.
battle for Baghdad grows, the potential for civilian casualties grows.
in the Pentagon talk about an internal coup. BNut who would have had believed
Umm Qasr would hold out for six days? "
San Francisco Chronicle
Monday, March 31, 2003
rattles hornets' nest with Iraqi TV comments
the medium or the message?
reporter Peter Arnett, no stranger to controversy, fired up another one Sunday
when he appeared on Iraqi television and proclaimed the United States' initial
war plans a failure and said images of civilian casualties are bolstering the
anti-war movement and hurting President Bush.
Arnett's comments are sure
to touch off a debate about journalists covering the war, magnifying issues of
bias being tossed about on both sides. And Arnett's appearance has already solidified
the argument that one network, Fox News, has no qualms about waving the flag during
this war. On Sunday night, Fox News took sole possession of the Arnett interview
and whipped it into a media story by saying his actions were aiding Iraq.
For his part, Arnett brought
this whole thing on himself. By
going on television, he became part of the story -- a no-no for journalists. Critics
will surely say he's being used as a pawn.
Arnett is reporting in
Baghdad for National Geographic Explorer, NBC News and MSNBC.
the spectre rising as this war continues. The US and Britain have to figure this
think you can tell how it will end, there are many scenarios. A siege of Baghdad...
a special operations strike on Saddam. Optimists in the Pentagon talk about an
have had believed Umm Qasr would hold out for six days or US Marines directing
traffic would be killed by a suicide bomber? This is more like the West Bank and
Gaza and it could become like that in some areas.
and Britain must avoid that scenario. Forces come in, communities resist, then
suicide bombing and resistance from guerrillas.
the Iraqis will be putting up a stiffer fight than the Palestinians because they
are better armed. We know the world, including many Americans, is ambivalent about
this war and I think it is essential to be here.
here to be a superstar. I have been there in 1991 and could never be bigger than
make judgements but that is not my style. I present both sides and report what
I see with my own eyes.I don't blame NBC for their decision because they came
under great commercial pressure from the outside. And I certainly don't believe
the White House was responsible for my sacking.
But I want
to tell the story as best as I can, which makes it so disappointing to be fired.
Although he won a Pulitzer
Prize for his Vietnam War coverage, Baghdad is where Arnett gained both fame and
infamy, covering the first Gulf War for CNN. Arnett's work there was censored
by the Iraqi government and he caused a stir by reporting that a U.S. missile
took out a baby-formula factory while the first Bush administration said it was
a biological weapons plant. Although Arnett was a lightning rod even before Sunday's
TV appearance, it's easy to forget he's done good work. And this is hardly a black-and-white
issue. It's not like Arnett's comments are breaking news. Much of what he said
has already been mouthed in this country -- even by former military leaders commenting
on cable news channels. Like him or not, Arnett knows Baghdad pretty well and
he has reported that this war would be no cakewalk and the Iraqi people wouldn't
just lie down. In the interview, Arnett said his warnings weren't listened to
by the Bush administration.
Anyone watching television
coverage of this war for any amount of time has heard similar criticism. But it's
the setting and timing that will be called into question. Arnett sat across from
an Iraqi TV anchor wearing a military uniform and said how much he has appreciated
the cooperation of the Iraqi Ministry of Information. This after media outlets
like Arnett's former channel, CNN and Fox News, have been kicked out, plus suggestions
that two journalists from Newsday are being imprisoned at this moment for their
"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," Arnett said in the interview. "Our
reports about civilian casualties here and about the resistance of the Iraqi forces
are going back to the United States. It helps those who oppose the war and who
challenge the policy to develop their arguments." And later: "The first war plan
has failed because of Iraqi resistance."
The interview sent Fox
News' John Gibson into an apoplectic fit of moral outrage -- also not exactly
breaking news for him or the channel. "Is he on the Iraqi side?" Gibson demanded
of Simon Marks, who's reporting from Jordan for Fox News. Marks, who is friends
with Arnett, tried to dodge the string-'em- up tenor of Gibson's suggestions,
saying, "It is at the very least a curiosity.
Certainly appearing on
Iraqi television under these circumstances would be a curious choice for any journalist."
Orville Schell, dean of
the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley, said Arnett's forum
perhaps obscured some salient
"I have a level of discomfort
of him going on Iraqi television and saying what he did," Schell said. "The unfortunate
part is, he chose to make news himself by going on Iraqi TV. And that may eclipse
the verities of what he's saying."
Schell said Arnett "is
getting intimations from Baghdad" about how the war is going, and that those observations
are necessary for balanced coverage. He wondered if Iraqi television aired the
interview in its entirety and cautioned that Arnett may have something to say
in his defense before critics start chopping him down. Over at Fox, however, it
was too late.
"His comments seem to
be supporting the Iraqi regime," Gibson fumed, adding Arnett "seems to be encouraging
Iraqi resistance." He ratcheted that up later with this: "Arnett seemed to cheer
the Iraqi resistance." Gibson's less-than- veiled anti-American wink-wink to viewers
continued as he suggested Arnett "seems to have the run of Iraq." Later: "Peter
Arnett is live in Baghdad and we may now know why."
If you thought this televised
indictment couldn't get any more journalistically unsound, Gibson then let former
New York Sen. Alfonse D'Amato unload this bomb on Arnett: "He gives aid and comfort
to the enemy."
NBC issued a statement
of support for Arnett, saying, "his remarks were analytical in nature and were
not intended to be anything more." The statement also said "the impromptu interview
with Iraqi TV was done as a professional courtesy."
But as tensions are heightened
in Baghdad and the Ministry of Information is tossing out and possibly detaining
journalists, Arnett's interview could be seen as his being played for a pawn in
return for his continued stay in the country.
"I think he is a little
embedded on the Iraq side," Schell said. "It's a different master."
While the newsiness of
the Arnett interview was undoubtedly fanned by Fox News, Arnett's fame had a lot
to do with it, Schell said.
"He's just the first sort
of iconic figure for the media to utter such words."
E-mail Tim Goodman at