Jewish World Review April 1, 2003 / 28 Adar II, 5763
Peter Arnett's MOAB
Today Arnett is getting the attention he deserves--just not the kind he wanted.
That Peter Arnett would give a kissy-kissy interview with Iraq Television is no big surprise to most conservatives. Neither is the specific fact that he would describe the war plan as a "failure" to the enemy of the US. Arnett, like the majority of his peers, never wanted our country to go to war, never believed in the cause, never trusted President Bush's intentions. These beliefs colored his reporting, affected the tone of his coverage, and finally bubbled over into the biggest boo-boo of his life. It was one thing for a Hollywood dope like Sean Penn to be used as an Iraqi propaganda tool--but a journalist "reporting" for an American news outlet?
All last week in the White House and Pentagon briefing rooms, beat reporters for the major news organizations were saying similar things as Arnett. We started hearing the Q-word (quagmire) and the phrase "bogged down" in the earliest days of Gulf War II. ABC's Terry Moran badgered Ari Fleischer about why the Administration couldn't just admit it made a mistake in the war planning. On Day Seven of the war, CBS's Leslie Stahl raised Arnett-like battle strategy concerns that "this force isn't massive enough," that "the rear is exposed" (to Fedayeen forces).
Media bias is just a fact of life. We deal with it. We take note of it and find alternative sources of information. Internet news and commentary sites thrive--with entrepreneurs like Matt Drudge (The Drudge Report) and Brent Bozell (Media Research Center) serving as crucial watchdogs on the media, Hollywood, and political elites. Talk radio is more popular than ever--much to the dismay of liberals who predicted its downturn when there wasn't any Bill Clinton to kick around anymore. And Fox News continues to trounce the competition.
Eric Alterman, a writer for The Nation and an old MSNBC colleague, is busy peddling his new book "What Liberal Bias?" In it, he contends that liberal bias is a myth. While it existed back in Eisenhower's day, it essentially ended in 1981 when Reagan was elected. Recently he was a guest on my radio show and--when he wasn't condescendingly referring to me as "Hon" or "Sweetie"--he strenuously insisted that the major media outlets were scrupulously objective. If anything, he claimed, that today's media tilts conservative because conservative voices are loudest.
As someone who has appeared on television opposite the stentorian Alterman, his colleague Katrina vanden Heuvel, Newsweek's Eleanor Clift, and filmmaker Michael Moore, I must say I find his "loud" charge hilarious. Plus, these media outlets that have supposedly been cowed by conservatives have fawned over Alterman's book--most recently The New York Times.
"Give me examples of bias!" Alterman demanded. I directed him to any White House press briefing, virtually any Peter Jennings broadcast, and the editorial boards of most metropolitan newspapers. To the Arnett fiasco, Alterman would undoubtedly point to NBC's quick dismissal of the "veteran reporter" as further evidence that the media has "rolled over for conservatives." In fact, NBC's first impulse on Sunday was to defend Arnett, saying he had given the interview as a "professional courtesy" and that his "remarks were analytical in nature." If public outcry hadn't been so overwhelming, NBC would have been content to keep Arnett as its eyes and ears in Baghdad.
Only in the warped world of biased television "journalism" do people continue to come back from the grave, like Freddy Krueger. In 1998, CNN reprimanded Arnett and did not renew his contract after he filed a bogus report charging American forces with using sarin nerve gas on a Laotian village in 1970 to kill U.S. defectors. But this didn't matter to NBC or Arnett's main employer National Geographic. Both jumped at the chance to showcase the Pulitizer-prize winner.
Aggressive, probing, investigative reporting is healthy for any democracy--even in times of war. We need more of that and less of the "gotcha" questioning that has become the tedious staple of the press briefings here and at Cent Com headquarters in Qatar. The Arnett interview is just one of the more egregious and nauseating examples of a press corps dominated by people who are fundamentally at odds with the way average, hard-working American thinks.
Arnett's apology referred to his "misjudgment" in deciding to sit down with Enemy TV. The families of our servicemen who are
dead, missing, and on active duty would probably describe Arnett's actions in a different way--it starts with a "T" and ends
with an "N." Treason.
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