MEDIA WATCH: Media voices near-unanimous agreement with Arnett firing

Correspondent Peter Arnett may be most famous for his reporting during the first Gulf War, but in returning to Baghdad he may have met his Waterloo.

Correspondent Peter Arnett may be most famous for his reporting during the first Gulf War, but in returning to Baghdad he may have met his Waterloo.

His impromptu interview with Iraqi TV on how the initial US war plan had failed and how his reporting was helping to aid the antiwar movement in the US put him in the hot seat - making the reporter the subject of the news. An analysis of US coverage in the following days revealed near unanimity in indicating that Arnett had used poor judgment in doing the interview with state-run TV, which got him fired by the National Geographic Explorer channel, NBC, and MSNBC. However, while there appeared to be widespread agreement that what he'd done was wrong, different reports and different pundits cited different reason for his dismissal. Some argued that Arnett had his facts wrong, that the plan has not failed and that support for the war remains high in the US. Others noted that it went against journalism's code of ethics for the reporter to voice his opinions instead of reporting the facts. Still others were incredulous that Arnett would not see that his comments would be used by the enemy for propaganda purposes. Kelly McBride, an ethics faculty member at the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists, explained to the Hartford Courant (April 1), "It was a particular combination of what he said and where he said it. One absent the other would seem very innocuous. He opened himself up to allowing his own biases to be used by Iraqi television to manipulate their cause, but ultimately what it did was damage his credibility." The Iraqi TV incident prompted a number of reports to recall charges that Arnett, a naturalized US citizen, has had an anti-American slant throughout his career. The Center for Media and Public Affairs told The Washington Post (April 1), "If ever there was a poster boy for bias, it is now Peter Arnett." A number of stories reported that Arnett apologized on NBC's Today show, but there was less attention given to the fact that Arnett seemed to leave himself some wiggle room - apologizing for creating a firestorm in the US, but not apologizing for the views he expressed. Only about half of the analyzed stories reported that Arnett's observations were accurate, with most of these sentiments coming from Arnett himself and his new employer, the openly antiwar UK tabloid The Daily Mirror. Several publications picked up on the fact that, despite his on-air apology, Arnett's first column was a front-pager under the headline, "This War Is Not Working," in which he defiantly wrote, "I'll never stop reporting the truth of this war." Almost one-third of the stories indicated that Arnett had created a PR headache for the three networks for which he was reporting. The Chicago Tribune (April 2) wrote that NBC axed him because it didn't want to risk "being seen as the unpatriotic network," while the San Francisco Chronicle (April 1) wrote, "Arnett had become such poison that a PR company called the Chronicle to make sure that the paper knew that National Geographic Explorer was not part of the National Geographic Channel." The Arnett episode also highlighted questions about the role of journalists in wartime: Should they report the news or be the news, and to what extent should patriotism guide their actions? With support for the war fairly solid, the consensus appeared to be in support of firing Arnett for his actions. -----
  • Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.

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