In 1995, then-CNN star Peter Arnett told The American Spectator's John Corry that "Rush Limbaugh is the king. He is also a cretinous liar, with off-the-wall opinions. And he has the audacity to call himself a journalist."
Arnett was half-right: Rush is the king of all media. But the rest of that diatribe doesn't describe Rush. It fits Arnett -- to a T.
You won't hear that from the princes of our press corps, now tiptoeing silently away from Arnett in embarrassment. Arnett was deified by the media establishment even after (or was it because?) he trashed America from Baghdad in Gulf War I, delighting his Iraqi censors with bizarre stories like the one about American soldiers shooting at the arms and legs of innocent Iraqi shepherds.
When Arnett's book Live From The Battlefield was released in early 1994, his colleagues veritably swooned. New York Times reporter Bill Keller lauded Arnett as the "quintessential war correspondent of our half century." Newsweek Senior Editor Russell Watson called him "the best war correspondent of his generation."
The only explanation for Arnett's long-overhyped reputation is the triumph of politics over professionalism and hype over substance. The media elite had found themselves a hero: a reporter "brave" enough to claim that America was an evil player on the world stage, a nation that could drop cluster bombs on civilians or gas its own soldiers. The charges made were defective in their veracity, but electric in their audacity, and that's all that mattered to a press corps starving for role models.
The truth is a stubborn thing, however, and it's winning out. After years of being celebrated as a world-class journalist, Peter Arnett has developed a talent for getting fired. When he made the outrageous decision to go on Iraqi TV to praise the freedom granted by his Iraqi censors and tout how the U.S. war plan "failed," he was fired not only by NBC, but by MSNBC, and National Geographic News -- a triple-sacking. He apologized on the "Today" show for his "misjudgment" in choosing media platforms, but not for his Baath-Party-friendly orations.