Arnett's most comical promotion of enemy propaganda came during the first Gulf War in 1991. The Iraqis claimed a chemical weapons factory bombed by the Americans was an infant-milk factory. To prove it, they produced scores of workers with uniforms stamped with "BABY MILK FACTORY" – written in English. Arnett somberly reported that the United States had bombed a baby-milk factory, remarking that the factory "had been producing 20 tons of powdered milk a day and was the only source of infant formula food for children 1 year and younger in Iraq."
As usual, Arnett went the extra mile, adding his own credibility to the preposterous "milk factory" story, saying the plant "looked innocent enough, from what I could see." When pressed by a CNN anchor quoting a U.S. military spokesman who said the plant had been heavily guarded and was "associated with biological warfare production," Arnett insisted that the plant had only one guard at the gate when he arrived and that workers were "bringing out a cart full of powdered milk."
Arnett's report on the "milk factory" was such a joke that the New York Times later tried to cover for him with an extraordinary rendition of the facts. William Prochnau wrote an article in the Times magazine stating: "Arnett, never a sucker for anyone's official line, had gone to great pains to point out (slipping it by the censor at his elbow) that the factory's 'baby milk' signs were printed in English."
Alas, the facts did not fit the Times' Herculean defense of their boy. Weeks after his report, Arnett gave an interview to Newsweek magazine in which he was still doggedly insisting that the plant was a baby-formula factory. "I think that was a mistaken bombing ... I think the U.S. just miscalled it. ... There was no doubt in my mind that it was unlikely to be a supersecret facility ... I just cannot conceive [of their having] the limited kind of security that they had if it was such a secret installation."
Arnett even had an innocent (and incoherent) explanation for the English-language signs, which, he said, "seemed to make sense to me." So much for – as the New York Times put it – Arnett not being "a sucker for anyone's official line." (Arnett's original report for CNN is not available on Lexis-Nexis. But in dozens of accounts of his notorious broadcast, only in the Times' account is it Arnett who points out that the signs were in English.)
In response to Arnett's most recent foray into enemy propaganda, the Times was again doing defense work for a traitor. Walter Cronkite praised Arnett on the op-ed page for "his knowledgeable dispatches" – simply ignoring that every "fact" reported by Arnett on his Iraqi broadcast was demonstrably false.
Amazingly, Cronkite also claimed that it was "conceivable" that Arnett's warm relationship with the enemy was "of some value to our own military." Only when reporters act as tools of the enemy's propaganda do we hear about the great help they are giving the U.S. military. Normally, journalists denounce such services to their country as a violation of their famed "objectivity."
Thirty years ago, Arnett would have won a Pulitzer Prize for his seditious performance in Iraq – as he did for similarly accurate reporting on the Vietnam War. NBC initially tried to stand by him, but the reaction of the American people was too strong this time. The sedition lobby had a good long run, but their ascendancy is over.