Peter Arnett Can't Win


First he gets fired for doing a story that was false. Now he's been fired for saying what everybody knows is true. The brickbats keep coming. In this Howard Kurtz story, decorated former Marine Rich Lowry, who has spent decades traveling the Middle East and mastering the region's political and cultural nuances, gives the canned Kiwi what-for.

NEXT: Human Rights Redux

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  1. wow omnibus you were a four star general?

  2. Tim –

    Sorry, but this is an unusually weak and dumb comment. Have you bothered to read the interview? It’s appalling. The context is appalling. Calling it a “professional courtesy”, as if this were an independent journalist instead of a UNIFORMED official of a fascist regime, is either unbelievably stupid or appalling or both.

    Saying that what Peter Arnett said is something that everybody knows is true, is absurd. If, like I said, you actually bothered to read the interview.

  3. Given the rationale of some people here, any negative statement, no matter where it is made, about the war is “aiding the enemy.” Keep in mind also that Arnett is a kiwi, and kiwis aren’t in this war, so there is no “enemy” for him to aid. Unless of course you Bush’s line that this war is to “protect” the world.

  4. Here’s a brief fisking of Peter Arnett’s interview, Tim:

    ARNETT: Well, I’d like to say from the beginning that the 12 years I’ve been coming here, I’ve met unfailing courtesy and cooperation. 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.

    COMMENT: This is fine, but left unsaid is that several journalists have been expelled from Iraq and at least two of them are missing and presumed in the custody of the Iraqi government.

    ARNETT: In answer to your question, 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.

    COMMENT: This is patently false. According to the most recent poll data, support now is slightly stronger than it was at the start of the war.

    ARNETT: One other point. I’ve been mainly in Baghdad in the past few weeks. But, clearly this is a city that is disciplined, the population is responsive to the government’s requirements of discipline and my Iraqi friends tell me there is a growing sense of nationalism and resistance to what the United States and Britain are doing.

    COMMENT: Read that sentence again, the one about the population of Baghdad being “responsive” to the government’s “requirements of discipline.” What Arnett means is that if you are suspected of not following the proper degree of discipline, you will be shot in the head or have electrodes attached to your children’s genitals. So, again, it’s true, Tim, that this statement is not strictly false, per se, but it is depsicable doublespeak.

    ARNETT: Clearly, the American war planners misjudged the determination of the Iraqi forces…That is why now America is re-appraising the battlefield, delaying the war, maybe a week, and re-writing the war plan. The first war plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance now they are trying to write another war plan.

    COMMENT: This is the least offensive aspect to the interview, because it is merely speculation (which I do not necessarily disagree with, BTW) instead of rank lies or shameful doublespeak.

  5. This isn’t about “aiding the enemy” (whatever that means), it’s about what it means to be a journalist.

    In my opinion, even Peter Arnett probably didn’t believe everything he said in that interview. Look, his interest is in not getting booted out of Iraq. He does that by making happy with the Iraqi authorities. But this is a dicey game, because you can quickly become a bootlicker. And that’s what he did, all the way. He’s a fucking bootlicker. He’ll praise the government’s demonic secret police tactics as “effective discipline”, as if it’s a virtue instead of a crime against humanity. That’s how low he’ll go. He evidently has no honor or shame…he’ll lick any boot as long has he doesn’t lose his precious access.

  6. And what’s with the snark at Rich Lowry? Or are only service people entitled to comment on the war? How exactly does that fit into the libertarian philosophical framework, I wonder?

  7. Wow, I didn’t know Lowry was so accomplished. He seems so young on TV.

  8. The officials and pundits who are now counseling Americans to be patient would have a lot more credibility if they weren’t the ones raising expectations in the first place. But, then again, they knew that public support wouldn’t be nearly as strong for a war with Iraq if we didn’t think it could be done quickly and with few casualties.

    As far as who will win: Yes, we’ll probably be able to capture Baghdad in the next month or so. Maybe we’ll even capture Saddam (unless he’s been taking fleeing lessons from Mullah Omar and Osama). But then what? We’ll be ruling a country that may have hated Saddam but has no real love for American occupation; the war may be over, but there will continue to be running battles (terrorist attacks, guerilla attacks, civil war outbreaks) that will sap manpower, money and lives. That’s when the real quagmire begins.

  9. Like most “Fiskings,” our anonymous commenter’s critique of Peter Arnett left me more sympathetic to the person being criticized than I was before I read it.

  10. Jesse –

    I meant to include my name. I’m interested in what you disagree with.

    Here is the story on MSNBC.

    Skip on down to the final paragraphs and note that “Geraldo Rivera has been expelled from Iraq”. This morning Geraldo deigned the report… from the Iraqi front lines.

  12. I think your objections missed the point, Stretch. Arnett’s comment about his alleged freedom to report from Iraq was suck-uppy and arguably the most genuinely despicable thing he said, but it doesn’t have much to do with the controversy over his interview. His comment about a “growing challenge…about the conduct of the war” is obviously true in terms of the conversation within the government (to judge from the spate of anti-Rumsfeld leaks in the last few days) and in the media discussion; polls don’t really address that question. (And I’m not sure what those polls mean, anyway — lots of people “support the war” in the sense of hoping the U.S. wins and few American soliders die, without necessarily believing that the war is wise or that it’s going well.)

    I don’t really understand your third objection. Arnett was making a claim about Baghdad’s discipline and its readiness to resist an invasion. Whether that claim is true or not is independent of the extent to which that discipline is imposed by fear.

  13. I’m not in a mood to repeat myself. If you find simple suck-uppery more offensive than literally praising the Iraqi government for its grotesque “discipline” then I’m afraid you and I don’t have enough common ground to argue on.

  14. I think it’s offensive to declare you’ve been treated well while your colleagues are being imprisoned for doing their jobs. I don’t think it’s offensive to make a claim about Iraqi resistance, and I cannot imagine how you came to read his statement as “literally praising the Iraqi government for its grotesque ‘discipline.'” Even if you interpret the statement as praise, it obviously wasn’t for the sort of “discipline” you’re writing about.

  15. Michael Jackson is to blame for Peter Arnett’s undoing. Anybody who has ever interviewed people for a living knows what craven and humiliating contortions we go through for access to even the most piddling functionaries. And it was Michael Jackson’s gotcha on Martin Bashir that revealed just how much damage you can do to a journalist by making the contortions public. I’d sooner have my post-college resume or my dream journal read on Voice of America than to have anybody see the prideless wheedling, fawning and sucking up I’ve done just to get some assistant vice president of polystyrene sales to share his pearls of wisdom with me. (I don’t actually have a dream journal, so don’t try breaking into my place.) The comments about the war plan, as Jesse noted, is not worth a controversy. Clearly, it’s the sucking up that got everybody in a lather.

  16. (Reuters) – Britain’s Daily Mirror said on Tuesday it had hired veteran U.S reporter Peter Arnett, sacked by American TV network NBC after he told Iraqi television the U.S, war plan against Saddam Hussein had failed. “I report the truth of what is happening in Baghdad and will not apologize for it,” he told the tabloid newspaper, one of the most prominent opponents of Britain’s involvement in the war.

  17. Seems unlikely that, as some have been wondering, if Arnett had a gun to his head. I think his commentary was sincere, but (and maybe this is just a personality quirk of his) it seemed to me that he was having trouble swallowing. Since he was so over-grateful(imao)for the courtesies extended by the Ministry of Information (while he knew there are journalists whose whereabouts are unknown), I wonder if he was worried about whether his comments were suck-uppy enough.

  18. As many here have said, we have no idea what the real war plans are (or were for that matter). I can come up with a couple of scenarios that would end up exactly where the coalition is now. It may have been as simple as, with Turkey not available as a staging area, there may not have been enough room in Kuwait for all the troops, their equipment, and their supplies. The first stage of the war may have been simply to get enough room for all the coalition troops.

    But as many have noted, plans change upon contact with the enemy. The first night was what is called a “target of opportunity”. The war may not have been planned to start for a few more days but the target was so tempting the US leadership could not resist. As far as we know for sure, it may have even worked. Saddam and his sons have not been seen live on TV since the before the first night. All we have seen so far are taped meetings and pronoucements that could have taped before. Personnally, I think he is alive.

    The irregulars are at best a nuisance, but sometimes a nuisance must be dealt with. Other than that, things are pretty much going the Coalitions way. Most combat contact with Iraqi forces have gone the Coalitions way. They have not shot down any Coalition aircraft. The helicopter looked amazingly intact even though it was supposed to be shot down (I’m leaving up the possibility the Apache may have had mechanical failure). The Coalition have not lost many soldiers.

    Hopefully this war will end soon with as few as casulties as possible and with the Iraqi people free and safe.

    Richard Swan

  19. Richard Swan,

    Well, I see this as a test of the Rumsfeld doctrine. If it does not go according to plan, that is if the plan was a quick knock-out, etc., that is giving a big push to a regime that was supposed to easily crumble, and said plan did not work, then that is problematic for Rumsfeld and the administration’s potential designs on other countries.

    As far as knocking down aircraft is concerned, the Apache pilots themselves said they were forced to retire at one point due to all the asymeteric fire they underwent. Furthermore, given how much of a nuisance they are, there certainly is a lot of effort being expended in killing them. To note but one example, the 101st airborne was diverted from its original mission to deal with the issue of protecting the convoy.

  20. Tim, Jesse et. al.,

    “He’s been fired for saying what everybody knows is true.”

    To pretend that Arnett didn’t know exactly where he was, what he was doing, and how his interview would be used is intellectually dishonest.

    This man willingly went on television for the propaganda organ of a regime that is forcing people into suicide missions by holding their families at gunpoint, to aid them into fooling their citizenry into thinking that the regime had a chance to prevail. This can only help to make the futile struggle go on longer, and lead to more deaths.

    He was fired for being a discpicable human being. Or more precisely, because of outrage from his employers’ viewership over their keeping someone like that on the payroll.

    Are you honestly suggesting that Peter Arnett didn’t uderstand the nature of Iraqi state television? Do you actually think he didn’t know what his comments would be used for?

  21. Your link is to another WP story on Arnett by David Bauder.

  22. “I report the truth of what is happening in Baghdad and will not apologize for it”

    – from the quote from the article about the Mirror hiring him.

    Well, journalistic integrity took another giant leap forward with that comment. Seeing as he, um, apologized for it on live US television.

    This seems to confirm my opinion that Peter Arnett will say much more about what you want to hear than what he actually knows to be happening. Perhaps he had a gun to his head–didn’t seem so to me, but then he’s probably cooler under that situation than the subjects of other notorious Iraqi TV interviews of late.

    It isn’t offensive to me that he said he thought the war wasn’t working out so well for the coalition (silly, but it’s just an opinion). It is offensive to me that he “reported” on things he likely had no direct knowledge of, such as whether war plans were indeed being completely scrapped.

    It is more offensive to me that he couldn’t do a neutral interview without turning into a bootlicker. Because he either licked the boots of the Iraqis or he licked the boots of Americans–both those interviews can’t be the Real Peter Arnett, unless the real Peter Arnett is a compulsive sycophant.

    Is he un-American? Who cares? What I care more is whether he’s unprofessional.

  23. From what I’m gathering, Arnett screwed himself.

  24. David,

    Yeah, I was wondering about that. I kept on waiting for the “what for.”

    I don’t see the problem with Arnett’s comments. Its not like the Iraqis aren’t aware of the punditry that is going on in the US about this war, which Arnett only confirmed.

  25. Providing Iraqi propagandists with pro-Saddam comments from the mouth of a westerner to so they can be broadcast to Iraqi citizens trying to decide if Saddam still has the power to kill them is an unthinkable stupidity that could result in the deaths of both our soldiers and innocent Iraqis.

  26. I can’t read Arnett’s comments without thinking of Kent Brockman: “One thing is for certain, there is no stopping them; the ants will soon be here. And I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords. I’d like to remind them that as a trusted TV personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to…toil in their underground sugar caves.”

    Found that quote in a Jonah Goldberg editorial on the Afghanistan invasion, which could be applied almost unchanged to our current situation vis-a-vis (D’oh! French again!) – I mean, our current situation, freedom Iraq.

  27. This is the kind of wonky patriotism that prevents anyone from speaking the truth lest it give aid and succour to the enemy.

    The best way to gain the trust of the Iraqi people is to always tell the truth. Each lie we tell makes Saddam look a little better.

  28. Bill, While in principle your statement is true, What actully qualifies Arnettes comments as “truth”? He is not privy (nor has he ever been)to what exactly the “war plan” is, was, or ever will be. He is merely speculating and guessing based on empirical evidence and his inflated self image as a “warrior” (his word). Furthermore, all of the pundits who think this war is going less smoothly or taking longer than GW1 have evidently forgotten that we bombed those guys for 48 days before sending in the ground troops last time. What are we on now, DAY 12? C’mon, Its not even the same mission. If we applied the previous approach here there would be very few Iraqis left to liberate! Do you want it quick or careful, you can’t have both in this case. Arnette is a self important Jackass who just found out where the end of the leash is. It is interesting how unprincipled and apologetic he becomes when the pay pipeline is cut off! Personally I think we should cut his VISA and let him take up permanent residence in B’dad with his “friends”. Maybe now that he will not be on the air we will finally bomb the Iraqi TV station into memory as we should have done on DAY 1!

  29. Sorry, all for the fucked-up link. It’s fixed now, and you now have complete and unfettered access to Rippin’ Rich’s expert commentary.

  30. Ig, the reason we didn’t bomb Iraq TV into the dust on day one is that “we” thought we were going to take it over and use it for our own purposes after the rapid collapse of Saddam’s government. The war may be going well or ill, but anybody who thinks we’re not already on plan C, D, or E is living in a dream world.

  31. IG- Thank you for demonstrating “wonky patriotism”. When you start suggesting people you disagree with be trapped in Iraq, you are officially Intellectually Bankrupt.

    Personally, I dislike being put in the position of defending Arnett- while I agree with his comments about the war plan, his comments on America’s reaction and the anti-war movement are false, and counter-productive.

    I just can’t let the “…Go back to (Russia/Cuba/Baghdad/wherever)” meme go unopposed.

  32. Sorry, guys. It’s illegal to bomb other countries’ TV stations. Not that it matters anymore.

    “The Geneva Conventions forbid the targeting of civilian installations– whether state-owned or not– unless they are being used for military purposes. Amnesty International warned (3/26/03) that the attack may have been a “war crime” and emphasized that bombing a television station “simply because it is being used for the purposes of propaganda” is illegal under international humanitarian law. “The onus,” said Amnesty, is on “coalition forces” to prove “the military use of the TV station and, if that is indeed the case, to show that the attack took into account the risk to civilian lives.”

    The full article here:

  33. Mr. Arnett aided the Iraqis’. That is WRONG (and so is “Bill” who posted earlier)! What makes you think that you KNOW what the War Plan is/was? Are you clairvoyant? NOPE! Period. End of sentence!

  34. It’s clear we’re getting our butts handed to us. Sure, the coalition forces may have taken more ground faster than any military force in history; but we expected them to do much better than that. Anything less than Saddam freely and willingly volunteering to be Richard Perle’s prison bitch is an abject failure of the war plan. We should leave Iraq now in humiliated disgrace. Our troops are clearly facing massive, superior, well armed and iron-willed Iraqi resistance. The apparent trickle of Iraqi fedayeen fighters and reluctant conscripts will turn into a flood, I’m sure, once we finish exterminating this current batch of them. I’m also sure that the Iraqis’ tales of being forced to attack at gunpoint, under threat of their family’s murder, are exaggerated. Saddam would never do anything like that; any resistance we see must surely be because the Iraqis hate the U.S. much more than they dislike Saddam.

    We’ve lost nearly a whole platoon of soldiers now to injury or death; it’s time to pack it in before we lose even more troops in this Vietnam-esque quagmire. Worse yet, mullahs all over the middle east are starting to hate us. This stands in stark contrast to how they felt about us prior to the war.

    Hell, at this rate, our troops are getting killed nearly as often as residents of Detroit or South Central L.A. — how can Bush possibly think we can win this war?

    Removing the tongue from cheek, it’s pretty clear that a lot of folks in the media just plain like bashing the U.S. On the day we finally quash resistance in Baghdad, I’m half expecting a question along the lines of “Sure, the 82d Airborne was dancing on Saddam’s grave today, and the Iraqis finally relaxed and came into the streets to hug American troops… but an Egyptian date merchant isn’t happy, so isn’t that clear evidence that the war is an abject failure of U.S. policy?”

    And if it makes you feel better Tim, I’m a Gulf War I vet and I spent a bunch of time in the Gulf. I don’t think it adds much merit to my comments, but it seems to matter a lot to you. Since you comment so authoritatively on the War, I presume you spent some time in uniform yourself?

  35. Where have I pretended to comment authoritatively? Unlike any of the other bloviators, I’ve gone to great lengths to acknowledge that I have no special expertise; I’m the only one willing to admit it. But to the point: Do you really think this was how Rummy was expecting things to turn out? I mean Jesus, even Rummy isn’t claiming that anymore.

  36. I used to get a lot of Cs in school, so when I got a B, I felt good, and was rewarded. My sister got staight As and would cry if she got a B.
    It’s the same way with the war. The US said it was going to get an A+, or atleast let other people say it would. Now it is getting a B and everyone says it’s a failure. Iraq meanwhile was expected to get a D, and here it is with a C. The US is winning, but it looks like they’re failing. Who cares though. The US will still win, we just might have to actually try a little.

  37. But will we want what we’ve won afterwards? Although, with the unemployment rate heading up, it’ll be easier to enlist people to ship off for peace-keeping duties in the Mideast.

  38. Maybe Arnett is a CIA plant?

  39. I thought perhaps the comment about “discipline” was really an oblique criticism. Having written a number of papers on the Soviet press I am used to such criticisms of oppressive states. Letters to the editor in Pravda were quite good at praising the government out of one side of the mouth, which slamming it out of the other. Anyway, that is one possible reading of his statement.

    Now the part about a rising tide of sentiment in the US against the war is utter crap though. And I am against this war.

  40. First he says something to Iraqis that he’d never never get away with saying to Americans (the part about growing opposition to the war), then he apologizes to Americans while declaring his freedom not to apologize when the Daily (Marxist Rag) Mirror hires him. There’s something distinctly Clintonian about all this.

    So, I have to agree with the anti-Arnetts here. I can understand REASON’s interest in defending the freedom of the press, but are its writers now so obtuse as to not grasp the subtlety of this situation? Clearly, words can take on different meanings depending on the context in which they are spoken.

    I’m not saying we should throw him in jail, just that he deserves every measure of his current fate.

  41. As to Sandy’s post, I’m not sure that the term unamerican is relevant (though, strangely, he does claim to be one, for over 20 years he says), but “anti-American” might be. In his little “professional courtesy” he seems to be saying that it would be best if America were to lose, as he does praise Iraqi “determination”. I can see being against this war, but once it starts, who wants to see it turn into the bloodbath that would be necessary to keep our forces at bay? He may not be treasonous, but is at least colossally dumb.

    It could once be said that the left hated Saddam, but hated war more. Arnett’s actions give the disturbing appearance that to be against the war is to support Hussein. The left should be shunning this man, not giving him job offers.

  42. My beef is not that he has an opinion on the war or that he freely expresses it. My beef is that he did it for an interviewer wearing a military uniform for Iraq’s propaganda military and then ridiculously called it a “professional” courtesy, which is either an immense and undeserved compliment to the Ministry of Information or an immense and well deserved discredit to Peter Arnett.

    But after today’s re-waffle in the Mirror, it’s clear that Peter Arnett is fundamentally driven by the desire to lick whatever boot is is pressed against his face at the moment.

    The MoI tells him we’re cluster bombing Baghdad? Fine, he says on live TV, we’re cluster bombing Baghdad! We’re bombing baby formula factories! We’re gassing Cong! MoI wants an interview? Fine, the Iraqis are magnificent warriors!! Americans are abandoning the war!!

    NBC gets pissed off? Fine, I’m an idiot and I apologize unreservedly! Mirror picks me up? Fine, I’m a brave journalist unafraid to speak truth to power, and I resolutely refuse to apologize! (Yesterday notwithstanding).

    I mean, seriously, where does it end with this ass clown?

    And Reason’s attempt to turn this guy into a martyr for free inquiry…sorry, but that’s a little much. Read today – he was fired for being a moron and a bootlicker, not for expressing an opinion.

  43. geophile,

    I can see several logical reasons he might have for wanting the US to lose.

    And if you think that he is flip-flopping, well that’s not Clintonian, that’s being human. Why anyone remotely thinks that lieing, etc. were invented by Clinton, and not in fact perpetrated by W, is beyond me.

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