Before firing Peter Arnett — the Tokyo Rose of our time — NBC issued a ludicrous statement defending Arnett's interview on Iraqi TV as a "professional courtesy."
When the condemnations started rolling in, NBC saw the handwriting on the ratings wall and quickly cut him loose. NBC News President Neal Shapiro said, "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."
Arnett later apologized on the "Today" show, but the damage to what remains of his career was already done (CNN reprimanded Arnett in 1998 for a report that accused U.S. forces of using sarin gas on a Laotian village in 1970 to kill U.S. defectors, and he left that network).
Would Edward R. Murrow, William Shirer or Walter Cronkite have allowed themselves to do interviews on German radio as a "professional courtesy" during World War II? No, because they correctly viewed the Nazis as the enemy of humanity and American forces as the liberators of Europe. What did they study in school that Arnett skipped?
Arnett gave aid and comfort to our enemy when he delivered these gems on Iraqi TV: "Clearly the American war planners misjudged the determination of the Iraqi forces," and "Clearly (Baghdad) is a city that is disciplined …. My Iraqi friends tell me there is a growing sense of nationalism and resistance to what the United States and Britain are doing," and "Our reports about civilian casualties here, about the resistance of the Iraqi forces are going back to the United States and help those who oppose the war." It took 63 days to get the Taliban out of Kandahar, Afghanistan, and Peter Arnett is declaring a more formidable war that is less than two weeks old a "failure"?
Arnett's remarks may encourage Saddam Hussein to fight on. This could lead to the deaths of more American and British soldiers. Arnett is a naturalized American. He does not deserve his citizenship, and his comments go far beyond any journalistic ethic with which I am familiar.
Some journalists may think they can reprise their anti-war role from the Vietnam period, but this time the public is not going to let them get away with it. Most journalists probably can't change the oil in their own cars (limos if they're anchors), much less service a tank, but suddenly they have become experts on the pace of troop movements, supply lines and the service requirements of tanks, trucks and armored personnel carriers.
Is it too much to ask journalists simply to report what is happening in the war and to stop endless speculation and editorializing without direct and credible knowledge of the facts? Apparently it was for Peter Arnett, and NBC, sensitive to the ratings war, made him a casualty.
(E-mail Cal Thomas at www.calthomas.com.)
© 2003 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.