Peter Arnett's Years as Conveyer of Enemy Propaganda -- 03/31/2003 CyberAlert
1. NBC Condemns Arnett for Sharing Personal Views, Not for Them
2. Perfect Timing: Today NY Times' Frank Rich Fawns Over Arnett
3. Media Reality Check. "Arnett's Propaganda Meets an End at NBC"
4. U.S. POWs To Be "Treated Well," U.S. Uses "Cluster Bombs"
5. Avoiding Liability, Rails Against Right-Wing Over "Tailwind"
6. Arnett: "I'm an Agent of the Cause of Truth and Information"
[Web Update: From April 1 CyberAlert: Arnett Blames "Right-Wing Media" Who Fear His "Truth" Telling]
In an interview on Sunday with Iraqi TV, NBC's Peter Arnett made comments which undermine the U.S. war effort as he delivered remarks which the Hussein regime could use for propaganda purposes to provide expert analysis about how the Iraqi regime's war effort is succeeding. But in ending his contract with NBC News, the network said nothing about what he said and only cited how it "was wrong" to do the interview with Iraqi TV and "was wrong for him to discuss his personal observations and opinions in that interview."
Though three U.S. journalists are missing in Baghdad and feared kidnaped by the Hussein regime, Arnett mindlessly gushed: "I've met unfailing courtesy and cooperation, courtesy from your people and cooperation from the Ministry of Information."
An excerpt from a CNN.com story about Arnett's comments during his March 30 interview with Iraqi TV:
"The first war plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance. Now they are trying to write another war plan," Arnett said. "Clearly, the American war planners misjudged the determination of the Iraqi forces."
"I'd like to say from the beginning that the 12 years I've been coming here," Arnett said, "I've met unfailing courtesy and cooperation, courtesy from your people and cooperation from the Ministry of Information."
Arnett told the Iraqi TV interviewer, who was dressed in an Iraqi Army uniform, that President Bush is facing a "growing challenge" about the "conduct of the war" within the United States.
"President Bush says he is concerned about the Iraqi people, but if Iraqi people are dying in numbers, then American policy will be challenged very strongly," he said. In the interview, Arnett said reports from Baghdad on civilians being killed are being shown in the United States, and "it helps those who oppose the war when you challenge the policy to develop their arguments."...
Arnett also said "clearly this is a city that is disciplined, the population is responsive to the government's requirements of discipline," and "Iraqi friends tell me there is a growing sense of nationalism and resistance to what the United States and Britain is doing."...
END of Excerpt
For the CNN story in full:
For CNN's transcript of Arnett's interview with Iraqi TV:
An afternoon New York Times story today cited a quote from NBC similar to the one being carried hourly on MSNBC: "'It was wrong for Mr. Arnett to grant an interview to state-controlled Iraqi TV, especially at a time of war,' an NBC spokeswoman, Allison Gollust, said. 'And it was wrong for him to discuss his personal observations and opinions in that interview.'"
For the 3pm EST New York Times story by Jim Rutenberg:
For David Bauder's AP dispatch:
From the MRC's TimesWatch.org: "Petered Out: Frank Rich's Advocacy for Arnett and Jennings Turns Embarrassing."
Clay Waters, Editor of TimesWatch.org, penned a story today about how Frank Rich today fawned over Arnett. An Excerpt:
As if the headline on Frank Rich's latest Times Arts & Leisure column, "Iraq Around the Clock," wasn't bad enough, the star of the piece, war correspondent Peter Arnett, was fired by NBC this morning for granting an interview to state-controlled Iraqi TV.
Rich rolls out his usual shtick-the Iraq war is show business, starring reporters as "enthusiastic embedees." But unlike the movies, Rich can't yell "CUT!" on his praise for NBC and MSNBC correspondent Peter Arnett: "One person on the scene who didn't buy the initial story line." (During the 1991 Gulf War, Arnett notoriously relayed the Iraqi regime's claim that a weapons plant bombed by allied forces was actually a baby-milk factory.)
Rich fawns: "[Arnett] recognized a mindless TV rerun when he saw it. 'It's déj' vu all over again, the idea that this would be a walkover, the idea that the people of Basra would throw flowers at the Marines,' he said from Baghdad when I spoke with him by phone last week. Unlike many of his peers, he had been there to see the early burst of optimism in Persian Gulf War I, which he covered for CNN. 'This is going to be tough,' he said just before it became tough. 'Whatever you think about Saddam Hussein, there is a sense of nationalism here. The Iraqis like American culture -- American movies and pop songs. But are they really going to like American tanks?'"
In a fitting irony, the very same day Rich praised Arnett for not sticking to the Bush administration's script, Arnett played a starring role as pro-Saddam propagandist on state-controlled Iraqi television....
Arnett wasn't the only "journalist" named Peter praised by Frank Rich. Of criticism of ABC anchor Peter Jennings, he writes: "His real sin was to violate the unspoken rule that in the early stages of a war journalists should junk the tools of skepticism and irony on camera." Rich's favorite Jennings moment:
END of Excerpt
For today's other Times Watch postings: http://www.timeswatch.org
Media Reality Check. "Arnett's Propaganda Meets an End at NBC: NBC Fires Its Baghdad Correspondent Based on Iraqi TV Appearance, But His Work Was Also Shoddy"
Below is the text of a Media Reality Check compiled today by the MRC's Tim Graham.
To access the Adobe Acrobat PDF version:
The text in the pull-out box in the middle of the faxed page:
How Arnett Helped the Iraqi Cause
Now the text of the March 31 Media Reality Check:
Peter Arnett was fired by NBC Monday morning for doing an interview with Saddam-controlled Iraqi TV. NBC News President Neal Shapiro said Arnett was wrong to grant the interview, and wrong to "discuss his personal observations and opinions in that interview."
In an apologetic interview on this morning's Today, Arnett regretted the appearance of the "impromptu" interview with the enemy government's propaganda outlet, but insisted his opinions about how the first U.S. war plan "failed" were in line with the media establishment.
Today co-host Matt Lauer insisted, "Peter, at the risk of getting myself in trouble, I want to say I respect the work you've done over the last several weeks and I respect the honesty with which you've handled this situation. So good luck to you."
But did Arnett's performance deserve the respect of media professionals? Recent reporting for NBC suggests a repeat of his performance in Gulf War I, with unverified repetition of incredible Iraqi propaganda claims:
> March 26: Arnett asserted in the 8:00 a.m. hour on Today: "The Information Minister, Mr. Al-Sahaf complained that the U.S. has started using cluster bombs in the area." An hour later, he repeated "The Iraqi peoples are complaining that two cruise missiles or cluster bomb units did land in a residential area."
But Katie Couric alerted viewers "The Pentagon is refuting that cluster bombs have been used in Baghdad." Pentagon reporter Jim Miklaszewski later maintained that "as far as we know, there were no plans to use cluster bombs inside Baghdad," and that "if you look at pictures, so far, outside of Baghdad, a cluster bomb would create a Swiss-cheese effect -- thousands and thousands of holes in the target -- and we don't see that quite yet." Arnett's dispatch for the MSNBC Web site revised the line: "Iraqi officials later blamed the attack on two cruise missiles."
> March 25: Arnett relayed the tender mercies of Saddam toward U.S. prisoners of war on Today: "Now last night we saw on television pictures of the two more American POWs, the pilots of those Apaches, making seven prisoners. And this morning the trade minister, Mohammed Salih, told us in a press conference that President Saddam Hussein had personally ordered that these prisoners be treated well. The Iraqis are aware that there is increasing American concern about the treatment of their people that are being held, a total of I believe seven now. The trade minister said Saddam wants them given the best medicine and the best food."
> March 19: Arnett told Today co-host Matt Lauer from Baghdad: "The government here maintaining a very strong pugilistic position, you might say. In fact, the National Assembly met this morning in special session and [was] criticizing the U.S. One other aspect, Matt, the Foreign Minister Naji Sabri has called the UN's act of completely leaving Iraq, all its aid workers, he called that 'shameful' and he suggested it would leave 10 million Iraqis possibly starving in a few weeks if the war does continue."
> February 28: "Peter Arnett's Baghdad Diary" for National Geographic Explorer aired as part of MSNBC's Countdown: Iraq. Arnett showcased an Al-Jazeera broad-ast of U.S. and Iraqi students denouncing U.S. treatment of Iraq. One Iraqi student charged that "my mother, sister and brother were burned to death in the Ameriyah shelter. I want to ask the American people is this the human touch and love letter your government has sent to other people?!" After an American student worried about the "pain" the U.S. caused Iraq, Arnett lamented that "it's a pain some Iraqi students might have to suffer again." At least Americans won't have to suffer through Arnett's sloppy and slanted reporting for the war's duration.
END Reprint of Media Reality Check
Picking up on the last line about how "at least Americans won't have to suffer through Arnett's sloppy and slanted reporting" anymore, I'd offer this quip: At least until the Fox News Channel hires him to replace Geraldo Rivera.
Three recent CyberAlert items on Arnett in Baghdad, both cited briefly in the Media Reality Check above, but here they are in fuller form:
-- From the March 26 CyberAlert. Peter Arnett: Hussein Orders U.S. POWs "Be Treated Well"
Very reassuring. On Tuesday's Today Peter Arnett passed along how an Iraq official "told us in a press conference that President Saddam Hussein had personally ordered" that the prisoners of war held by Iraq "be treated well" and be "given the best medicine and the best food."
Arnett, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed, relayed from Baghdad on the March 25 Today: "Now last night we saw on television pictures of the two more American POWs, the pilots of those Apaches making seven prisoners. And this morning the Trade Minister Mohammed Sali [sp?] told us in a press conference that President Saddam Hussein had personally ordered that these prisoners be treated well. The Iraqis are aware that there is increasing American concern about the treatment of their people that are being held. A total of I believe, seven now, the Trade Minister said Saddam wants them given the best medicine and the best food."
END Excerpt of CyberAlert Item
-- From the March 27 CyberAlert. NBC's Couric & Miklaszewski Refute Arnett's Baghdad Reporting
Peter Arnett's unquestioning relaying of Iraqi claims that the U.S. employed anti-personnel "cluster bombs" in a residential Baghdad neighborhood prompted NBC's Katie Couric and Jim Miklaszewski to do some fast backtracking on Wednesday's Today to cover for Arnett's unsupported reporting.
Arnett asserted: "Well, Katie, the Iraqi peoples are complaining that two cruise missiles or cluster bomb units did land in a residential area."
Couric alerted viewers: "I know Peter that the Pentagon is, is refuting that cluster bombs have been used in Baghdad." Miklaszewski later maintained that "as far as we know there were no plans to use cluster bombs inside Baghdad" and that "if you look at pictures, so far, outside of Baghdad a cluster bomb would create a Swiss-cheese effect. Thousands and thousands of holes in the target and we don't see that quite yet."
MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens observed how the Today team realized Arnett was simply relaying Iraqi propaganda and felt compelled to distance themselves from it.
During the 8am half hour on the March 26 Today, Lauer asked Arnett by phone: "We want to go to Baghdad now where veteran correspondent Peter Arnett is reporting for National Geographic Explorer and NBC. And Peter joins us on the phone. Peter, I would like to ask you about the reports that there may have been some collateral damage in the bombing of Baghdad recently. Civilian casualties. Have you seen that with your own eyes?"
Arnett confirmed: "Yeah well considerably, Matt. We went, I just come back from there. We went out early afternoon. It, it was in a, in a residential neighborhood called Al-Sha'abal. [Footage of Arnett walking through the wreckage] [Garbled]...northeast Baghdad. We traveled down a wide road and we got to the scene and shops on both sides of this highway had been destroyed, Matt, and there was smoldering, 20 or so smoldering vehicles in the street. Residents said that 11 o'clock this morning local time two missiles came in, exploded. And the, the first journalists there earlier said they counted 15 corpses. It was smoldering on the road. We saw body parts being handed around by people and it was, later the Information Minister, El, Mr. El Sahaf, complained that the U.S. has started using cluster bombs in the Baghdad area."
An hour later, Arnett told Couric: "Well, Katie, the Iraqi peoples are complaining that two cruise missiles or cluster bomb units did land in a residential area of the city at 11 o'clock this morning. Me and my crew did go over there around noon and the whole area was devastated. Two sides of a wide street and storefronts blown-in, there were 20 cars are burning. Newsmen had been there earlier, counted 15 scorched corpses and they said there were 30 or 40 wounded. Soon after Minister of Information of Iraq, Mr. El Sahaf complained that these, these were cluster bomb units and they're being used infrequently, more frequently in the Baghdad area, Katie."
Couric: "I know Peter that the Pentagon is, is refuting that cluster bombs have been used in Baghdad. Meanwhile can you give us a sense of how many residents of Baghdad are staying put? One would think that because this is gonna be the central focus of the war that many of them might have led, fled, rather the city?"
Arnett: "Well no, unlike the first Gulf War, Katie, where many thousands just took off and left. What happened, this crisis has been going on for so long, for so many months that I know several families who, for example, went to Syria or went to Jordan and have since returned. Others have gone to their home villages and have come back. I mean there, there hasn't been a greater sense of crisis. There is now...."
A few minutes later, after Today cut off coverage of a Centcom briefing, Miklaszewski at the Pentagon reviewed the briefing and then went out of his way to refute Arnett: "Now there were also reports from the Iraqis that cluster bombs were being used in Baghdad and as Peter Arnett reported earlier they are indeed anti-personnel weapons. As far as we know there were no plans to use cluster bombs inside Baghdad. There were plans, apparently, to use them, perhaps, against arrayed troops outside of Baghdad. So it would be very unusual if in fact cluster bombs were used inside Baghdad. And if you look at pictures, so far, outside of Baghdad a cluster bomb would create a Swiss-cheese effect. Thousands and thousands of holes in the target and we don't see that quite yet."
END Reprint of CyberAlert Item
-- From the February 28. Peter Arnett is Back, Now on MSNBC,
Peter Arnett is back. Thursday's Today featured excerpts from Arnett's new effort for his new employer, National Geographic Explorer productions shown on MSNBC. In his latest segment, Peter Arnett's Baghdad Diary which aired as part of Thursday night's Countdown: Iraq on MSNBC, Arnett showcased an Al-Jazeera broadcast of U.S. and Iraqi students denouncing U.S. treatment of Iraq.
One Iraqi student charged that "my mother, sister and brother were burned to death in the Alamaria shelter. I want to ask the American people is this the human touch and love letter your government has sent to other people?!" A woman who moved from Colorado to Iraq asserted: "This war is about more than just weapons of mass destruction. It's about our right to choose the way we live. I mean nobody has the right to impose their values."
After an American student worried about the "pain" the U.S. caused Iraq, Arnett lamented that "it's a pain some Iraqi students might have to suffer again." An Iraqi then promised: "We're not looking for war. But if war is coming we will fight, fight, fight!"...
END Excerpt of CyberAlert Item
Arnett and CNN's "Tailwind" scandal in which he served as narrator of a false CNN NewsStand expose of how the U.S. supposedly used nerve gas to murder defectors in Laos during the Vietnam War. These items are from July of 1998. In April of 1999 CNN relieved Arnett.
-- From the July 10, 1998 CyberAlert.
"I was being trashed on a daily basis in the right-wing media. I felt my reputation going down the tubes," whined Peter Arnett to the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz after CNN News Group Chairman/CEO Tom Johnson decided to take no further action against him beyond the already announced reprimand. CNN made Arnett cut off his vacation and fly to Atlanta for an 8am meeting Wednesday morning on the NewsStand story. After the three-hour meeting Johnson released this statement: "Peter Arnett's reprimand stands. No further personnel actions are planned."
Kurtz observed in his July 9 story that "many CNN journalists question why Arnett was merely reprimanded while the two producers on the story were fired and the top executive of NewsStand resigned. 'There's no doubt I feel the resentment in the hallways,' Arnett said. 'I feel a sense of hurt and uneasiness on the part of some of those I meet. I can understand that young people feel I have somehow betrayed their trust.'"
Arnett quipped to Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Phil Kloer: "At one point I thought, 'Which is tougher: the bombing of Baghdad or being bombed in Atlanta?'"
At least after falsely accusing Americans of war crimes he feels bad that his colleagues are disturbed.
New York Times reporter Felicity Barringer on July 9 put a face to the anger, quoting CNN's other famous foreign correspondent:
"Arnett's defense -- that he was simply doing the bidding of the producers of the new program NewsStand: CNN and Time and reading words written by others -- has proved a particular irritant to some of the other network correspondents. Christiane Amanpour, whose reporting from arenas like Bosnia and Iran has given her high visibility, vehemently denied that, when reporting for a newsmagazine program like Impact, she narrates reports developed by others, as Arnett suggested in an interview. 'I believe, contrary to what Peter Arnett appears to believe, that a network correspondent should be responsible for what he or she says on the air,' she said in a telephone interview today. 'I believe that we have our face, our name, our voices and our credibility, and therefore we should be responsible for' such reports."
Arnett defended himself to Kurtz, insisting: "I was the host correspondent." Arnett boasted: "I'm primarily an action reporter. I was never informed that my face on the air gave me responsibility for a major story. In the field, I have to answer for everything I say and do. To many, it's shocking that I could be so detached. But this was a team effort. I'm a company guy. You want me to read a script, I'll read it."...
END of CyberAlert Excerpt
-- From the July 23, 1998 CyberAlert.
Peter Arnett was "heavily involved" in the CNN NewsStand story he narrated, FNC's Gary Matsumoto relayed in picking up the comments from fired producers Jack Smith and April Oliver. At a panel discussion held by the Freedom Forum in New York City, Matsumoto noted on FNC's Fox Report, the two producers of the piece on Operation Tailwind released a 77 page rebuttal defending the accuracy of the story retracted by CNN in early July and denounced by the Pentagon on Tuesday. No other network mentioned Oliver and Smith Wednesday night.
Matsumoto asserted: "And while CNN correspondent Peter Arnett said he did not contribute but a comma to the story, Oliver says Arnett was heavily involved."
Oliver on stage at the Freedom Forum: "He would not have participated on this show unless he believed in it 100 percent."
Audience member (in a clip I don't quite understand): "But he says you should have blown the whistle on him."
Oliver: "I cannot explain Peter's quote on that one. Peter participated fully. He took time off in April and May just to be available to us for this program."
Matsumoto concluded: "The Oliver and Smith rebuttal complains that CNN managers asked for proof beyond reasonable doubt only after the broadcast. Many of those in the audience said afterwards that should have been the standard in the first place."
A Wednesday AP dispatch by David Bauder matches Matsumoto's observation: "Smith and Oliver also contradicted Peter Arnett, who was reprimanded but kept his job after convincing CNN management he had little to do with reporting the story. Arnett read all the documentation and 'participated fully' in the program, they said. 'He was behind us 100 percent,' Oliver said."
Not exactly what Arnett told the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz after CNN decided to not fire him. In the July 9 Post Kurtz quoted Arnett: "I'm primarily an action reporter. I was never informed that my face on the air gave me responsibility for a major story. In the field, I have to answer for everything I say and do. To many, it's shocking that I could be so detached. But this was a team effort. I'm a company guy. You want me to read a script, I'll read it."
Apparently his face on screen didn't give him any responsibility.
END Reprint of CyberAlert Item
Arnett in Baghdad, Round 1 in 1991.
Three quotes from Notable Quotables:
Peter's "Peace" Agenda?
"I later grew to understand that if we had presented the Viet Cong in a proper light from the beginning, maybe we would have had a better assessment of how the war was going. And that's really why I'm here now, because I feel that an assessment is really important. I'm not here to end the war by any means; I'm here to try and figure out what is happening."
"And hopefully, by being here, CNN being here, I know it's Ted Turner's vision to get CNN around the world and we can prevent events like this from occurring in the future. I know that is my wish after thirty years of covering wars all over and conflicts all over the world. I mean, I am sick of wars, and I am here because maybe my contribution will somehow lessen the hostilities, if not this time, maybe next time."
Peter Arnett, Self-Proclaimed Agent of Truth
"I didn't realize the degree that our reports were fueling [anti-Vietnam War sentiment], of course. Not until years later, when I covered the McGovern campaign with George McGovern in '72 and I was with him on field trips, and people were coming up and recognizing me and shaking my hand. They were the anti-war people supporting McGovern who felt that somehow I was an agent of their cause, but I really wasn't an agent of their cause....I'm an agent of the cause of truth and information, that's what I'm an agent of."
-- From the February 1991 MediaWatch. Legitimizing Propaganda:
In his reports from Baghdad, CNN's Peter Arnett has gone beyond what's required of a reporter under censorship, from merely transmitting enemy propaganda to commenting on how reasonable it seemed. When he reported that Iraq claimed Allied pilots had bombed a baby-milk factory, he added that the site "looked innocent enough, from what I could see." Arnett told Newsweek: "I think the U.S. just miscalled it...there was no doubt in my mind that it was unlikely to be a supersecret facility" producing poisonous agents.
In a January 31 live report, Arnett described damaged civilian areas he saw in a government tour. Although he admitted to anchor Reid Collins that he had not seen the missiles land, he stated: "There was no doubt in my mind that the cruise missiles that came in, the two had obviously landed in these residential areas."
In early February, Arnett did a long story on how Iraqi infants would die from the lack of power to run incubators. He didn't mention that invading Iraqi troops took Kuwaiti babies out of incubators and left them to die on hospital floors....
END of Excerpt
-- From the March 1991 MediaWatch. Arnett Bites:
Peter Arnett's defenders insist he's a veteran war reporter, able to distinguish between truth and propaganda. How would they explain these incidents?
-- Live on CNN the morning of February 1, Arnett reported on his trip to see alleged civilian damage caused by the Allies: "While we were there, a distraught woman shouted insults at the press and vented anger at the West." The woman shouted in English: "Mea culpa! Mea culpa! All of you are responsible, all of you! Bombing the people for the sake of oil! Hunted as if we are Iranian! We are human beings! Who made this area like this? The flames in the area, it's the West! Mea culpa, the blood, she is on your head!"
CNN aired the video of the "distraught" woman 12 more times over the next two days. Eight days later, on February 8, CNN conceded it had been duped, but the correction only aired four times. As anchor Bobbie Batista announced: "The woman is said to be the assistant to Iraq's Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs." One footnote: Newsweek reported the woman "also showed up on French TV wailing in French."
-- In a February 6 CNN report Arnett detailed his visit to a hospital full of wounded, including "a Bedouin youth who said he was tending his sheep when a low-flying aircraft chased him across the field and wounded him in the arms and legs with gunfire."
"Preposterous," former Reagan defense official Sven Kramer told MediaWatch. "If it was a soldier with a Sidewinder missile, perhaps a pilot would have cause to take after an individual. But if it's a shepherd standing in a field among his animals, I can't imagine that the pilot would waste the ordnance."
-- From the August 1991 MediaWatch. ARNETT SELLS OUT AMERICA:
Well, he finally said it. On CNN's August 2 Crossfire, Peter Arnett admitted he considers his job as a reporter more important than the safety of U.S. troops in the field.
Host Pat Buchanan tossed Arnett an easy question: If Arnett had learned vital information that could cost many American soldiers their lives, would he have relayed that information to American authorities? Arnett's blithe response: "No, I wouldn't have done that. I'm not a spy." An incredulous Buchanan asked again, "If there was information that could have saved scores, hundreds of American lives, you wouldn't have transmitted that information?" For a second time, Arnett shrugged, "I wouldn't have transmitted that information. I was in Baghdad because I was a correspondent for CNN, which has no political affiliations with the U.S. government, thank goodness."
Buchanan offered Arnett yet another chance to extricate himself: "Your allegiance to CNN comes before your allegiance to the United States?" But Arnett remained adamant: "In terms of journalistic matters, yes."
END Reprint of MediaWatch Article
> You may see the MRC's Tim Graham in a story about Arnett on tonight's NBC Nightly News. -- Brent Baker