Reporter fired for telling truth

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Posted by Sadie from ? ( on Monday, March 31, 2003 at 12:36PM :

NBC, MSNBC fire Peter Arnett

Peter Arnett had been reporting from Baghdad for NBC News and MSNBC while on assignment for "National Geographic Explorer."


March 31, 2003 — NBC, MSNBC and National Geographic on Monday said they had terminated their relationship with Peter Arnett after the journalist told state-run Iraqi TV that the U.S.-led coalition’s initial war plan had failed and that reports from Baghdad about civilian casualties had helped antiwar protesters undermine the Bush administration’s strategy.

‘Our reports about civilian casualties here, about the resistance of the Iraqi forces, are going back to the United States. It helps those who oppose the war when you challenge the policy to develop their arguments.’
— PETER ARNETT (Interviewed on Iraqi TV)

“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,” NBC News President Neal Shapiro said in a statement. “Therefore, Peter Arnett will no longer be reporting for NBC News and MSNBC.”

National Geographic, for whom Arnett first traveled to Baghdad, said it too had “terminated the service of Peter Arnett.”

“The Society did not authorize or have any prior knowledge of Arnett’s television interview with Iraqi television,” it said in a statement, “and had we been consulted, would not have allowed it. His decision to grant an interview and express his personal views on state controlled Iraqi television, especially during a time of war, was a serious error in judgment and wrong.”

Arnett, who won a Pulitzer Prize reporting in Vietnam for The Associated Press, appeared on NBC’s “Today” show Monday to apologize for his statements. ( is an NBC News-Microsoft joint venture.)


In the Iraqi TV interview, Arnett said his Iraqi friends had told him that there was a growing sense of nationalism and resistance to what the United States and Britain were doing.

He said the United States was reappraising the battlefield and delaying the war, maybe for a week, “and rewriting the war plan. The first war plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance. Now they are trying to write another war plan.”

“Clearly, the American war plans misjudged the determination of the Iraqi forces,” Arnett said during the interview, which was broadcast by Iraq’s satellite television station and monitored by The AP in Egypt.

Arnett said it was clear that there was growing opposition to the war within the United States and a growing challenge to President Bush.

“Our reports about civilian casualties here, about the resistance of the Iraqi forces, are going back to the United States,” he said. “It helps those who oppose the war when you challenge the policy to develop their arguments.”

The interview was broadcast in English and translated by a green military uniform-wearing Iraqi anchor. NBC said Arnett gave the interview when asked shortly after he attended an Iraqi government briefing.

The interview quickly made Arnett a target of the war’s supporters.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said on Fox News Channel that she found the interview “nauseating” and accused Arnett of “kowtowing to what clearly is the enemy in this way.”

NBC initially backed Arnett’s interview. “His impromptu interview with Iraqi TV was done as a professional courtesy and was similar to other interviews he has done with media outlets from around the world,” NBC News spokeswoman Allison Gollust said. “His remarks were analytical in nature and were not intended to be anything more. His outstanding reporting on the war speaks for itself.”


Arnett garnered much of his prominence from covering the 1991 Gulf War for CNN. But even then the first Bush administration was unhappy with his reporting, suggesting that he had become a conveyor of propaganda.

At one point, he was denounced for his reporting about an allied bombing of a baby milk factory in Baghdad that the military said was a biological weapons plant. The U.S. military responded vigorously to the suggestion it had targeted a civilian facility, but Arnett stood by his reporting that the plant’s sole purpose was to make baby formula.

Arnett was also the on-air reporter of a 1998 CNN report that accused U.S. forces of using sarin gas on a Laotian village in 1970 to kill U.S. defectors. Two CNN employees were sacked, and Arnett was reprimanded over the report, which the station later retracted. Arnett later left the network.

He went to Iraq this year not as an NBC News reporter but as an employee of “National Geographic Explorer.” When other NBC reporters left Baghdad for safety reasons, the network began airing his reports.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

-- Sadie
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