Peter Arnett is off the air. Again.
From now on, Arnett will be covering Gulf War II for the left-wing British newspaper The Daily Mirror. NBC/MSNBC/National Geographic Explorer fired Arnett on March 31 after the “reporter” granted an interview to state-controlled Iraqi television. One major problem was that Arnett sounded more like an Iraqi mouthpiece than a journalist.
“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. It’s not clear how he could have known that, since he hasn’t been in the United States since the start of the war. He went on, “our reports about civilian casualties here, are going back to the United States. It helps those who oppose the war when you challenge the policy to develop their arguments.”
As Arnett should know, it’s not the job of a journalist to “help those who oppose the war develop their arguments.” It’s the job of a journalist to provide accurate information, and allow his audience to make of it what they will.
But Arnett doesn’t just misunderstand his job as a reporter; he also misunderstands the job of the Iraqi Information Ministry – the government agency that runs Iraqi television to spread propaganda for Saddam Hussein.
“I’ve met unfailing courtesy and cooperation,” Arnett said. “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.”
Sadly, not all journalists in Baghdad enjoy Arnett’s freedom. Even as he was speaking to an interviewer in an Iraqi military uniform, several other journalists were sitting in an Iraqi prison. Two of them, Matthew McAllester and Moises Saman of Newsday, were detained on March 24 when they went to their hotel room to file a story.
Authorities handcuffed them, hauled them off to Abu Ghraib prison and interrogated them several times. They actually got a much more accurate view of the dictatorial Iraqi regime than Arnett ever has. McAllester told Newsday “there were beatings and torture going on outside our cells, in the corridor.”
McAllester and Saman were finally released after eight days behind bars, and thrown out of Iraq. Clearly, Saddam Hussein’s government isn’t as courteous as Arnett makes it out to be. At least, not to true journalists who aren’t willing to echo the Information Ministry’s line.